(WE Talk) Why has it become a consensus in China that the rights to subsistence and development are key basic human rights?

By ZHU Liyu

(ZHU Liyu, Professor, Faculty of Law, Renmin University of China and Secretary-General of the Academic Committee of the Center for Human Rights Studies)

(ECNS) — The rights to subsistence and development are rights that every human being should enjoy as considerations of fundamental dignity, fundamentally important for their survival and personal development. These are two fundamental human rights that must be applied in all countries and for all. All have the right to contribute to and enjoy the benefits of economic, political, cultural, social and ecological development in national and international societies. These opportunities for subsistence and development must be shared equitably and their benefit shared by all. It is an indisputable fact that the rights to subsistence and development are considered basic human rights in China.

Proposal of the right to development

Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right to Development (hereinafter abbreviated “Declaration”) adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986 proclaims: “The right to development is a right inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples have the right to participate in, contribute to and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized”. Article 6 of the Declaration states: “All human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible and interdependent; equal attention and urgent consideration must be given to the implementation, promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights”. To avoid any misunderstanding, Article 9 specifically underlines that “all aspects of the right to development set out in this Declaration are indivisible and interdependent and each of them must be considered in the context of the whole”.

The right to development thus highlighted by the Declaration is comprehensive and focuses on the implementation, promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. In 1986, China not only made efforts to promote the adoption of this resolution, but also worked for the pursuit and realization of this right to development as a basic human right of the Chinese people in the process of building a prosperous society by focusing on economic development.

Subsistence Rights Proposal

The White Paper Human Rights in China was published by the Information Office of the State Council of China on November 1, 1991. It is the first white paper published by the Chinese government and the first official document which systematically deals with human rights in China and formally proposes the right to subsistence. It elaborates on China’s basic position and policies on human rights and describes fundamental human rights changes in China since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It not only illustrates the development and progress of human rights in China, but also explains human rights conditions in China to the international community to promote understanding.

The first section, “The right to subsistence is the first human right that the Chinese people have been fighting for a long time”, points out that “For a country and a nation, the first human right is the right to subsistence , without which all other human rights are irrelevant. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. In old China, people’s lives could not be guaranteed, and countless people died of war and starvation due to imperialist aggression and the oppression of feudalism and bureaucratic capitalism. Fighting for the right to subsistence has historically become the main issue of human rights.

The proposal and explanation of the right to subsistence not only underlines the Chinese view of human rights, but also conforms to the Declaration on the Right to Development. The Chinese government systematically includes the right to subsistence as well as the right to development in all human rights white papers. It is a position and statement on human rights formed by the CPC, the Chinese government and the Chinese people considered important, based on history, national conditions and the ‘experience. Especially after the reform and opening-up movement, China has always regarded social progress and stability, economic development and the protection of these livelihood and development rights as the fundamental path to achieve democracy, freedom and a society that values ​​human rights.

In the 1980s and 1990s, scholars from many developing countries, including China, proposed that the rights to subsistence and development are fundamental in the field of human rights. Western countries did not entirely agree with this. They apply Western human rights values ​​and definitions, theories, systems, standards and models as the absolute and exclusive yardstick by which to measure and judge the human rights situation in developing countries .

Therefore, it seems that many Western scholars think that human rights are just political rights and civil rights. Although they may sometimes recognize that human rights include economic, social and cultural rights, they do not see them as equally essential when actually observing and judging human rights conditions in a certain country. As for the rights to subsistence and development, they generally do not recognize them. Moreover, the human rights discussed by Western scholars generally refer only to individual human rights and do not include collective human rights.

On the contrary, many scholars in developing countries, especially in China, believe that economic, social and cultural rights are as indispensable as political rights and citizenship rights. For developing countries, the rights to subsistence and development are basic human rights. Chinese scholars also argue that individual human rights and collective human rights should receive special attention, with the latter having more weight.

Recognizing the importance of subsistence and development rights becomes an international consensus

In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (A/RES/70/1) was adopted during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The Agenda was officially launched on January 1, 2016, calling on countries to work towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals over the next 15 years. These 17 goals are directly or indirectly related to the rights to subsistence and development. For example, the objectives of the right to subsistence include the elimination of all forms of poverty, hunger and food insecurity, requiring nutritional improvement and the promotion of sustainable agriculture worldwide. The objectives of the right to development include the creation of inclusive and equitable quality education, sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and urgent action against climate change and its impacts.

Subsistence is the basis and foundation of all development, and the goal of development is to achieve a higher, more decent and more dignified level of subsistence. The rights to subsistence and to development cannot be separated, as two sides of the same coin. In developing countries, democracy, freedom and other human rights can only be fully realized if the problems of subsistence and development are solved. This point of view has become the consensus within the international community.

China has not only contributed to the advancement of this resolution, but also achieved many development goals ahead of schedule, achieving remarkable achievements. For example, China has become the world’s second-largest economy, won the battle against nationwide poverty, and pursued a policy of valuing people’s lives first in the fight against the epidemic. China has made consistent and continuous efforts to protect Chinese people’s rights to livelihood and development, enhance their sense of betterment, happiness and security, and realize their aspirations for a better life. This is why it is widely accepted in China that the rights to subsistence and development are basic human rights.

Adhere to the advice of the Sinicized Marxist vision of human rights

With the development and progress of the human rights of the Chinese people, China has also taken a step forward in human rights theory, formulating a Sinicized Marxist vision of human rights that guides the building the cause of human rights in China combining the Marxist vision of human rights rights with the current conditions of China.

This vision of human rights emphasizes that the history of human social development is one of new modes of production replacing old ones and that those old modes of production which restrict human rights should be relegated to the past. Society cannot exist or develop without production and without releasing and developing new productive forces. Therefore, the rights to subsistence and development must be given priority in the construction of human rights. In China, it is necessary to start from the actual conditions encountered in the lives of ordinary citizens, to strive to improve the protection of people’s rights to subsistence and development taking into account historical and national conditions, and to follow a development path suited to these national conditions. Human rights include those that are both individual and collective. The interest of individual human rights is the citizen, while the subjects of collective human rights include social groups, classes and the state. China emphasizes the indivisible nature of individual and collective human rights, but pays more attention to the collective as it concerns the masses. It contributes to a consistent social consensus held by the Chinese that the rights to subsistence and development are basic human rights.

Although there can never be perfection, China will continue to do better in protecting human rights. At the 37th collective study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on February 25, General Secretary Xi Jinping said, “The rights to subsistence and development are basic human rights. Subsistence is the basis of all human rights. People’s happy life is the greatest human right. China will continue to regard respecting and protecting human rights as an important task in the country’s government, advancing the cause of human rights in this new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

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