Global criticism of China's indifference to human rights finally seems to have forced President Xi Jinping to pay serious attention but in his own way.
He tells his people China has its individual approach to human rights that needs to be publicised and respected. Xi, in principle, formats human rights in the mould of Chinese characteristics as he decides to counter the criticism over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims, refusing to be apologetic about it.
The change in the communist leadership's human rights approach on the eve of Xi's third term of power at the 20th party congress later in October is recognised in Xi's address to the 37th group study session of the Chinese Communist Party's central committee, held earlier this year.
He takes credit for having taken the protection of human rights to a higher level after he came to power in 2012. Significantly, he talks of social, political and economic goals for ensuring human rights, but ignores to mention how his government pursues a merciless form of sinicization of Islam to destroy the cultural and religious roots of minority communities of China, especially Uyghur Muslims. In his long address, he mentions religious beliefs only in passing. That gives him away.
The goals of this session were to review our country's human rights achievements, both theoretical and practical, in the new era, assess the international struggle in the sphere of human rights, and "maintain a steadfast commitment to the Chinese path to promote further progress in human rights".
Xi went back centuries to claim, "Our forebears also put forward other similar axioms 'Of all things in the world, people are most precious'."
Giving the West a rare credit for its early forays into the field of human rights, Xi said, "During the Western bourgeois revolution, the thinkers of the Enlightenment put forward the concept of "natural rights," which holds that all men are created equal and possess inalienable rights, a concept that helped propel forward revolutions in Britain, America, France and other countries."
Referring to socialist ideals of human rights, Xi quoted Karl Marx as arguing that "Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby." However, Xi stopped short of saying that under his watch this maxim was followed in toto.
Xi then changed gears to talk of how China's Communists always ensured "respect and protection for human rights" as their "relentless pursuit", "Throughout the periods of the new-democratic revolution, socialist revolution and construction, and reform, opening up and socialist modernization, the CPC pursued its founding mission of seeking happiness for the people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation with steadfast commitment, and led the people to great victories in revolution, construction, and reform."
The communist general secretary gives the impression that he has consistently respected and pursued the protection of human rights during his tenure. Referring to the strict Covid lockdowns that put millions into difficulties facing hunger and depression, Xi said, "We have promoted fuller and higher-quality employment, established the world's largest education, social security and health care systems, and remarkably improved the living environment of our people.
With a commitment to putting people and human life above all else, we have responded effectively to Covid-19 and protected the health and safety of the people to the greatest extent possible."
Finally responding to criticism of violating the religious rights of minorities, Xi, in a rare admission, at least managed to refer to the topic.
"We have fully implemented the Party's policies on ethnic and religious affairs, ensuring that all ethnic groups in China are equal, respecting people's religious beliefs, and safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of people of all ethnic groups. We continued reform of the judicial system, launched the Peaceful China Initiative, strengthened the rule of law, carried out education and rectification campaigns among judicial, prosecuting and public security agencies in a bid to improve their conduct, and took resolute action against criminal gangs and organized crime, and illegal and criminal activities, to ensure lasting social stability and protect lives and property."
At the same time, the Chinese President insisted that he ascribes only to the Chinese communist interpretation of human rights and not what are touted as western rights.
He obliquely defends his government's response to the minority communities in the Xinjiang province, "Human rights are not special privileges bestowed on some people or a small minority but universal rights to be enjoyed by all the people. We have safeguarded the people's democratic rights, given full play to their enthusiasm, initiative and creativity, and ensured that in advancing human rights, the people are the main contributors, promoters, and beneficiaries."
He said human rights are subject and must conform, to "national conditions and the popular will". Grounding the "universality of human rights within the Chinese context, we have promoted human rights based on our country's conditions and the needs of our people" and this has "guaranteed that as stipulated by law, people enjoy a full range of human rights that are genuine, specific, effective, and functional".
He considered elevating "China's human rights cause" as part of the country's new journey toward the "Second Centenary Goal of building a modern socialist country".
What exactly is a Chinese human right cause? "We must continue to follow the Chinese approach to advancing human rights, adapt to the people's new expectations for a better and higher-quality life, and continue to meet their growing demands for rights in all respects. We should promote the coordinated development of the economy, democracy, the rule of law, thought and culture, fairness and justice, social governance, and environmental protection; comprehensively advance initiatives in areas including employment, income distribution, education, social security, health care, housing, elderly care, and support for minors. We will strengthen human rights protection in the process of advancing material, political, cultural, ethical, social and eco-environmental progress." The rights of religious minorities are missing from this narrative. (ANI)