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Speech by Mr. LI Qiyan, Vice Minister of Ministry of Labour and Social Security of China on the 86th Session of ILO Annual Conference (12 June, 1998)

Mr. Chairman,

First of all, please allow me to congratulate you on your election as Chairman of the current session of the International Labour Organisation. I am sure that with your wisdom and experience, you will be able to guide this session to a complete success.

With economic globalisation and development of inter-dependence among different countries, international organisations are now playing increasingly bigger roles. In the fields of employment and social development, the ILO has a special part to play, which was confirmed in the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the World Summit for Social Development held in Copenhagen in 1995. In order to live up to its mission, the ILO, at the threshold of the new century, needs to conduct a serious review of its past activities and establish an effective mechanism for cooperation through reform and readjustment so that it can respond timely to the needs of its member states and major international economic and social issues.

At present, unemployment and poverty continue to pose a serious threat to workers' basis right to subsistence. In this connection, the Chinese Government has always spoken highly of the lofty purposes and objectives of the ILO in promoting employment and eradicating poverty as well as in upholding social justice and maintaining world peace, and has on its part made unremitting efforts in this regard. Over the past two decades, China has, through implementing the policy of reform and opening-up, made remarkable achievements in economic development and social progress, and thereby improved the life of its people, who account for one fifth of the world's population. However, like many other countries, China, the most populous developing nation in the world, is faced with great challenges in the fields of employment and social security. Our government plans, within three to five years, to establish preliminarily a labour system and a social security system, which conforms to the level of our current economic development and meets the requirements of a socialist market economy, thus our workers can benefit from more job opportunities and enjoy basic social security. To that end, China will continue to implement energetically the reemployment programme, take proper care of the laid-off workers, speed up the reform of the health care system, and strengthen the unified management of the social security service. China's newly established Ministry of Labour and Social Security is to take up this historic task. We stand ready to conduct effective cooperation with ILO and its member states and learn from all other countries' useful experience in tackling the problems of employment and social security, and further improve the relevant laws, regulations and policies in the light of our specific national conditions. The realisation of the above goal, I believe, will be our country's new contribution to the development of the ILO and progress of the human society.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the issuance of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. China has all along respected the basic principles enshrined in the Declaration and attached importance to the question of human rights including workers' right to freedom of association. Our Constitution has clear stipulations to this end. China has signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the UN, and is now studying the accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Chinese Government has all along attached great importance to other international human rights conventions and relevant international instruments adopted by the UN system. China has actively participated in activities concerning international labour standards and taken effective measures to safeguard workers' basic rights and interests. Last year, China ratified Convention No. 122 Concerning Employment Policy. It is now undergoing the final domestic ratification process for Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age. China pays great attention to absorbing useful contents of international labour standards in the process of labour legislation. In the years to come, the Chinese Government will, as always, work hard for the healthy development of activities concerning labour standards.

We are of the view that the objectives for economic development, employment generation and poverty alleviation as determined by the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen should be further implemented in the ILO. However, it must be pointed out that there has emerged a noteworthy tendency in the ILO's activities in recent years. The basic labour standards are regarded as a panacea by some people, who seem to believe that all social problems would be readily solved as long as the basic conventions are ratified. The development of such a trend will inevitably lead to the deviation from the basic purposes and goals of the ILO. There has been a debate over a period of time centering around activities concerning labour standards, especially on the question of formulating the Declaration, in which China, like some other developing countries, rejects the linkage between labour standards and international trade, is against expansion of supervisory mechanism, and calls on the ILO to increase technical cooperation and assistance to the member states with a view to improving their capacity of ratifying and implementing conventions.

We live in a world of multi-polarity. For all the major questions of the ILO, we should properly handle our differences in accordance with the principles of mutual respect, seeking common ground while putting aside differences and gradual progress, and work for solutions on the basis of broad consensus. The Chinese Government is ready to make joint efforts with other parties to bring a more responsive and cooperative ILO into the new century and contribute its share to world peace and development.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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