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Chinese Minister Zhao Qizheng Views Country's Human Rights Progress (02/12/02)

Zhao Qizheng, minister of the State Council Information Office, during an interview on February 10 with Human Rights, a bimonthly magazine launched the same day, gave an overview of the status quo and prospects of human rights causes in China, analyzed some fundamental elements behind the divergence of views on human rights between Chinese and Western people, and talked about the Chinese government's position on the issue.

Chinese people are enjoying unprecedented freedom and personal rights, and -- as the economy continues to develop and society progresses -- will continue to enjoy human rights on an even wider scale and at a higher level, Zhao said.

Some foreign countries have doubts and misunderstandings about China's human rights practices owing to misunderstandings about China that have been exacerbated by distortions published in the Western media, Zhao said. To present to the world the true human rights situation in China as well as the Chinese government's position on the issue, the State Council Information Office issued on November 1, 1991 Human Rights in China, the nation's first white paper on human rights. It makes clear China's view on the Chinese practice of promoting and protecting human rights in combination with universal principles on human rights accepted by the entire international community. The paper also lays out the historical process that China has undergone from a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society to a people's democratic modern society with great changes achieved in the human rights.

This first declaration by the Information Office was followed up by regular white papers and articles to inform the world about the improvements in human rights in China. These included six white papers under the title of human rights as well as 12 white papers and some articles on issues involving human rights: Rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes, rural poverty-relief and development, women, children, family planning, ethnic minorities, religion and Tibet.

The office also published substantive articles to refute with facts distortions and attacks from some Western countries, such as the United States in its China section of The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices submitted annually by the U.S. Department of State to the U.S. Congress. In addition, the office reciprocated by publishing its own report on the US human rights record.

The China's publication of 18 white papers on human rights over the past 10 years in itself marks China's openness and progress in the field of human rights, Zhao said. And -- unlike in the publications of some countries that take it upon themselves to act to criticize others as "judge of world human rights" -- China's white papers on human rights elaborate more its own theories and practices in a positive attempt to protect and develop human rights. Rather than arrogantly imposing its own views on the others, China seeks to have dialogue and exchanges with the international community on an equal footing and with mutual respect for the purpose of common progress and development.

According to Zhao, some of China's basic views on human rights have won wide understanding, support and acknowledgement in the rest of the world, especially in developing countries. The most important reason, of course, is that China has indeed made outstanding achievements in protecting human rights and that China's human rights concept is fair and reasonable and in conformity with international standards. Also, this acceptance undoubtedly has much to do with China's unremitting efforts to present and explain its human rights situation and ideas to other countries and regions.

Zhao pointed out that great differences exist between China and the West on human rights issues. Ten times since 1990, some Western countries headed by the United States have put forward anti-China proposals at the annual session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Each time, these efforts have ended in failure, but the Western countries never totally give up. This reflects great contradictions and divergence between Western countries and China on human rights that can be divided into two categories: One involves the understanding of the facts; the other involves the concept of human rights. Of the two, the difference of opinion on the human rights concept is more fundamental since people are prone to reach different conclusions from the same facts because of their different concepts about human rights.

China's human rights conditions need improving in many aspects. However, in the some 20-odd years since China began carrying out reform and opening-up policies, much progress has been made. The development can be seen not only in the improvement in fulfilling people's basic needs and development rights and economic, social and cultural rights, but also in the strengthening of democracy and legal construction and expansion and maintenance of civil rights and political rights. In fact, the realization of human rights is a developing process closely related with civilization and the progress of society. Due to different levels of economic development, history and culture, different countries will naturally take different development ways that follow different human rights patterns. It neither complies with human development laws nor follows basic human rights spirit to force all countries of the world to take the same development mode and the same human rights pattern.

Zhao Qizheng said that improving China's human rights situation is an undertaking in accordance with the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and an important goal of China in promoting the full progress of society. The Chinese government and people are willing to put long-term and unremitting efforts into the effort. China is ready to absorb the experiences of other countries and fully employ all fine achievements in human civilization. The country sincerely welcomes good suggestions and goodwill criticism on China's human rights development from all countries, organizations and personalities that show concern about China's human rights conditions.

It is not surprising, Zhao said, that Western countries and China might have differences over the issue of human rights because of their various histories, cultures, religions, social systems, economic development levels and ideologies. Yet these differences should not act an excuse for confrontation and as a barrier to understanding, but they should act as a stimulus for communications and learning from each other.

"We believe that the solution to differences is to diminish them instead of exaggerating them. Both sides should have a calm dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect. They shouldn't force their own views on others. As to those international sources that have misunderstandings about China's human rights situation -- or even hostility towards China -- we hope these tensions can be reduced through dialogue, communications and exchanges. We should aspire to better understanding and expanded cooperation. If no common understanding can be reached, we should seek common ground while downplaying differences. We, however, oppose people's making human rights a political issue to use to interfere in China's internal affairs, damage our social stability and international honor and impede the development of the country. In recent years, China has conducted multi-level dialogues with many Western countries, including the US, EU countries, Canada, and Australia, that have promoted mutual understanding and cooperation. I hope this kind of effective dialogue will continue," Zhao said.

Zhao added that the primary goal, ideal, and substance of human rights are the same. Yet people have different views on the guarantee of human rights since the modes and methods to realize human rights are different in countries with different histories, cultures, and development stages. Oriental culture, including traditional Chinese culture, puts more stress on harmony between individuals and society at large. Therefore, the coordination between individual and collective rights is of major importance in the field of human rights. Western culture, however, pays more attention to individuals, individual liberty and individual values. The separation between the individual and the state -- or society at large -- is emphasized in relation to human rights. In addition, the issue of human rights is closely linked with economic development. Many developing countries must attach primary importance to overall development to assure people's right to survival and to safeguard people's right to economic and cultural development. As development is the most important and primary issue in these countries, this goes before all other matters -- including human rights. Moreover, Oriental countries, compared with their counterparts in the West, have different views and understanding about marriage and family. These, to a large degree, have to do with the history, culture and development level of each country.

According to Zhao, progress in China's human rights finds its prime expression in great changes in Chinese people's living conditions in the past 20 years. Ever since 1978, Chinese government has been implementing the reform and opening-up policy steadily, which has greatly promoted China's economic development and improved people's living standards. From 1979 to 2000, China's national economy grew at an annual rate of 9.5 percent. The number of people living below the poverty level decreased from 250 million in 1978 to less than 30 million, with a population of 220 million out of poverty within 23 years, which is unprecedented not only in China's history, but also in the world. The great improvement in the living status of 1.3 billion Chinese people, accounting for one-fifth of the world population, is historic in the developmental history of China's human rights. At the same time, this is also the huge contribution China has made to the world's course on human rights' development.

Since late 1970s, the Chinese government, in accordance with the country's actual conditions and in a systematic and gradual way, has been working on the establishment of democratic and legal systems to facilitate overall advancement of the Chinese society and guarantee people's citizens' rights and political rights. Now, Chinese people are enjoying rights of freedom and personal legal rights that were never granted before in history, such as the freedom to be personally involved in business, commerce, and cultural activities, the freedom of choosing one's career; the freedom of speech and publications, legal protections for personal rights, etc. Meanwhile, great progress has been made in every aspect of these areas.

China always fully participates in the activities in the field of international human rights, especially those regarding United Nation's human rights activities. She respects the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the UN Agreements on Human Rights and its basic principles. So far, China has been ratified to join 18 international conventions on human rights. Based on the nation's actual situation, China has incorporated their principles on human rights protection into Chinese laws.

The world situation nowadays is very complicated. Fighting for national interests as well as clashes between different ethnic groups, religions, cultures and values make it very possible that these elements could one day escalate to affect -- even threaten -- world peace and security. Against such a global background, China, as a big multinational country with various religions, has maintained her social stability, with different ethnic groups living in harmony, and achieved a fast and sustainable economic development to gradually improved people's living standard. All these are definitely huge achievements by China that should be valued.

Zhao said that China still has much more to do to improve human rights. The biggest problems: The some 30 million rural people without enough to eat and wear, the 85.07 million people above 15 years old who are illiterate or semi-illiterate, a low level of medical and health care, and difficulties in protecting workers' interests. Moreover, a porous legal system, low efficiency in law enforcement, and infringement of citizens' rights by law-enforcement officials are still anything but rare. The Chinese government always keeps a strong commitment to safeguarding human rights and is resolved to stop any infringement on human rights as it can.

"But we all know that as China's development moves forward, problems that emerge from the development process in no way can be solved in a short time. Perseverance, patience is what we need, along with resolve and confidence, to find solutions for the problems."

Zhao expressed his full confidence in the future of China's human rights cause. "A more prosperous economy, a better life for people and a more open and civilized society are expected to be achieved through convergent endeavors of the state and the nation. Then Chinese will enjoy better human rights. Now China is in an important transition period and has bright prospects for future development. I believe that every Chinese will actively work towards a better tomorrow."

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