China


A good article on a presentation by Ma Zhaoxu, head of the Chinese Mission at the UN in Geneva. Apart from pressing the point that human rights requires dialogue and cooperation, he also reiterates two crucial features of a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights (see my earlier post): the importance of sovereignty in dealing with human rights, and the often-neglected human right to economic wellbeing and reduction of poverty.

A further word on sovereignty. In the European tradition, this is often understood (as appeared again in a recent workshop I attended) as the full and ultimate power of a sovereign, whether an individual or a government. This is peculiarly truncated understanding, since it leaves out another factor: sovereignty is always constrained by borders. In words, sovereignty is the authority of a governing power to rule its own territory, while not interfering with another state. This sense comes out strongly in the Chinese tradition, but it is also important for formerly colonised countries. In fact, the truncated European version can be seen as a justification for imperialism, since the ultimate power of a ruler has no borders.

 

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This one has been on the way for some time. Last week the new Ordinance on Religious Affairs was published, which is to take effect on 1 February 2018. To publicise the new rules, we find Yu Zhengsheng, a senior political advisor, making the following points:

Conflicts and disputes involving ethnic and religious factors should be dealt with in accordance with the law concerned to safeguard social harmony and stability.

We must resolutely resist overseas infiltration via religious means and prevent missionary activities in educational institutions.

Apart from promoting traditional Chinese culture and national unity, Yu also stressed that “socialist core values should guide and educate religious figures and their followers.” I love that one.

But what is the background to these new ordinances? The Institute for World Religion Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has been engaged in research for some time (I have played a modest part in the process). So we find Liu Guopeng, from the institute, observing that Protestant groups have been growing and – due to conservative tendencies among some – have been condemning Buddhism, Taoism and Islam. And external influences have radicalised some elements among the Xinjiang Uyghur and Ningxia Hui nationalities.

The key in these cases is that all religions should stick to independence and self-governance and not be controlled by any foreign entity – whether Christian, Muslim or indeed Buddhist. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), set up with the work of the Chinese Christian communist, Yu Yaozong, and Zhou Enlai, is perhaps the best example of this, which is one of the largest Protestant organisations in the world.

 

 

This one is more complex than one is led to believe. About 300,000 Rohingya (Muslims mostly) have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. But what is actually going on?

For some corporate media it is ‘ethnic cleansing’, providing stories that retell what journalists have been told by Rohingya individuals – of villages destroyed and people forced to flee. For Modi and the Indian government, the Myanmar government’s account is correct: terrorists are causing distinct problems and the military is responding. India’s geopolitical concerns obviously play a role here. But perhaps the most balanced assessment comes from Chinese sources (here, here and here).

The immediate background: on 25 August, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched attacks on 30 police posts in Rakhine state in the northwest. The military responded with force, seeking to deal with terrorist activity. Hundreds of thousands have since fled the war zone.

The longer background: economic backwardness among the Rohingya, cultural and religious (Buddhist-Muslim) tensions, denial to Rohingya of citizenship, extremist Muslim activities.

Given long Chinese experiences with such issues, the articles I mentioned tend to take a longer view. They point out the need for both short-term and long-term policies that will deal with the immediate problems but not forget the deeper issues that need to be addressed. From a Chinese perspective, the fundamental human right is the one to economic wellbeing, with the others (civic, political and religious) following.

Two overlapping articles in the China Daily outline clearly the main Chinese position in relation to the Korean Peninsula (here and here). Apart from pointing out the uselessness of U.S. threats and sanctions, as well as the reasonableness of the freeze-freeze proposal (freezing US provocations and DPRK nuclear development), the articles also understand the perspective of the DPRK. Further, a simple point is made: the United States is not interested in a settlement. Thus, it is not interested in dialogue, adopting the Chinese-Russian proposal (freeze-freeze), or even the DPRK’s long-standing position concerning reunification: a bilateral system that recognises a communist north and a capitalist south, without international interference. Why? If a solution was found, people would ask: why is the United States is this part of the world, occupying another country?

On a related matter, China’s ‘toilet revolution’ seems to be gaining traction in its third year. Launched by Xi Jinping in April, 2017, it initially focused on tourist areas. And given the sheer size of China, this involved a significant amount of cash. There have even been toilet revolution conferences, with the second one held in Beijing earlier this year.

But the program has now expanded to rural areas, where – as I have experienced – a toilet is often a hole in the ground beneath two planks. Here the revolution has faced some challenges, as a story in Xinhua reports:

However, officials claim convincing rural residents to change their toilets is a challenge. “Most villagers are used to their way of using the toilet. It is hard to change,” said Wang Zhigang, Communist Party secretary in Tanggou Township in northern Jiangsu.

Farmers collect feces to be composted on their farmland. If they use flush toilets, no compost will be left behind. Dry toilets with tanks bring the extra task of regular cleaning.

“We had to build a few toilets first and take villagers to visit, and then encourage them to build new ones,” he said. Slogans such as “sanitary toilets improve lives” are painted on walls of rural homes. TV stations are told to air videos promoting the use of better toilet facilities.

Why change an age-old practice? Hygiene obviously, and disease reduction, since easily preventable diseases are still  a problem in the poorer western areas of China. Obviously, it is also part of the poverty reduction program, since health is directly related to economic and social wellbeing.

As is the way in China with such incentives, you now find people devoting their lives to the cause. An example is Qian Jun, a successful businessman who had a life-changing health scare in 2011. Since then, ‘China’s Mr Toilet‘ has given up his business and focused on improving facilities at schools and in remote rural areas, such as Tibet where below zero temperatures require specifically designed facilities.

I must say that I hope one feature of the older style toilet does not disappear – their communal nature. In some places, you can join your neighbours in the local communal toilet. There are no barriers between the squat toilets, so you can crouch, enjoy a smoke and chat with the neighbours about the day, life, and so on.

These news stories are worth following, concerning China’s ongoing poverty relief program. It is a cornerstone of the preparations for a transition to the ‘moderately prosperous, well-off and peaceful society’ (xiaokang shehui) – in other words, the second stage of socialism. I have mentioned some of these earlier (herehere and here), but the latest appears on Xinhua news, along with a video explanation. More than 700 million lifted out of poverty so far, about 40 million to go by 2021.

Two items today as I rest after the ride across Belgium and Germany (basic account and pictures gradually being loaded here). The first is a report on the continuing program to lift the remaining 43.35 million (as of the end of 2016) Chinese people out of poverty by 2020. From 2012 to 2016, 13.9 million people have been lifted out of poverty annually, but it still requires another 10 million every year, or 20 people per minute, by 2020. Consider for a moment the scale of the project, or even the fact that it is a major program at all (most places in the world do not really care).

But what is the point, apart from the obvious? It is part of the preparations for achieving a moderately prosperous society (xiaokang shehui) by the beginning of the first centenary goal of 2021 – the centenary of the founding of the CPC. As I have mentioned earlier, this is Confucian terminology for the second stage of socialism in China.

The second is the first part of a documentary series on China’s major-country diplomacy (which you can see here). Through all the gloss, I am struck by the fact that the two centenary goals are mentioned explicitly, as well as the Chinese dream, but above all by the way this includes China – under Xi Jinping – as force of global leadership.

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