Positively Lead Sustainable Development and Effectively Implement the Right to Development: A Chinese Perspective
January 10,2019   By:
Positively Lead Sustainable Development and Effectively Implement the Right to Development: A Chinese Perspective
YAO Kun*
Abstract: The concept and claim of the right to development is a major contribution of developing countries represented by China to the international human rights theories and system. China has been actively promoting sustainable development of the global economic, social and ecological environment and has made substantial con-tributions to global sustainable development. At the national level, China is committed to eradicating poverty and improving people’s well-being. At the international level, China calls for the strengthening of the special mechanism for the right to development and attaches great importance to experience sharing and summarizing of the right to development. China’s human rights cause has broad prospects for progress and will also make greater progress in safeguarding the right to development.
Keywords: right to development  sustainable development  reform and opening-up
2018 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up and is a vital year for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. The undertaking of international human rights including the right to development faces new opportunities and challenges.
I.  China Positively Advocates and Practices the Concept of the Right to Development at Home and Abroad
The concept and advocacy of the rights to survival and development voice the views of the developing countries represented by China and are the contributions of the developing countries to the theories and systems of international human rights. China insists on respecting and protecting human rights and combining the universal principles on human rights with China’s realities, constantly promotes social and eco-nomic growth, strives to improve people’s well-being, stimulates social fairness and justice, strengthens the legal protection of human rights and strives to expedite all-round, coordinated development in the economic, political, social and cultural rights of people, as shown below:
A.  China has found a road of human rights development suitable for China’s realities
Human rights develop in a historical process and all the countries are unexcep-tional in this process. The human rights conditions of all countries are unavoidably restricted by the degree of social growth and they increasingly improved with social growth and people’s deeper awareness of human rights. In a large developing social-ist country such as China, it is impossible to encourage and develop human rights by imitating the modes of development of the developed countries and other developing countries or surpass China’s present stage of development and social conditions. It is imperative to integrate the universal principle of human rights with China’s specific conditions. China’s human rights construction has always adhered to the political logic of “stability, reform and development”, stressing the overall layout of human rights and the rights of all social members to equal participation and development and focusing on the coordinated development of people’s political, economic, social and cultural rights. Meanwhile, China will prioritize people’s rights to subsistence and de-velopment and concentrate its efforts to promote all-round human rights development in the sound interaction of “stability, reform and development”.
B.  China has practically improved the conditions of its people’s right to development
It is the essential requirement of socialism to energetically eliminate poverty and realize shared prosperity. During the past 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has been following the ideology of people-oriented development and incessantly cre-ating and implementing the new idea of development adapting to China’s conditions and has attained accomplishments that have caught the world’s attention. China has realized subsistence for more than 1.3 billion people, reduced the impoverished pop-ulation by up to 800 million which accounts for more than 70 percent of the world total, thus making a monumental contribution to the global poverty alleviation cause and the human rights undertaking. The incomes of residents in rural areas, especially, have continuously risen and their living standards have been notably improved, which has drastically reduced the impoverished population. From 1978 to 2017, China’s rural poverty-stricken population was reduced by 740 million and the average annu-al population for poverty reduction reached 19 million; the rural poverty incidence dropped by 94.4 percent and the annual incidence by 2.4 percent. Rural poverty is gradually being eliminated, the infrastructure has remarkably improved and the basic public service protection level has been unceasingly boosted; innovation of the pov-erty-alleviation mechanism has made large strides, which has vigorously stimulated the realization of the basic rights of the poor population and laid a solid foundation for the overall establishment of a moderately prosperous society. According to the Millen-nium Development Goals 2015 (MDGs), China’s destitute population dropped from 61 percent in 1990 to less than 30 percent in 2002, taking the lead in lowering the proportion by half. In 2014, the proportion of destitute population has decreased to 4.2 percent. China contributed more than 70 percent to the achievements in the poverty alleviation campaign worldwide. The China Systematic Country Diagnostic Report is sued by the World Bank in 2018 stipulates: “China’s historic rapid growth resulted in a poverty decline unprecedented in its speed and scale.” China was the country hous-ing the largest number of poor people in the world and also a country taking the lead worldwide in finishing the MDGs, making major contributions to the global poverty reduction cause and winning the praise of the international community.1
C.  China calls for the mechanism of strengthening the right to development and stresses summarizing and sharing its experience of upholding the right to development
Since it was founded more than 60 years ago, China has offered aids of up to RMB400 billion and dispatched more than 600,000 people to 166 countries and in-ternational organizations. It has announced unconditional waiving of due interest-free loans and debts of the most heavily-indebted countries and the least developed coun-tries. It has also provided medical aid to 69 countries and helped more than 120 de-veloping countries to fulfill their MDGs.2 UN Secretary General António Guterres praised China’s poverty reduction strategies in a congratulatory message at the “2017 Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum”, saying that targeted poverty re-duction strategies were the only way to help the poor population and achieve the am-bitious targets set out in the 2030 Agenda, and China has realized poverty reduction for hundreds of millions of people and its experience could provide useful references to other developing countries.
II.  China Actively Leads Sustainable Development and Effectively Implements the Right to Development
A.  Focus on sustainable development has become the international consensus
More than 40 years ago, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth to warn the world that the resources of the earth cannot bear the pressure of unlimited econom-ic growth. It proposed “zero growth” and the view that only balanced global devel-opment can ensure the future of humanity. Limits to Growth gave rise to a worldwide debate on the future of the mankind and brought to the fore the concept of “sustainable development”.
In 1980, the General Assembly of the United Nations used the concept of “sus-tainable development” for the first time. In 1987, in the Report of the World Com-mission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, “sustainable de-velopment” was defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development is the result of humans’ reflection on the process of industrial civilization and the rational selection of the mankind in addressing the imbalance among the environment and human activities.
In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was approved at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit to replace the Millennium Devel-opment Goals (MDGs). The new agenda not only covered a wider scope including 17 goals in total and 169 specific objectives, considering both traditional and new devel-opment indexes, but also upgraded its call for equality. For instance, the “universali-ty” standard has been added to improve the methods and conditions of development, requiring the developing countries to reduce poverty and concurrently the developed countries to realize balanced development; “binding force” is stressed, and the setting up of tracking and supervision mechanisms to supervise the fulfillment of the com-mitments of developed countries on financial and technical aid and to urge the devel-oping countries to achieve the development goals. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has depicted the new vision of the global development and become the programmatic document guiding the economic and social policies of the whole man-kind.
At the first anniversary of the adoption of the document, when he chaired the forum “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform Our World — China’s Perspective” at the headquarters of the United Nations in 2016, Li Keqiang, premier of the State Council of China pointed out that the foundation for sustainable development was development without which everything would be impossible. The development must be sustainable, coordinated development of the economy, society and environment. Besides, sustainable development must be open, interconnected and inclusive development. It is the shared undertaking of the interna-tional community.
B.  China has set a good example of sustainable development for the whole world
The ancient China gave many incisive, profound explanations of the relationship between human and nature. The Inner Canon of Huangdi writes: “The Yin and Yang elements as well as the four seasons are the termination of everything and the roots for ups and downs. Violated, they will incur disasters; obeyed, they will prevent major diseases. Hence people can get the way of keeping good health.” Mencius — Liang Hui Wang I says: “If the seasons of husbandry be not interfered with, the grain will be more than can be eaten. If close nets are not allowed to enter the pools and ponds, the fishes and turtles will be more than can be consumed. If the axes and bills enter the hills and forests only at the proper time, the wood will be more than can be used. When the grain and fish and turtles are more than can be eaten, and there is more wood than can be used, this enables the people to nourish their living and mourn for their dead, without any feeling against any.” It expresses the idea of respecting the nature, saving natural resources, avoiding excessive deforestation, developing agricul-ture and stressing conservation so that the people can have adequate food and clothing for sustainable use. The Book of Changes holds the view that “The false behaviors in-dicate despair and boredom”; “Materials should be stored for sustainable growth”; “The former emperors complied with the mandate of heaven and tried their utmost to follow the changes of climate to nourish the materials.” These ideas stress the sustainable use of natural resources, oppose mankind’s “false behaviors” toward nature and propose growth through storage and nourishment in the right season. These statements were all explorations by the ancient Chinese sages into the relationship between humans and nature, and the pursuit of the ideological realm featuring adjustment and adaptation between humans and nature, interpersonal harmony and balanced development of the present generation and future generations.
China is one of the earliest countries joining the global sustainable development campaign and signed the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of the United Nations in 1992. In 1994, China took the lead in publishing the state-level China Agenda 21 and made a solemn commitment on the sustainable development of a developing country featuring a huge population, a shortage of natural resources and weak economic foundation. Through years of efforts in terms of the construction of the concept of development, institutional construction, practical exploration, interna-tional cooperation, poverty alleviation, energy conservation, emissions reduction and development of a recycling economy, China has delivered substantial contributions to global sustainable development and offered its experiences and models as references. It can be said that China positively participates in and guides global governance and has become a “leader” encouraging global sustainable development.
1.   China actively stimulates the sustainable development of the global economy
China’s overall national strength and international status have risen and its GDP ranks No. 2 in the world. China has become an important engine for global growth and a “leader” of new economy. China’s demand for goods and services, especially bulk commodities has boosted the economies of many developing countries. China, as the top export market of the least developed countries, implemented the zero tariff policy for products of up to 5,000 taxable items, has exempted the least developed and heavily-indebted countries from their debts to China many times and energetically supported their development.3 At the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooper-ation in Beijing in May 2017, President Xi Jinping declared that China will provide emergency food aid worth RMB2 billion to developing countries along the Belt and Road and it would donate an additional sum of 1 billion US dollars to the South-South Cooperation Fund.4 At the 2017 BRICS National Summit in Xiamen, the BRICS countries unanimously stressed enhancing international development and cooperation and played a leading and exemplary role in the agenda of global development. The BRICS Bank is expected to offer loans totaling 2.5 billion US dollars to provide piv-otal financial support for the developing countries.5
2.   China has energetically stepped up the sustainable development of the global community
China is not merely engaged in expediting overall internal development to real-ize a moderately prosperous society in an all-round way by 2020, it also stimulating South-South Cooperation in different ways, including offering funds and financial support, knowledge sharing, talent cultivation, cooperation and research. During his participation in the series of the UN summits in 2015, President Xi announced a se-ries of major moves to encourage the undertaking of global development, including the establishment of the China-UN Peace and Development Foundation, the South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund, the Center for International Knowledge on De-velopment and the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development; providing support for “Six 100” projects on poverty alleviation, agricultural cooperation, trade encouragement, ecological conservation, climatic changes, medical facilities and educational training to developing countries over the following five years. All these reflect the new thoughts and new moves of China to facilitate global sustainable de-velopment and launch international cooperation.
3.  China vigorously propels sustainable development of the global ecological environment
China is actively fulfilling its commitment to reduce its emissions, and takes the pursuit of green, low-carbon development as a vital opportunity to shift the mode of economic growth and economic restructuring and has yielded notable achievements. China is the first developing country to willingly promise to reduce carbon emissions and it is promoting the conserving of resources and environmentally friendly econom-ic growth through its industrial restructuring, establishing restrictive indicators for energy conservation and emissions reduction and strengthening treatment of major pollutants in key polluted areas. Thanks to its complete product manufacturing system and strong cost control ability, China has rapidly lowered the costs for such clean en-ergy and green transportation as photovoltaic products, wind power products and its high-speed rail system and contributed to the green, low-carbon development of the world.6 China’s carbon emission intensity dropped by 6.6 percent in 2016 and further declined by about 4 percent in the first three quarters of 2017; the energy restructur-ing also saw new progress. In the first three quarters of 2017, the coal consumption totaled about 2.84 billion tons nationwide, 2.4 percent down on a year-on-year basis and the generating capacity of water power, nuclear power and wind power rose by 21.1 percent; the carbon emissions pilot trading program has been significantly pro-moted. As of September 2017, the quota volume reached an equivalent 197 million tons of carbon dioxide and the aggregate and intensity of carbon emissions in the pilot program tended to drop.7 After the United States announced it would secede from the Paris Agreement, China expressed its unwavering stance of fulfilling the commit-ments, actively participated in the “2017 UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn”, provided the assistance of materials and equipment to island countries, the least devel-oped countries and African countries and launched cooperation projects in developing countries including 10 low-carbon demonstration zones, 100 projects to alleviate and adapt to climate change and 1,000 quotas for training against climate changes.
III.  Conclusion
China has continuously carried forward its reform and opening-up efforts for 40 years. In recent years, it has been consciously implementing the tasks in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. During that process, China adhered to the two themes of peace and development of the era, protected the human rights in keeping peace and stimulating development and provided positive energy in establishing the fair and reasonable international political and economic order.
At the national level, China continued devoting efforts to eliminating poverty and improving people’s livelihoods and further improved people’s right to development. In 2015, the CPC Central Committee and the State Council of China issued the Decision on Winning the Fight against Poverty and proposed the overall objective of poverty alleviation during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020): By 2020, to stably en-able the poor rural population to have enough food and clothes and enjoy compulsory education, basic medical care and housing; to ensure the per capita disposable income of the farmers in impoverished areas to rise above the national average and the major indicators of basic public service to approach the national average; to ensure the poor rural population to reduce poverty, remove the label of all poor counties and eliminate poverty in the whole region under the prevailing standard. Based on the country’s Constitution and laws, China is positively implementing the Phase III national human rights action plan—the National Human Rights Action Plan of China (2016-2020) and the progress in human rights and the protection of the right to development is expect-ed be expected to be strengthened further.
At the international level, China has called for strengthening the special mech-anism on the right to development and focusing on summarizing and sharing its experience of safeguarding the right to development. At the 33rd session of the Unit-ed Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 21, 2016, the Chinese non-governmental delegation issued an initial written proposal that called on the inter-national community to conduct research on integrating the right to development in the specific strategies, steps, appraisal and supervision mechanisms of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and set specific objectives and tasks in stages on the basis of the present accomplishments.8 The initial written proposal appealed to the in-ternational community to prioritize the solution to such problems concerning people’s livelihoods in the developing countries as poverty, hunger, disease, education and un-employment as the focus to implement the right to development and called on all the parties to attach great importance to the right to development, the political rights of the citizens and the interdependence of the economic, social and cultural rights and to preferably protect the right to development while protecting all human rights. Among them, it is most important to guarantee ample food, clean drinking water, basic med-ical care, adequate housing, full employment and social security and public services shared by all.9
With the United Nations Human Rights Council as the principal platform, Chi-na will continuously abide by the objective, transparent, constructive, non-selective, non-antagonistic and non-political working principles of the Council and make posi-tive contributions to the sound development of the international undertaking of human rights.
(Translated by JIANG Lin)
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