For those interested in a useful overview of China’s extraordinary poverty alleviation project the following documentary series is worth viewing.
For those interested in a useful overview of China’s extraordinary poverty alleviation project the following documentary series is worth viewing.
The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China recently released a white paper called ‘Vocational Education and Training in Xinjiang‘.
Well worth a read, since it reveals why developing countries, and especially Islamic countries understand and support the very successful measures in Xinjiang to curb the three evils of terrorism, extremism and separatism. The following article from The Global Times explains why:
China on Friday released a white paper on vocational education and training in Xinjiang. For the past two years, the vocational education and training centers have been the focus of debate on Xinjiang affairs. Western countries have been fiercely critical, while developing countries, including Islamic nations, have shown a general understanding and support.
Through a thorough review of the white paper, it is clear why Islamic countries support the facilities, and why they receive more significant approval worldwide amid adverse reports from Western media.
A closer examination of the white paper shows the following reasons why the vocational education and training centers are valuable.
First, they were created based on facts, while providing an objective and powerful response to the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Terrorism and extremism used to run rampant in Xinjiang. As mentioned in the white paper, there had been thousands of terrorist incidents including bombs, assassinations and poisonings from 1990-2016.
Violent terrorist attacks are spiritually instigated and supported by extremism and too powerful and complicated to be addressed by the general rule of law. As a result, vocational education and training centers serve as the best solution to solving this problem at its root. The facilities are a manifestation of the times.
Second, the centers are nothing like the depictions from Western media that have referred to them as “detention camps” that torture specific ethnic minorities. The centers have become a life school for the trainees and a place where they learn vital knowledge on laws and standard Chinese language while mastering one or two vocational skills. The centers provide possibilities for many impoverished trainees who were infected by extremism and have now reshaped their livelihoods. Undoubtedly, the centers will continue to change the fate of many poor people in Xinjiang.
Third, the centers are managed with care. They provide trainees with ideal conditions and are an improvement for those from impoverished places. Besides, the centers are not “closed learning” facilities. Even though they function as boarding schools, trainees are allowed to go home regularly, request time off, and communicate freely with the outside world.
Fourth, as a key governance measure in Xinjiang in recent years, the centers have achieved more than initially expected. So far, many trainees have already graduated. In doing so, not only have they strengthened their abilities to resist extremism but have also secured employment. In nearly three consecutive years, there has been no violent terrorist attack in Xinjiang, which is mainly due to the vocational education and training centers.
When looking back on recent years, the centers haven’t been crushed by the enormous pressure placed on them by Western opinion, and instead, have become even better. It shows that as long as a cause is based on facts and benefits majority of the people, it can experience continuous development.
The West-dominated discourse targeting the centers is similar to an iron curtain. But progress has been achieved in the communication over the centers. Attacks of the West have not extended beyond public opinion and went pale in the face of transparent progress by the Chinese side. Besides, the US and other Western countries have been unable to convince Islamic nations to join them to oppose the Xinjiang governance. China has gradually gained the initiative.
It’s fair to say China has conducted its most difficult human rights debate with the US and other Western countries in recent years, securing a glorious victory. China won as its efforts in Xinjiang have been pragmatic and based on facts. Proper governance has been implemented for the wellbeing of all ethnic groups in the region, rather than an attempt to win laud from the US and other Western nations. By adhering to this principle and moving forward, China has received more recognition from the international community, while its opponents are destined to become further isolated.
Update: the letter mentioned below now includes 50 signatories, from countries whose population totals 2 billion. Of these, 28 are Muslim-majority countries.
‘No investigation, no right to speak [meiyou diaocha jiu meiyou fanyanquan]’.
This Chinese saying is particularly relevant for some in a small number of former colonising countries who like to make unfounded statements about China. That they have been used to seeing the world in their image is obvious; that they misunderstand much of the rest of the world is also obvious. But times are changing fast, for the voices from precisely such parts are increasingly strong and being heard.
Xinjiang and its highly successful counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation programs are a case in point. In contrast to the former colonisers, many foreign delegations and journalists from other countries have visited Xinjiang and undertaken proper investigation. Notably, this includes investigators from Muslim-majority and developing countries, which support China’s approach.
One recent result of this process of investigation is a joint letter from the ambassadors of 37 countries, which was sent to the UN’s human rights council. The letter indicates strong support for China’s successes in Xinjiang and its promotion of a Chinese Marxist approach to human rights. \
As Xinhua news reports:
July 12 (Xinhua) — Ambassadors of 37 countries on Friday sent a joint letter to the President of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to show their support for China on its “remarkable achievements in the field of human rights”.
“We commend China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights by adhering to the people-centered development philosophy and protecting and promoting human rights through development,” the joint letter said.
“We also appreciate China’s contributions to the international human rights cause,” it said.
The ambassadors expressed their “firm opposition” to relevant countries’ practice of politicizing human rights issues, by naming and shaming, and publicly exerting pressures on other countries.
“We urge the OHCHR, Treaty Bodies and relevant Special Procedures mandate holders to conduct their work in an objective and impartial manner according to their mandate and with true and genuinely credible information, and value the communication with member states,” the joint letter said.
The letter was signed by the ambassadors to UN at Geneva from Russia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Cuba, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Nigeria, Angola, Togo, Tajikistan, Philippines, Belarus and a number of other countries from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and other parts of the world.
RESPECTING HUMAN RIGHTS IN COUNTER-TERRORISM
As for issues related to China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the UN envoys said that terrorism, separatism and religious extremism have caused enormous damage to people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, which has seriously infringed upon human rights, including right to life, health and development.
“Faced with the grave challenge of terrorism and extremism, China has undertaken a series of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization measures in Xinjiang, including setting up vocational education and training centers,” they noted.
They mentioned that safety and security has returned to Xinjiang and the fundamental human rights of people of all ethnic groups there are safeguarded.
“The past three consecutive years has seen not a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang and people there enjoy a stronger sense of happiness, fulfillment and security,” the envoys stressed.
The ambassadors said they noted “with appreciation” that human rights are respected and protected in China in the process of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization.
“We appreciate China’s commitment to openness and transparency. China has invited a number of diplomats, international organizations officials and journalist to Xinjiang to witness the progress of the human rights cause and the outcomes of counter-terrorism and de-radicalization there,” they said, adding that what they saw and heard in Xinjiang completely contradicted what was reported in some western media.
“We call on relevant countries to refrain from employing unfounded charges against China based on unconfirmed information before they visit Xinjiang,” they concluded.
FULL SUPPORT FROM LOCAL PEOPLE
At the end of the letter, the ambassadors, on behalf of the respective country of them, request that this letter be recorded as an official document of the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council and be published on the official UN Website.
Friday marked the last day of the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, which started on June 24.
Li Song, the Charge d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of China to UN at Geneva, spoke on Friday at a UN Human Rights Council session, expressing appreciation and gratitude to the 37 ambassadors for their supports.
Li Song told the Council that China welcomes those who truly adhere to the principles of objectivity and fairness to come to visit Xinjiang, to take a look and feel its beauty, prosperity, hospitality, development and progress.
Once plagued by terrorist attacks, Li said, Xinjiang was determined to take lawful actions to fight crimes of violence and terrorism, and at the same time to take prevention and de-radicalization means to address the root causes, including the setting up of vocational education and training centers.
“Now these measures have achieved good results and gained full support from the local people,” the senior Chinese diplomat said.
“The people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang, along with the entire Chinese people, will stride forward to build a brighter future of their own,” Li added.
Let me begin with two statements:
Statement 1: ‘China does not uphold and promote human rights in accord with internationally agreed norms’.
This statement is nonsense. Although it is peddled in a few former colonising countries, it clearly goes against the facts.
Statement 2: ‘China upholds and promotes human rights in accord with internationally agreed norms’.
This is a statement of fact. How so?
Earlier, I have pointed out how the Chinese Marxist approach to human rights, as a ‘rooted universal’, contributes to global understandings. And in relation to the regions of Xinjiang and Tibet – as examples – China fosters the fundamental right to socio-economic wellbeing in a way that is second to none. Further, if one takes time to study carefully the approach to religion, you will find the promotion and protection of freedom religious belief, in line with Chinese laws.
However, I am interested here in the phrase, ‘internationally agreed norms’. The former colonisers who like to use such a phrase usually refer to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and perhaps the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was published in 1966 but came into effect in 1976. That China has signed but not ratified the second can give a superficial impression that it does not abide by ‘international norms’.
But this is a very partial picture, which needs a full account of the facts. To begin with, the famous first article of the universal declaration reads: ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. The first sentence may be reasonably well known, but the second is often forgotten. This is a shame, since it the distinct contribution of Zhang Pengchun (P.C. Chang), who was vice-chair of the Commission on Human Rights that produced the document. After much debate, Zhang proposed the term ‘conscience’, which is a somewhat loose translation of the Confucian term ren. What does it mean? Zhang explained that a better translation of ren is ‘two-person mindedness’ (see further, Sun Pinghua, Human Rights Protection System in China, 2014).
This is only a beginning, for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights came into force at the same time as another, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (published in 1966). I will quote from the second text in a moment, but it is worth noting that when the initial idea for such a covenant was proposed in the 1960s, it was seen as a unified document. But as differences arose between the proponents of the Western liberal tradition and proponents of a socialist and anti-colonial approach, the solution was two covenants, published separately but coming into force at the same time, in 1976.
As an aside, let me note the active role of the Soviet Union in the UN. It was the original sponsor of Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (1960), and was a strong supporter of the covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (1976). It is not often acknowledged that the Soviet Union also promoted anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism through the UN. For example, it was the 1960 declaration that forced the last remaining European colonisers to give up (most) of their colonies: UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and so on.
To return to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. Let me quote some of the more pertinent points. The preamble observes: ‘in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ideal of free human beings enjoying freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his economic, social and cultural rights, as well as his civil and political rights’. This is a crucial statement, since it identifies the right to socio-economic and cultural wellbeing as the core right on which others depend.
Article 1 reads: ‘All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’. Clearly, this article follows in the wake of the declaration on granting independence to colonial countries and peoples from 1960. Crucially, each can choose its political status and approach, in light of its history and culture. They certainly do not need the imposition of Western bourgeois democracy, which has been disastrous in other parts of the world (and is not particularly successful even in its place of origin). For example, China and Vietnam have chosen socialist democracy as systems better suited to their environments. It is also worth noting that a number of countries have clarified their interpretation of the clause in terms that self-determination refers to the country as an integral whole and not separatist groups within the borders.
Article 6:1 reads: ‘The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right’. Part 2 is particularly interesting, since this is what the local government in Xinjiang is doing in order to de-radicalise Islamic militants and ensure stability and peace for all: ‘2. ‘The steps to be taken by a State Party to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual’. Clearly, the highly successful programs in Xinjiang accord with internationally agreed norms.
Further articles deal with social security, physical and mental health, education, culture, scientific progress, and so on. One need only look at Tibet to witness its progress on all of these fronts.
Yet, article 11 is perhaps the clearest statement of the core right to socio-economic wellbeing: ‘The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions’. Exactly.
Now, let us see which countries signed this covenant and ratified it. The initial signatories in the 1960s, even before it came into force, were mostly socialist countries in Eastern Europe and a good number of formerly colonised countries. In particular, the Soviet Union signed in 1968 and ratified the covenant in 1973 – among the first. China signed in 1997 and ratified the covenant in 2001. The delay is due to the wary engagement with international debates over human rights and the development of a robust Chinese Marxist tradition, marked by the inclusion of the phrase ‘the state respects and guarantees human rights’ in the 2004 amendments to the constitution. However, the United States has still not ratified the covenant. If one considers the text, you can see why: the regime fundamentally opposes most of its statements.
At the same time, by now the vast majority of countries in the world have both signed and ratified the covenant, making it a ‘universally agreed norm’.
For these reasons, the following is a statement of fact: China upholds and promotes human rights in accord with internationally agreed norms.
This book arises from a contradiction in our time: Chinese scholars and indeed most people in China are well aware of the key arguments and developments that form the basis of socialism with Chinese characteristics (zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi); non-Chinese scholars are largely ignorant, even though I find that more and more want to know at least something. In China, many of the topics presented in this book were settled quite a few years ago, so much so that one finds relatively little debate today. Other topics have a renewed vigour – such as contradiction analysis and rule of law – but these rely on earlier debates. By contrast, one struggles to find even remotely adequate treatment of these topics in foreign materials – if they are studied at all. I will examine some of the reasons in the introduction to the book, but three may be identified here: first, some have a tendency to say they prefer to look at the practice and ignore the theory, but this is a profound abdication of not only proper research, but Marxism itself (where theory along with practice is crucial); second, the material that does appear stops with the death of Mao Zedong (some, especially by Knick Knight, is excellent); third, the vast bulk of available scholarship is in Chinese. Obviously, one needs to be able to research this Chinese-language material.
Even so, the primary purpose of this book not to engage in polemics (lunzhan – fighting theories), but to make available for a non-Chinese audience the sophisticated debates and conclusions in China concerning socialism with Chinese characteristics. Without knowing this material, one can come to superficial perceptions and profound misunderstandings; knowing it, one begins the first steps in understanding and thereby trust. The following begins with a careful philosophical analysis of Deng Xiaoping, and the implications of his core ideas and practices. This study is the basis of what the rest of the book: contradiction analysis; the Marxist philosophy of the Reform and Opening Up; the basis and nature of the socialist market economy; socialist modernisation; rule of law; sovereignty and human rights; minority nationalities and the anti-colonial project; and Xi Jinping’s thorough Marxism in a Chinese situation. I should say that I have about a year of further in-depth research before me, so some of the material below will be revised as the project develops.
The introduction begins by tracing the idea that while Marxism has core principles, or sets of problems, the way it develops in different locations has distinct characteristics. While there are global commonalities, each region has its distinct history, culture and philosophical tradition. As a result, in each situation the problems are somewhat unique and require new answers – hence the specific ‘characteristics’ of Marxism in such a location. We may trace this idea back to the late writings of Marx and Engels, as they faced developments of socialism in other parts of the world. But it begins to appear more clearly with Lenin and Stalin, and of course with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Obviously, the idea is not original to Deng, although he gave it a particular resonance in China.
The introduction also attempts to explain why there is precious little treatment in non-Chinese material of the Marxist basis of the Reform and Opening Up, with which ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has been most closely associated. In order to understand this situation, I elaborate on the distinction between ‘before’ and ‘after’ October. In other words, a crucial divide in analysis appears between those who take the perspective of ‘before October’, before the communist revolution, and those who analyse Marxism ‘after October’, after the revolution and in the difficult period of the construction of socialism. As Lenin and Mao said repeatedly, gaining power in a communist revolution is relatively easy; by contrast, constructing socialism is infinitely more complicated. Obviously, this study is concerned with ‘after October’, with the project of constructing socialism.
Finally, the introduction presents the main features of Chinese scholarship on socialism with Chinese characteristics. This material is immense, so I introduce the main resources, journals and themes – with a distinct focus on the philosophical foundations as they are manifested in practice.
‘Less talk, more deeds’ – Deng Xiaoping is mostly remembered as a leader of concrete acts rather than extensive theoretical reflection. In non-Chinese works, one may find biographies, studies of foreign policy, and scattered quotations taken out of context (albeit usually within a western European liberal framework). Few indeed are the studies of ‘Deng Xiaoping theory [lilun]’. Apart from Domenico Losurdo, no-one outside China has credited Deng with a sophisticated and insightful theoretical basis.
Through a careful study of Deng’s speeches and writings, along with relevant Chinese scholarship, I analyse the philosophical basis in two related ideas: liberating thought, and seeking truth from facts. While the terms seem simple enough on the surface, at a deeper level they identify the need to escape from the trap of Marxist dogmatism (as Mao also urged) and the need for careful analysis of the particular conditions of China in order to develop new answers in light of the Marxist tradition. From these two core ideas flow many of Deng’s positions: liberating the forces of production (see further the chapter on the socialist market economy), seeking a moderately well-off (xiaokang) society, to each according to work, and of course socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Deng Xiaoping presented less of a break with Mao or indeed the Marxist tradition and more of a creative continuity within that living tradition. A significant element of this continuity was ‘contradiction analysis [maodun fenxi]’. This topic requires an initial step back to Mao Zedong (‘On Contradiction’) and how he developed a whole new phase in the Marxist tradition of dialectical analysis, via Lenin and Chinese conditions. Crucial for the construction of socialism is the idea of non-antagonistic contradictions: contradictions will appear under socialism, but the focus should be in ensuring they are non-antagonistic. Subsequently, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping, we find contradiction analysis at the basis of philosophical thought and government policy. For example, it appears in: class analysis in the primary stage of socialism; socialist market economy; poverty alleviation; education: medicine; workplace realities; core socialist value; and – of course – the crucial need to identify a primary contradiction as the basis of all policy (as Xi Jinping did at the nineteenth congress of the CPC in 2018).
It is perhaps less realised than it should be that the Reform and Opening Up is not a compromise, but a distinctly Marxist project. As Deng Xiaoping pointed out repeatedly, the Reform and Opening Up provides a distinct path to socialism (and not, as some misguided foreigners suggested, to capitalism). To understand this emphasis, we need initially to go back to Lenin and his insight into the relationship between revolution and reform. Instead of seeing these two terms as an either-or, Lenin argued that reform is absolutely necessary, but it should always be undertaken in light of the communist revolution. During the era of constructing socialism, this means that reform must be undertaken by a communist party in power. In a Chinese context, I would like to focus on the following issue (until more have been identified in research): the tension between equality-justice and improving the quality of life for all. In many respects, the Reform and Opening Up may be seen as an effort to keep the two sides of the contradiction in a productive and non-antagonistic relationship. Finally, this chapter offers a brief survey of the leading Marxist philosophers during the forty years of the Reform and Opening Up.
With the socialist market economy, we come to a question that was settled in China 25 years ago, but of which foreigners remain noticeably ignorant. After immense debates in the 1980s and early 1990s, the following was seen as the solution. First and following Stalin, the core contradiction of socialism is between the forces and relations of production. How is this manifested? It can be – and often is – seen in terms of the ownership of the means of production. Thus, workers and peasants need to seize ownership of the means of production from the former bourgeois and landlord owners. But what happens after such a seizure and the destruction of the former ruling class? The contradiction shifts to one between the underlying socio-economic system (zhidu) and its specific components (tizhi). In the first category, we find – for example – a capitalist system and a socialist system; in the second, there are political, social and economic components. Here the productive forces also appear, of which one manifestation is a market economy. To summarise a more detailed analysis: a market economy may form part of a larger socio-economic system, including socialism; a market economy is not always the same and is not inherently capitalist, but is shaped and determined by the system in question (as found already in Marx and in historical analysis); the overall system not only determines the nature of a market economy, but also its purpose, whether profit (capitalist system) or social benefit and meeting the needs of all people (gongtongti fuwu) as in a socialist system. Finally, this approach to a socialist market economy entails a recalibration of the question of ownership. Initially, the ownership of the means of production was related to secondary status, with a mix between public and private ownership, albeit with the state owned enterprises (SOEs) as the drivers of the economy. However, since the 2010s, one may identify a new development: the very distinction between public and private has begun to ‘die away’ (to parse Engels). How this works is the focus of the final part of the chapter.
Since Zedong and Zhou Enlai, ‘socialist modernisation [shehuizhuyi xiandaihua]’ has been a major feature of government policy and action. But what does it mean? Let us begin with Deng Xiaoping’s famous observation in 1979: ‘By achieving the four modernizations, we mean achieving a “moderately well-off family [xiaokang zhi jia]” … a moderately well-off country [xiaokang de guojia]’. For Deng, this is modernisation with Chinese characteristics.
To understand this statement, we need to go back and forward in the Chinese tradition. Deng was the first to pick and reinterpret the old Confucian category – from the Books of Rights and Book of Songs – of xiaokang in light of Marxism, with the sense of being moderately well-off, healthy and peaceful. It is a more achievable aim than datong, the ‘Great Harmony’, at least in the foreseeable future, although both terms (through He Xiu and Kang Youwei) are intimately connected. If we move forward in the more recent tradition, Deng’s insightful move led to a ‘moderately prosperous society in all respects’ becoming central to the Chinese socialist project under Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and especially Xi Jinping. Indeed, the end of 2020 – following hints from Deng – was set as the ambitious but achievable goal for a xiaokang society. But what are the benchmarks? Xi Jinping has identified three: managing profound risks, poverty alleviation and environmental health. The last section of the chapter considers each of these items, with a focus on the impact of lifting 750 million rural and urban workers out of poverty since 1978 and the noticeable advances in achieving an ‘ecological civilisation’.
‘Governing the country according law [yifazhiguo]’ – this four-character phrase encapsulates a range of permutations, from the new Social Credit system, through core socialist values, to religious policy. However, it also has a distinct history that enables us to understand what it means in China, specifically as a socialist rule of law. Although traces of usage appear in much older texts, the key development is precisely during the Reform and Opening Up.
Initially (1978-1996), most of the debate centred around the opposition between ‘rule of human beings [renzhi]’ and ‘rule of law [fazhi]’, after which the latter became the agreed-upon position. Subsequently (1997-2011), the relationship between ‘rule of law’ and ‘legal system [fazhi]’ (sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘rule by law’) was debated, with the two clearly demarcated. Thus, while ‘legal system’ is the basis and concrete manifestation of ‘rule of law’, ‘rule of law’ is itself the ultimate framework and goal of the legal system. During this time, ‘governing the country according to law’ entered the 1999 revision of the Constitution. Finally (2012 to the present) we find increasing clarity of more and more aspects of rule of law, along with its consistent and impartial application. Tellingly, in 2018, the Constitution was revised further, replacing ‘improve the socialist legal system’ with ‘improve the socialist rule of law’.
Theory is crucial, but so is practice. The final part of the chapter examines some concrete manifestations of the rule of law in China: the Social Credit System as an effective and creative way to ensure rule of law at all levels; core socialist values as the positive side of the anti-corruption campaign; and ensuring that the long-standing laws on freedom of religion are strictly observed, especially in light of the revised Regulation on Religious Affairs (2018) and its emphases on self-government, self-support and self-propagation. In all of this, it should re remembered that we are speaking of a socialist rule of law, which is a crucial bulwark of China’s socialist system and is distinct from a capitalist rule of law.
This chapter offers a comparison between two traditions concerning human rights, through the prism of state sovereignty: the Western European liberal tradition and the Chinese Marxist tradition. It does so as follows. The first part introduces the distinction between false and rooted universals. A false universal forgets the conditions of its emergence and asserts that its assumptions apply to all irrespective of context, while a rooted universal is always conscious of and factors into analysis contextual origins, with their possibilities and limitations. With this distinction in mind, the next part deals with state sovereignty. In a Western European context, the standard narrative of this development has two main phases: the initial Westphalian definition (1648) and its significant restriction after the Second World War. The main problem with this narrative it that it largely neglects what drove the shift: the success of anti-colonial struggles in the first half of the twentieth century (the last phase through the United Nations under the inspiration of the Soviet Union). In light of this global perspective, it becomes clear that in formerly colonised and semi-colonised countries the very definition of sovereignty is transformed into an anti-colonial and non-theological definition. It is not simply an extension of the Westphalian definition, an assumption that entails a false universal. The next two parts of the argument deal directly with human rights. Initially, it focuses on the Western European tradition, which is predicated on the identification of human rights as private property and their restriction to civil and political rights. Here is the risk of another false universal: the assertion that this specific tradition applies to all, irrespective of context and of anti-colonial sovereignty. The final topic is the Chinese Marxist tradition of human rights, which arises from the intersections of Confucianism and Marxism. In this tradition, anti-colonial sovereignty is a prerequisite but does not determine human rights, and the core human right is the right to socio-economic wellbeing, through which civil, political, cultural and environmental rights arise.
The main topic of this chapter – minority nationalities policy –arises from the Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights. In brief, the comprehensive minority nationalities (which are sometimes called ‘ethnic groups’) emphasises the core human right to socio-economic wellbeing. Before we get to that point, we need to engage in historical analysis. The Soviet Union was the first socialist country to develop a comprehensive minorities policy, so much so that it was crucial in the very formation of the Soviet Union and was embodied in government structures. Much was learned, from both successes and failures. The Soviet Union was also the first country to see the intrinsic connection between an internal minorities policy and the international anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggle. It supported most of them, from logistics and weapons to initiating declarations in the United Nations (especially the 1960 ‘Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples’, which forced France, the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands, among others, to give up their colonies for the sake of independence).
But what did the minority policy entail? Here I turn to China, which – like other socialist countries – adopted the Soviet policy, adapting it and strengthening it in light of their own conditions. This ‘preferential policy [youhui zhengce]’ fosters minority languages, cultures, education, governance, and – above all – economic development as the basis for all the others. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the 1990s the policy was strengthened in a dialectical manner; minority rights and incentives were enhanced significantly, precisely as way of ensuring the inviolability of China’s borders. To give a sense of how this policy works, I deal with two pertinent case studies: Tibet and Xinjiang. In both cases, we find short-term and long-term programs. Short-term: enhanced fostering of security (anquan), stability (wending) and harmony (hexie), in order to counter the effects of separation, extremism and terrorism. Long-term: renewed and revised projects to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of all who live in Tibet and Xinjiang. At this point, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) plays a significant internal role, with marked results in the six years or so of its implementation.
The BRI brings us finally to the question of international relations. Here we find a distinct development: while material from the 1950s and 1960s still used the terminology of anti-colonial struggle, it substantially disappears from use thereafter. Why? Already in the late 1950s, Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had proposed the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, which was taken up with enthusiasm by Deng Xiaoping as China sought not confrontation but peaceful development (although he was also quite clear that China would always have closer connections with formerly colonised countries due to a shared common history). The more recent manifestation of this emphasis appears with Xi Jinping’s promotion of a ‘community of shared future for humankind [renlei mingyun gongtongti]’, concretely manifested in the BRI, and the policy – as an alternative to the Western European liberal emphasis on ‘zero-sum’ – of ‘both win, many win, all win’. Or simply, ‘win-win’.
Xi Jinping has confounded those international observers who ignored much of what I have discussed in the previous chapters and concluded that China had abandoned Marxism. But Xi Jinping’s resolute emphasis on Marxism makes perfect sense if we keep these developments of socialism with Chinese characteristics in mind. At the same time, it is true that Xi Jinping has also re-emphasised Marxism at its many levels, so much so that the CPC has been noticeably strengthened. Older members are once again proud of the party and what it has achieved, while young people are once again keen to join and study Marxism.
How did this happen? While Xi Jinping’s many writings and speeches (in the good tradition of communist leaders, he is also a thinker and writer) cover a wide range of topics, my focus is on his direct engagement with Marxism. The core piece for analysis is his major speech on the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth, delivered on 5 May, 2018. While the speech deals with Marx’s biography (as an engaged intellectual), the basic premises of Marxism, its history as a living tradition and its emergence to sustained leadership in China, the main part of the speech elaborates on nine topics of relevance to China’s situation. Calling on all the ‘study Marx’ once again, he begins each sub-section with quotations from Marx and Engels and then elaborates on what they mean for the time after the communist revolution, during the complex and often difficult process of constructing socialism. The topics are: development of human society; sticking to the people’s standpoint; productive forces and relations of production; people’s democracy; cultural construction; social construction; human-nature relationship; world history; and Marxist party building. These topics open out to a series of other dimensions of Xi Jinping’s writings, with which I deal when analysing each section.
Given that most of the material in this book concerns material already known in China, it may be of interest to Chinese readers who wish to see what a foreigner engaged with and working in China thinks about socialism with Chinese characteristics. But I anticipate that it will mostly be of use to non-Chinese readers whose minds may already be open, or perhaps should be opened, to what such a socialism actually means in theory and practice.
 The original four modernisations are: shaking off China’s poverty and backwardness [pinqiong luohou]; gradually improving the people’s living standards; restoring a position for China in international affairs commensurate with its current status; and enabling China to contribute more to humankind.
One of the greatest human rights achievements in human history is China’s forty years of poverty alleviation – given the fundamental right to socio-economic wellbeing. The World Bank estimates that 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty, but still some remain in poverty. Given that one of the three great challenges for a xiaokang society is absolute poverty elimination, there is a resolute focus to achieve the target. The following is a useful background article from Xinhua News:
During an inspection tour to southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality this week, President Xi Jinping called for greater efforts to win the battle against poverty and realize the goal of building “a moderately prosperous society in all respects” as scheduled.
As the deadline to eradicate absolute poverty approaches, the country is gathering strength to focus on the nation’s poorest people, who mainly dwell in deep mountains with adverse natural environments and backward infrastructure, or have special needs.
It was China’s solemn promise to let poor people and poor areas enter the moderately prosperous society together with the rest of the country, Xi said in a letter to the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China, which was held in Beijing last November.
The country’s poverty-reduction drive has been widely recognized as the largest such campaign in history, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointing out that China had contributed the most to world poverty alleviation in the past decade.
Here are some facts on poverty reduction in China.
With the world’s largest population, China has been boosting its economic development on one major theme: improving people’s livelihoods. This has become a fundamental goal and a consistent priority in policy-making. A typical example is the development blueprint for building a moderately prosperous society.
— Under that blueprint, China will eradicate absolute poverty by 2020 and double per capita income from 2010 level.
— More than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty over the past 40 years. The country’s proportion of people living below the Chinese poverty line fell from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent among the rural population at the end of 2017.
–In the past six years, China lifted 82.39 million rural poor out of poverty, with the rural poor population down from 98.99 million in 2012 to 16.6 million in 2018.
— By the end of 2018, more than half of the 832 poverty-stricken counties had escaped poverty.
— Per capita income of Chinese people increased by nearly 25 times from 1978 to 2018. In 2018, per capita disposable income of rural residents in poverty-stricken areas stood at 10,371 yuan, a 10.6-percent year-on-year rise.
STRONG ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
With Xi Jinping in charge, China’s poverty-relief battle has made decisive progress and provided global poverty relief with Chinese solutions.
–Last June, Xi presided over a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee to review a plan on efforts in poverty alleviation, stressing that the battle against poverty was one of the “three tough battles” that the country must win to build a moderately prosperous society.
–Last October, the CPC Central Committee arranged a new round of disciplinary inspections targeting poverty alleviation, the first of its kind, to intensify local governments’ poverty-reduction efforts.
— To wipe out absolute poverty, governments at all levels have established anti-poverty special departments or leading groups, increased poverty-reduction budgets and ensured eastern economically developed regions to help underdeveloped regions in central and western China.
— State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have taken the lead to support the country’s poverty relief campaign. Ninety-six centrally-administered SOEs have offered targeted support to 246 poverty-stricken counties, or 41.6 percent of the key counties under the national poverty-relief program. They have also set up poverty alleviation funds of 18.18 billion yuan (about 2.7 billion U.S. dollars) and invested 14 billion yuan in nearly 100 aid projects.
China has adopted a targeted approach, which requires officials to identify actual impoverished people and the factors that caused their poverty.
— A large legion of capable officials have been selected to guide poverty relief work. For example, officials with business savvy were sent to poverty-stricken villages, while officials with specialized industrial knowledge were sent to villages with an industrial base. As a result, each household or even family member has been given a bespoke poverty relief plan.
— Apart from setting a multi-year timetable, China also targeted different policies to different regions, including developing business, relocating the poor, compensating farmers in ecologically fragile areas, encouraging education and improving social security.
— The independent development of needy residents has been enhanced using areas including e-commerce, financing, tourism and infrastructure improvements.
— During his inspection tour in Chongqing, Xi said that people who still live under the poverty line or slip back into poverty due to illness should be the priority of poverty alleviation projects, and should receive support such as minimum-living allowances, medical insurance and medical aid.
The Chinese State Council has released a white paper celebrating 60 years of democratic reform in Tibet. You may find the full text in English here.
The facts speak for themselves: from 1959, Tibet (along with a number of other minority nationality areas) has been liberated from an archaic form of serfdom. Since then, the basic human right of socio-economic wellbeing has been fostered, the forces of production have been liberated (so much so that the Tibet Autonomous Region now has one of the highest growth rates in China), the common people of Tibet have taken control of their own future, the ‘third pole’ of Tibet has developed significant environmental protection policies, and Tibetan culture and religion have thrived. You can read the details for yourself.
Also, a full section of the Global Times has a series of articles on improvements in Tibet and the decline of the ‘separate’ group in India. Indeed, of the 15,000 or so in Dharamsala, 100 a year leave to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Many long to return to Tibet itself (as also the diapora community in Nepal). While life in Tibet improves year by year, the 14th Dalai Lama has less and less invitations to visit elsewhere. Watching how his reincarnation works out will be intriguing. You can be sure that the people of Tibet will find the reinicarnation there, in line with China’s policy of managing the 300 or so reinicarnations of living Buddhas, while the current Dalai Lama keeps changing his mind. Sometimes, he says he will not be reincarnated, while at other times he says his reincarnation will appear in India (for purely religious reasons, of course). Will we find ourselves with a split incarnation, where one becomes two – as Mao suggested for Chinese Marxist dialectics?
Back to the white paper, from which I would like to quote the following:
Before he was forced to flee Tibet after a failed counter-revolution in 1959 (sponsored by the CIA), the 14th Dalai Lama had the following:
Before democratic reform, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama possessed 27 manors, 30 pastures and over 6,000 serfs, and annually wrung out of them more than 462,000 kg of highland barley, 35,000 kg of butter, 2 million liang of Tibetan silver, 300 head of cattle and sheep, and 175 rolls of pulu (woolen fabric made in Tibet).
After 1959, the following was a result of the liberation of the serfs:
The serfs, who had been exploited and enslaved for generations, finally won freedom. They took ownership of more than 186,666 ha of land and other means of production. When their slave indentures and so-called IOU were burned in fire, they sang and danced to celebrate their liberation. In early 1960, about 200,000 farm households in Tibet acquired land certificates. Benefiting from policies such as the harvest of a farmland belonging to the one who sowed, lower rents for land, reduction in interest on loans, and the cancellation of old debts, the peasants gained more than 500 million kg of grain in total, over 750 kg per person.
Tsering Drolkar, a 68-year-old peasant from Khesum Shika of Nedong County said, “We had been providing corvée labor our whole lives. We never owned a single piece of land, what we worried about was how to find food for survival. Now with the land given to us by the people’s government, we will no longer go hungry.”
Perhaps the best is a new song that the liberated serfs began to sing:
The sunshine of the Dalai Lama touches only the nobles, while the sunshine of Chairman Mao showers on us poor people. The noble’s sun is setting and our sun is rising.
The much-awaited white paper on Xinjiang from the Chinese State Council was published today (18 March 2019). It is called ‘The Fight Against Terrorism and Extremism and Human Rights Protection in Xinjiang’ (download in English here). Various newspaper articles have highlighted parts of the document, although the best is this article from the Global Times, which also mentions one of the visits by representatives from Muslim majority countries that are singulalry unimpressed by the efforts of a few former colonisers to slander China over Xinjiang.
As for the white paper itself, please note section 3, which lists many – but not all – of the terrorist acts that have taken place in Xinjiang, especially during the escallation of such acts in the 1990s. Sections 4 and 5 explain how anti-terrorism and de-extremism measures have been developed, through careful study of practices in other parts of the world.
‘Education and training centers have been established with the goal of educating and rehabilitating people guilty of minor crimes or law-breaking and eradicating the influence of terrorism and extremism, in order to prevent them from falling victim to terrorism and extremism, and to nip terrorist activities in the bud.
At present, the trainees at the centers fall into three categories:
In accordance with Articles 29 and 30 of the Counterterrorism Law of the People’s Republic of China, people in the first and third categories will be placed at the centers to receive support and education. With regard to people in the second category, a small number of them should be punished severely, while the majority should be rehabilitated in accordance with the policy of striking a balance between punishment and compassion. Confession, repentance, and willingness to receive training are preconditions for leniency, and these people will receive education to help reform their ways after they have been exempted from penalty in accordance with the law’.
After providing further detail, section 5 concludes:
‘Thanks to these preventive measures, Xinjiang has witnessed a marked change in the social environment in recent years. A healthy atmosphere is spreading, while evil influences are declining. The citizens’ legal awareness has been notably enhanced. The trend in society is now to pursue knowledge of modern science and technology and a cultured way of life. Citizens now consciously resist religious extremism. The ethnic groups of Xinjiang now enjoy closer relations through communication, exchange and blending. People have a much stronger sense of fulfillment, happiness and security’.
Finally, sections 6 and 7 indicate how the measures in Xinjiang accord with the protection of human rights, in both the agreed international frameworks and the specific Chinese Marxist emphasis on the right to socio-economic wellbeing.
Well worth a read!
Note: you may also wish to read: ‘Progress in Human Rights Protection over the 40 Years of Reform and Opening Up in China‘.
I am completing a series of three articles on the contrasts between European and Chinese Marxist approaches to human rights. The following slides are from a powerpoint that I use in different situations.
Guess that is what you get for not reading corporate, state-owned and ‘independent’ media in places like Australia. Within one day after returning, a number of people have been brought me up to speed on what is not merely selective sensationalism in regard to Xinjiang, but what can only be described as wilful misinformation. I have heard talk in the media and by government figures of ‘camps’ (invoking Nazi concentration camps), of ‘brainwashing’, of a whole minority nationality – the Uyghur – being subjected to ‘human rights abuses’.
My initial reaction was to think that this was a large science fiction plot, with another earth-like planet and a place called China, about which fanciful narratives had been developed. It is certainly not the China in which I live and work for a large part of the year. But then I realised that such narratives are supposedly speaking about the same place. So I enquired further and found that the following information is systematically not made available in this part of the world, even though one can easily find it (and not merely in an earlier post).
Ever since the incorporation of Xinjiang into China in the mid-eighteenth century, it has been a restive part of the country on the western border. However, from the 1990s, these problems have become more acute. The reason was a notable increase in influence from Islamic extremism from further west, with a number of outcomes.
To begin with, there were a spate of terrorist attacks. If we take only the period from 2008, we find: an attempted suicide attack on a China Southern flight in 2008; in the same year there were threats to launch attacks on the Beijing Olympics; a car ramming in Tiananmen Square in 2013, with injuries but no fatalities; a knife attack Kunming Railway Station in 2014, killing tens of people and injuring many more. All were perpetrated by radical Muslim Uyghurs. Further, some Uyghurs were discovered training with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and had developed links with militant groups in restive parts of Pakistan. Radical fronts outside China were passing weapons, explosives and militants along drug routes. The list could go on, but the situation is quite clear: some Muslims among the Uyghur minority were engaged in organising and carrying out terrorist activities.
The question arose: how to deal with this distinct and deadly problem? It is not a problem facing China alone. In countries like Australia, there are strong pushes to have people stripped of citizenship and expelled. But this is hardly a solution, for it passes the problem onto someone else. In other places, the response is to lock them up and throw away the key. But this serves to radicalise them even further. More brutally, some countries send armed forces to the supposed source of terrorism, invade and destroy the country in question and thereby foster with even more extremism.
Some places, however, have decided to try a different approach. The primary problem was with mostly young people from a range of backgrounds. They may have been fighting in the Middle East, been to training camps in Pakistan or Afghanistan, married an extremist husband, or been radicalised at home and formed part of a cell. Upon returning home or having the their cell discovered, the problem was to find a way to help them fit back into their local communities. In close consultation with Muslim leaders, programs were set up. Given an often low level of education, the programs included classes to improve educational levels. Often unemployable and poor, they were give vocational training in skills for future work. Contact with outside radical groups was closed or monitored very closely. And – most importantly – a long process of cultural, ideological and theological education began, led by local experts and Muslim leaders, to try and get these young extremists to see that Islam is not about what they had been led to believe.
This approach has been and continues to be tried in many places around the world, with different emphases and different levels of success. For example, the city of Aarhus, Denmark, undertook a such a deradicalization program, albeit not without some controversy inside Denmark, since a good number wanted them expelled for good. Turkey has had significant success with its program, France some success, the UK perhaps less so and Australia even less. In fact, ‘deradicalization’ has become an in-word, journals have been established, businesses have tried to cash in. As is their common practice, Chinese scholars and government officials (both national and local – in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region) studied these approaches carefully and came up with one that is similar in some respects and unique in others (more information here, here and here). The Chinese prefer to call them ‘de-extremism’ activities, given the dangers of separatism, extremism and terrorism.
Of course, we may criticise one or another approach. None is perfect in dealing with a persistent problem shared by many countries. Some times they are too heavy-handed and alienate young people further. At other times they are too soft and make not enough difference. But the underlying purpose in a Chinese situation should not be forgotten: the recovery of a person’s life so that they may re-enter as a productive member the society they left not so long ago.
As I have mentioned before on a number of occasions, these programs are only part of an immediate response to a profound challenge to social and religious harmony (hexie), stability (wending) and security (anquan). But what is unique about the Chinese method relates to the basic human right to economic wellbeing. Thus, the longer term approach is to deal with the systemic poverty in Xinjiang, based on the position that poverty provides a breeding ground for radicalism like this. Not all such approaches in the past have worked so well, so now Xinjiang receives a massive amount of preferential economic incentives for people to innovate and find their own ways out of poverty. It is also a significant feature of the Belt and Road Initiative, for which Xinjiang is the pivot.
This raises the double question with which I started. Why Xinjiang? Why now? For a minority of ‘Western’ countries, Tibet used to be the flavour of the month, but now it is Xinjiang. Are the de-extremism programs new in Xinjiang? No, the programs in various forms have been under way for four or five years, although they were revised and updated in April 2017, with new regulations and the expansion of vocational and training centres. The more significant poverty alleviation projects span decades. So why do media outlets and some government figures in a relatively small number of countries focus so much attention on Xinjiang?
The first part of an answer is that 2018 marked the first real signs of significant success of the Chinese approach in Xinjiang. A minimal standard is that no terrorist activity has taken place since 2014, compared with 1,136 across the world in 2017 and 639 in the first half of 2018. More importantly the perception in China and abroad is that Xinjiang is now safe for travel. A few years ago I mentioned to a few people that I would like to travel to Xinjiang. Too dangerous! They said. Don’t go there. Now there is no problem. This year more than 100 million Chinese and foreign travellers flocked to Xinjiang. Further, with the Belt and Road Initiative, economic activity has noticeably improved, with investments doubling over the last two years and Xinjiang growing in 2017 by 7.6 percent. As has been pointed out again and again and again and again and again, stability has returned to Xinjiang as a result of the programs.
The second part of the answer comes from a Turkish perspective: 2018 saw the official launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, with close and pragmatic cooperation between all Central Asian countries, a number of European countries, nearly all countries in Africa, and many in other parts of the world. The initiative has been running already for some time, but 2017 was the launch. A significant plank in the initiative is Turkey, for whom China is its second largest trading partner (Germany is still the first, for now). Given the importance of both Xinjiang and Turkey in the Belt and Road Initiative, the rhetoric and misinformation concerning Xinjiang is seen – quite strongly in Turkey – as an effort by some ‘Western’ countries to drive a wedge between China and Turkey.
Turkey is of course not the only Muslim majority country to be involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. It includes Pakistan, the countries of Central Asia, some in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. Noticeably, these countries have not joined the rhetoric and misinformation from a handful of ‘Western’ countries. But the Turkish perspective may give us an insight into why Xinjiang has become the flavour of the month among some ‘Western’ countries.
The catch is that the effort will not succeed. The Muslim majority countries are singularly unimpressed with some ‘Western’ countries, which have consistently demonised Islam for a good while, now trying to irritate China over its treatment of Muslim extremists. And the Chinese are confident enough that the Belt and Road Initiative has already developed too far for anyone to derail it.