Opportunities and Challenges for the Human Rights Development of Southern Countries in the Belt and Road Initiative
July 16,2018   By:CSHRS

 Opportunities and Challenges for the Human Rights Development of Southern Countries in the Belt and Road Initiative

CHEN Bateer* & LI Shuanglong**

Abstract: Human rights are of great concern to the international community,as they focus on the survival of all people and people's right to development. The right to life is a prerequisite for the right to development. For countries of the Global South,the right to life is fundamental to development. Thus the Belt and Road Initiative put forward by the Chinese government in 2013 presents opportunities for the human rights development of Global South countries. However,several factors such as the large poverty-stricken populations,economic backwardness,and the cultural difference present challenges to the promotion of human rights ideology and culture. South-South Countries should strive to address this challenge by eliminating poverty,and strengthening communication and cooperation with developed countries promoting inter-cultural exchanges,and finally promoting South-South human rights development cooperation.

Keywords: the Belt and Road Initiative ♦South-South Cooperation ♦human rights

Ⅰ. Introduction

Human rights are of great concern to the international community. The concept of human rights originated in Western Europe and covers freedom,equality,and development,and so on. However,considering the cultural and historical background in China,Chinese scholars think that the core issues of human rights are right to life and the right to development. The former is the foundation of the latter while the latter is the extension and guarantee of the former. The right to life is the basic condition and right for survival and the right to development are the key rights for enjoying better development and better lives on this basis. The core issue of the right to life is survival and the core issue of the right to development is economic development. Countries in South Asia,Southeast Asia,Central Asia,and Africa belong to the Third World. Historically,their economic development has been relatively slow and there is a great gap between them and developed capitalist countries. In this respect,the core issues of human rights development in South Asia,Southeast Asia,and Africa countries are also the right to life and the right to development. In 2013,Chinese government put forward the Belt and Road initiative. Over 70 countries and regions in South Asia,Southeast Asia,Europe,and Africa are along the route. The distribution of these countries and regions is shown in Table 1.


It is shown that all South-South countries along the Belt and Road Initiative are developing countries with relatively weak economic conditions,particularly in Southeast Asia,South Asia,and Africa. For a long time,Western countries have launched attacks against these countries using human rights issues according to their own standard and even directly intervened in the internal affairs of others countries. At first,Western countries intervened in Asia and Africa countries using a doctrines of "Humanitarian Intervention". In the late 20th century and the early 21st century,they began to spread such theories as "obsolete sovereignty" and "human rights over sovereignty" in order to judge other countries with their own criteria and finally exert direct and indirect control over sovereign countries. Therefore,countries in Asia and Africa should rely on themselves to change their human rights situation. With the joint efforts of their governments and the peoples,they can promote economic development and solve basic problems in food,clothes,shelter,and daily necessities of the people. Once the fundamental right of the people is guaranteed,they can continue to create better material and spiritual conditions for the people.

Adhering to the principle of wide consultation,joint contributions and shared benefits,the Belt and Road Initiative hopes to realize the common development goal of countries and regions along the route through mutual cooperation. "The Belt and Road Initiative is relevant to a diversity of fields including foreign affairs,economic cooperation,regional governance,and interconnection construction with different countries. It breaks through the set pattern for traditional South-South cooperation which is limited to mutual aid in economy and trade. With rich content and wide coverage,it is undoubtedly a significant diplomatic innovation and practice for China to promote South-South cooperation in the new era.1Without question,human rights development is an important part of the cooperation. In the context of the initiative,the development of human rights in South-South countries is facing new opportunities and challenges.

Ⅱ. Opportunities for South-South Human Rights Development in the Context of the Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by China is not only the international exchange on economic development mode but also the collision and integration of culture. In this context,China's experience and pattern of human rights development in over three decades will certainly provide valuable reference and opportunities for South-South human rights development.

A. Spreading of human rights concept

Human rights concepts are the basic understanding of human rights and a belief in development of ideal human rights. The concept shows the development direction which decides the development pattern. From the perspective of the fundamental practice of human rights development in the Global South,the countries concerned have always taken national independence and sovereignty as the major contents of their human rights development. Most South-South countries believe that national independence is the greatest human right and the guarantee for the human rights of individuals. On the one hand,Global South countries have realized national independence through political methods; on the other hand,they have enhanced the economic basis for national independence through development of the economy. South-South cooperation began in the 1950s. Typical examples include the Bandung Conference,G77,and so on. Such cooperation takes the political independence of a country as the starting point and national and regional economic development as the goals. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China,we have persisted in the principle of "self-dependence and arduous struggle" and realized national independence. Later,China launched its reform and opening up in the 1980s and successfully realized fast economic development. The Chinese always believe that national independence and development are the prerequisites for realizing the human rights of individuals. "The establishment and development of socialist human rights theory is a new topic for all socialist countries. Since there is no existing experience to follow,it should be continuously perfected according to social,economic,and cultural development. Innovation is both the source and the vitality for the development of contemporary human rights theory in China."2In this respect,the Belt and Road Initiative will definitely bring the experience or fruits of human rights development in China to countries along the route and provide more opportunities for South-South cooperation on human rights.

B. Development of human rights foundation

The actual development of human rights could not be realized without a solid foundation because it should be guaranteed by the forceful support of economic development demonstrated in the prosperous and harmonious life of the people. Composed mainly of developing countries and regions,South-South countries are relatively far away from developed countries in the level of economic development which to a great extent constrains the development of human rights. This provides a chance for Western countries to intervene in their internal affairs at the of human rights issue. As a result,South-South countries have committed to domestic economic and social development and tried to solve human rights problem through economic development. After four decades of reform and development,China is now ranked second in terms of its economic aggregate. Following a development pattern with Chinese characteristics,China has accumulated abundant funds,world-leading technologies,great market potential,numerous talents,and rich experience in successful development in particular. But at the same time,it is urgent that China seek greater space for its high quality
industries and surplus capacity. Its rich development experience,advanced science and technology,and rich talents reserve provide guarantees for fast economic development,which is definitely attractive to South-South countries.

For a long time,South Asian,Southeast Asian,and African countries have suffered from the colonization and exploitation of Western developed countries,which is the major reason for their economic backwardness and low living standards. The Chinese government has provided continual economic aid for African countries for a long period. Although looking back on the assistance provided by China to Africa over the past 50 years,there are some limitations. The single development mode and backward economic growth pattern in Africa made African countries more eager to realize development via industrialization and economic diversification. They hope to achieve stronger power of discourse and get rid of the attacks of the West on their human rights through rapid development. South-South countries have actively participated in the Belt and Road Initiative. Based on such existing documents as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (2001) and the Action Plan for Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (2008),African countries and African Union have launched many significant development strategies,including the Declaration on Africa Infrastructure Development Planning (2013),the African Union's Agenda 2063 (2013) and so on. The goal to boost connectivity of trade and finance in the Belt and Road Initiative is gradually being implemented through a series of cooperation documents and projects.

C. Establishment of human rights culture

Human rights culture is the cultural form of the formation and development of human rights,so it is of both universality and individuality. Considering the origin of human rights concepts,it reflects the thought of ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates and Plato's understanding of "goodness" was based on the continuous exploration into the reason for the existence of exterior world,yet they defined "goodness" as the criteria for individual existence. In other words,they thought that anything conforming to "goodness" is right. From the perspective of exterior legal and political factors,Roman law established a set of legal principles to standardize the relationship between individuals and between individuals and the country. In medieval times,the idea on individual rights enjoyed further development. In modern times,naturalist thinkers represented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed important concepts such as humans are natural being and all men are created equal. In China,the concept of individual human rights didn't gained people's attention or develop until the early twentieth century. At first,Liang Qichao and others introduced relevant Western theories and concepts on human rights into China. Then,some progressive thinkers in the country began to explore the path for realizing human rights in China and put forward such theories as saving the nation by engaging in industry,saving the nation by developing science,and so on. It was not until the Marxist revolutionary theory by the Communist Party of China that the Chinese people found their path to human rights. After over 70 year's development,a human rights culture with Chinese characteristics has taken shape. Generally speaking,the features of China's human rights culture are it combines individuality with universality,shows both the experience of China's development and common problems in the development of developing countries,highlights both individual interests and collective interests,and covers both politics and economy. With different national systems and cultures,South-South countries have varied understandings on human rights culture. In particular,most countries were colonized by Western countries for a long time,so it is urgent for them to develop their national culture to demonstrate the existence of the nation and country and provide spiritual support for their national development via culture. People-to-people exchanges in the Belt and Road Initiative hopes to realize mutual understanding and tolerance. China's human rights culture shows distinctive Chinese characteristics,yet it can be used as a reference for South-South countries.

Ⅲ. Challenge to Human Rights Development in Africa and Other Regions in the Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative brings both opportunities and challenges for human rights development in Africa and other regions,which are characterized by large poverty-stricken populations,a backward economic development mode,and diversified cultural concepts.

A. Large Poverty-stricken population influences human rights development

South-South countries,especially in Southeast Asia and Africa,tend to have large poverty-stricken populations. Africa covers a land area of 30.29 million square kilometers,yet the majority of its over 1.1 billion people live below the poverty line. Such a reality makes it difficult for the public to pay attention to their human rights development and accept new things. Poverty is also the greatest barrier for developing education which naturally influences people's understanding and acceptance of human rights. Although the Belt and Road Initiative brings development opportunities for countries along the route,it cannot solve all problems. The Initiative aims at bringing benefits to the countries along the route and promote human rights development,yet the large poverty-stricken populations will be the greatest obstacle to these aims.

B. Level of economic development influences human rights development

The weak foundation for economic development is the greatest barrier for human rights development. Most South-South countries are developing countries whose economic development is relatively slow. For many people in these countries it is difficult for them to solve their survival problems,let alone promote development. Human rights issues are relevant to both politics and economy. Slow economic development seriously hinders human rights development. People's awareness and concept of human rights is based on the satisfaction of clothing,food,accommodation,and transportation in their daily life." "When the quality and quantity of the food,accommodation,and clothing for the people are not fully guaranteed,there is by no means emancipation of people."3The top priority for the Belt and Road Initiative is to promote economic development along the route. Nevertheless,the experience of China's economic development and the scientific and technological resources of China should be effectively utilized in order to realize the preliminary goal of the Belt and Road Initiative. Adopting a single economic mode,some South Asian,Central Asian,Southeast Asian,and African countries are still backward in development,which to a certain extent limits the Belt and Road Initiative and the human rights development of South-South countries. As a result,South-South countries are still at the subordinate position in the international discourse on human rights. At a larger scale,the sovereignty of a country can hardly be safeguarded without a strong economy. And,narrowly speaking,individual rights can hardly be safeguarded without individual survival.

C. Culture difference influences human rights development

The formation and development of a human rights culture is an important part of human rights development. The development of human rights concepts and a country's human rights culture are to a certain ideological rooted in the country's historical background. Therefore,the development of a human rights culture requires for the test of time. Although South Asian,Southeast Asian,Central Asian,and African countries have similar historical backgrounds,they carry different cultural genes,which naturally results in different features and choices in their human rights culture. Some South Asian and Southeast Asian countries belong to the circle of Confucian culture and show typical features of their traditional farming culture,while Kazakhstan,Turkmenistan,and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia are traditional nomadic people with nomadic cultures. Chinese culture has more in common with the cultures of South Asia and Southeast Asia. "Because of the great disparity in language,culture,social environments,and the cultural values of different countries,different opinions are inevitable in seeking the opportunity for culture exchanges. If the cognitive framework of two nations fail to match each other,it would be impossible for them to realize culture exchanges."4 In this respect,different cultural backgrounds have great impact on people's understanding of human rights and the development of human rights culture.

Ⅳ. Strategies for South-South Human Rights Development in the Context of the Belt and Road Initiative

A. Promoting human rights development by reducing the poverty-stricken population

The reasons for the large poverty-stricken populations include a country's backward economic development pattern failing to bring the economic advantages of a large population fully into play,backward agricultural technology fails to effectively utilize arable land,and a low level of public education makes it difficult to accept new science and technology. South-South countries should therefore analyze their situations objectively and take targeted measures to overcome poverty and actually reduce the size of their poverty-stricken populations to promote the development of the human rights cause through economic development.

B. Enhancing the communication and cooperation with developed countries

South-South countries should take the initiative in communication and forge cooperation with developed countries. The Belt and Road Initiative not only promotes communication and cooperation between China and developing countries along the route,it also supports the communication and cooperation between different countries along the route. South-South countries should actively learn from the development experiences of developed countries. They can establish mechanisms for communication and cooperation with developed countries to learn from their advanced science and technology for faster development and ultimately the development in human rights cause. Nevertheless,they should be self-reliant. Dependence on other countries is obviously goes against the development of the human rights cause and the original intention of human rights.

C. Organizing cultural exchange activities

Cultural exchange activities are both a path for national exchanges and the effective method for improving the soft power of a country. One of the important contents of the Belt and Road Initiative is people-to-people exchanges. Through the Belt and Road Initiative,it is hoped that countries along the route can realize mutual understanding and tolerance to establish a harmonious and inclusive world order. South-South countries have their own understanding of human rights development and choice of development path. Through culture exchange activities,they can show Western countries their own features to promote better understanding and support for their human rights cause.

(Translated by HU Liang)

* CHEN Bateer ( 陈·巴特尔 ),Professor and Ph.D. Supervisor at the Zhou Enlai School of Government of Nankai University,Director of the Center of Ethnic Studies at Nankai University.
** LI Shuanglong ( 李双龙 ),Ph.D. Student of Nankai University,Associate Professor,Kashgar University. This paper is a periodical achievement of "Research on Human Rights Education of Ethnic Minorities in China"(Project No.:17JJD820017) as a 2017 major project of national human rights education and training bases and "Research on (Racial) Ethnic Discrimination and Anti-discrimination in Western Countries" (Project No.: 2016-GMA-007) as a 2016 major project of ethnic research center of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission.

1. Sun Liangying and Qiu Changqing,"Path and Prospects for ‘South-South Cooperation' in the Context of the Belt and Road Initiative," Social Sciences in Guangxi 2 (2016): 136.

2. Chen Youwu,"New Development Concepts Guide New Progress in China's Human Rights Theory," Human Rights 3 (2016): 6

3. Marx and Engels,Selected Works of Marx and Engels (Beijing: People's Publishing House,1995),94.

4. Zheng Shipeng,"Construction of Cultural Exchange Mechanism in the Belt and Road Initiative," Academic Exchanges 12 (2015): 115.

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