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Fight to Defend Rights to Life and Health
November 16,2020   By:en.humanrights.cn
Nov.16,2020 -- en.humanrights.cn: In 2020, COVID-19 has taken the world by surprise. The prevention and control of the pandemic has become a common subject in the political and social lives of every country in the world. During this pandemic, issues beyond the scope of public hygiene such as state governance diplomacy and values have also been discussed. Among them, the human rights issue has drawn wide attention. Today, we are very honored to have Mr. Li Junru Vice President of the China Society for Human Rights Studies and Former Vice President of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee. He'll share his insights on human rights and how to defend the rights to life and health amid COVID-19.
 
Hello, Principal Li. I have a copy of the 2020 3rd edition of the Journal of Human Rights. It begins with your article Six Notes on Human Rights during the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic, in which you quoted ten examples to illustrate that "the Chinese people's fight against COVID-19 is a strong testament to the virtues of the Chinese ideas of human rights". So, what exactly are these "virtues"? Why do we regard them as "virtues"?
 
Li Junru: You have noticed the word "virtue" which is worth contemplating. The Chinese ideas of human rights are the principles that guide us to respect and safeguard human rights. In the course of the fight against the pandemic, the virtues have been demonstrated in three aspects. 
 
Firstly, the CPC has made it clear during the fight that people's lives and health should be the top priority. Behind this principle is the Chinese ideas of human rights which have been translated into the country's governing policy. This governing policy has been proved right. So, one of the virtues is that it has produced the right principles during the fight against the virus. 
 
Secondly, the Chinese ideas of human rights have had huge impacts and can be summed up in eight words. It has been talked about by the media "United as one, we fight the pandemic together". It demonstrates that the Chinese ideas of human rights are deeply rooted in the concept of the rights to life and health. Therefore, the virtue lies in the fact that the human rights philosophy is not just endorsed by Chinese experts and scholars but also by the Chinese people in general. 
 
The third virtue is its practical effects. Guided by this philosophy, we have been able to put the pandemic under control in a relatively short period of time and save the lives of over ten thousand people. 
 
en.humanrights.cn: You said that "this pandemic has provided us with a human rights research lab" which is a very vivid description. What types of researches have we carried out in this 'lab'? What results have we obtained? 
 
Li Junru: I feel that this pandemic has presented us with a social science lab. The pandemic is a fight between humanity and the virus not between humans. Whether you are rich or poor, president or not, everyone is equal before COVID-19. So, what we have is a very rare opportunity to study the laws of the development of human society as distracting factors can be excluded. 
 
Of course, reality is not always as expected because humans are humans and society is society. At a time when everyone should have come together to fight against COVID-19, unnecessary disputes occurred, such as the U.S. scapegoating China. This should not have happened but that is human society with all its complexities. However, we could still use the opportunity to study the laws of the development of human society. So, in this sense, I think that the fight against COVID-19 has provided us with a human rights lab.
 
In terms of the results of this experiment, if all the different ideas of human rights in the world were tested in this lab which one better reflects the inner desire of humankind and is more conductive to protecting people's rights to life and health. 
 
en.humanrights.cn: In the course of the fight against COVID-19, another phrase as high-profile as "the right to life" is "the right to liberty". The dispute between the right to life and the right to liberty comes out directly and acutely in the battle against COVID-19. For instance, some people asked 'if our prevention measures are so effective, why don't they follow us and take the hard line?' It always puzzled me that 'Which one is more important, people's lives or their freedom?'
 
Li Junru: Nobody expected that this fight against COVID-19 would bring about the conflict between the right to life and the right to liberty in the field of human rights. The liberal view of human rights is very influential across the world, even plays a dominant role. There was rationality and progressiveness in its emergence because it originated as a weapon to break the oppressive theological rule of the Middle Age. But can the individualistic view of human rights represent the nature of the human rights? Can it represent the nature of humanity? There is a big question mark here, a very big one. 
 
In this fight against COVID-19, we have seen that even the basic preventive measures, such as wearing a mask, might be hard to be implemented in the countries and regions where the liberal view of human rights prevails. Wearing a mask is simple creating a shield between people and virus. But some people think that wearing a mask infringes their rights to liberty and they choose not to wear it. They said, liberty is supreme. Why the government encroaches on my human rights and forces me to wear a mask? So, I would not wear one. What is the consequence of not wearing a mask? If you do not put a mask on, you give the virus 'preferential treatment'. But the virus will actually not return you a preferential treatment and will instead get you infected. That is the consequence. 
 
During the fight against COVID-19, it has come to our attention that the issues behind are not just about human rights but also our cognition. Many people think that COVID-19 is just a type of flu and is no big deal. There is no need to take such strict measures such as quarantine and lockdown. This is a matter of awareness. 
 
The issue also involves interests, particularly partisan interests, making it more complicated. The drawbacks of the western political party system has been fully exposed. Politicians serve not for the interests of the people but for the interests of their own party. Apart from the matters of awareness and interests, ideology also has a role to play. Some people held that liberty is supreme and individual liberty should not be infringed by anyone, which has led to disasters for some people. 
 
The battle against COVID-19 has brought us many problems. One of them is, as you mentioned the relationship between liberty and life and the relationship between the right to liberty and the right to life. This is a very complicated issue. 
 
Firstly, from the perspective of humanity, the foremost right of a person is his or her existence as a human being, or his or her life which is the precondition of any other human rights. Then, dialectically, under certain conditions, you cannot protect your life without having liberty. For example, we should put the right to liberty first under the rule of reactionaries. 
 
The CPC has put people's safety and health first. The word 'first' is crucial as it represents our understandings of the laws. To sum up, the reasons why we have seen such great results in our fight against the virus come down to two 'supremacies'. One is the supremacy of life and the other is the supremacy of people. When the two 'supremacies' are combined, it adds up to the supremacy of people's lives and the supremacy of people's right to life.
 
en.humanrights.cn: Principal Li, you just mentioned that in some western countries people prefer the right to liberty and some negative results have come up. What is their attitude toward China's prevention measures that are centered around the "supremacy of life"?
 
Li Junru: Different people in western countries have different views. For example, there are people who see China's prevention and control measures as timely, forceful and effective, like the editor-in-chief of the famous western medical journal, the Lancet. He noted the process of China's pandemic prevention and repeatedly stated that China has performed the best and should be recognized and praised. 
 
But there are also people in the west who see China with prejudice and interpret China's efforts to fight the virus with an anti-Communism and anti-China complex. They believe that China withheld information on the pandemic and fooled the people from the start. They refer to measures such as lockdown as autocracy and restrictions of people's freedom. After failing to prevent the pandemic, they claimed that China exported the virus to their countries and hurt them. They don't reflect on their own mistakes and bad decisions. The ideas are driven by their views of the world, values, the interests of capital and political motivations. 
 
There are a lot of people who don't know the truth about China and can't tell which opinions are true. It is, therefore, necessary to tell them the story of China's fight against the pandemic what we have experienced and how we felt so that they can better understand the measures adopted by China. It is a fact that China has not only scored a major victory in the battle against the pandemic and is also the first country to restore normal work and production and see lives return to normal again. 
 
en.humanrights.cn: You have mentioned a number of times in your article that China puts people's right to life and health first which is key to China's success in the battle against the pandemic. How should we understand the word "people" here? Is it the same thing as "herd" in the concept “herd immunity” in some western countries?
 
Li Junru: The concept of "people" means a combination of individuals. So, strictly speaking, the human rights in our context are truly the human rights of the people. But there is one thing we need to point out. When you talk about people's human rights, can you ignore the human rights of individuals? No, our party has remained sober on this issue.
 
The advantage of the value endorsed by the CPC is neither individualism nor collectivism at the price of sacrificing individual interests as they once had in the Soviet Union. Ours is an integration of the two sides. The relations among individuals, the collective and the country are well coordinated. The advantage of such values in the human rights concept is that the human rights of individuals can be respected while the human rights of other people and the human rights of the collective can be protected as well. It would have been hard to win the battle against the pandemic if we had solely focused on respecting individual human rights and protecting individual rights to life and health. For instance, many volunteers went to Wuhan during the outbreak and they were the most beautiful people. If we insist that the life of each one of us is supreme, who should be sent there to save the lives of others? Ordered by the CPC Central Committee, the medical staff of the armed forces were the first to come to aid then, followed by those from Shanghai Guangzhou, and other places. 
 
The Chinese people have a good tradition which we call “the love for our family and country”. As for the relationship between individuals and the collective, we respect each individual as well as the group as a whole. When a conflict arises, the latter receives precedence. This enables everyone to live in peace and harmony meanwhile everyone's rights can be safeguarded. 
 
en.humanrights.cn: In order to prevent the spread of the pandemic, many countries including China have sort of sacrificed economic development and the fulfillment of the right to development to people's rights to life and health. I think that the concept of the right to development sounds somewhat grand. It sounds like something that the government needs to consider while the right to subsistence is more pertinent to individuals like you and me. What do you make of that?
 
Li Junru: The fight against the pandemic has brought some new research topics in the field of human rights. In order to guarantee people's rights to life and health, we had to suspend production and take decisive measures such as placing cities and residential communities under lockdown and most of the businesses were closed. 
 
You said the right to development is more related to the collective while the right to subsistence is more relevant to individuals. It's plausible to some extent. However, it's not all the case. The right to development belongs to individuals as well as the collective. In terms of the right to subsistence, especially the right to life, we should protect our own right to life and other people's right to life as well. The relationship between individual and collective is dialectical. So is the relationship between life, subsistence, and development. How can you develop without the rights to life and subsistence? Reversely, how can you guarantee the right to subsistence without the right to development? 
 
The right to life is the precondition and root while the right to development is a derivative. Reversely, if people's right to development can't be protected, his life and subsistence are hard to sustain. For instance, why do we have to fight poverty? If we do not help lift those people out of poverty, they might not even be able to sustain their lives. 
 
The Chinese people have two advantages. One is the Marxism-Leninism historical materialism which is our theoretical guide. The other one is our traditional Chinese culture. There's an old Chinese adage "the ruler should be close to its people and not treat them as inferiors". The people are the foundation of a country. When the ruler respects the will of the people, the people will support their leader and the country can keep peace and stability. The idea that the people are the foundation of a country took shape in ancient China several thousand years ago. 
 
General Secretary Xi Jinping has repeatedly emphasized that we must put people first. The people are the roots of the nation and the biggest source of strength for the ruling party. Our theoretical and cultural merits can be transformed into advantages of our human rights philosophy. We put people's rights to life and health first. For the sake of the people's life and health, we must develop the economy and emancipate and develop productive forces. But when people's lives come under threat, we would rather suspend development so as to protect the lives of our people. This is where our theoretical and ideological advantage lies. It is evident that the idea of human rights upheld by the CPC has its own merits. 
 
en.humanrights.cn: China's human rights philosophy which prioritizes people's right to life and health has gained wider recognition among the 1.4 billion Chinese people in the face of the great challenge of the pandemic. The saying "everyone is equal in front of the virus" not only reminds us that humankind is a community with a shared future and no country can survive on its own but also teaches us that the ultimate goal of human rights protection is to respect and protect humanity. Thank you for watching and more episodes will follow.

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