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Is China a threat to human rights?

By Meng Zhe and Xu-Pan Yiru | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-21 12:38

Around 130 experts and scholars came together to participate in the 2023 China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights in Rome, Italy. This event transcended boundaries and focused on critical discussions surrounding modernization and the diversity of human rights. Contrary to the Western narrative that often frames China as a threat to human rights, this event sought to shift the conversation towards understanding and learning from China's perspective.

Chinese modernization is the concept being widely discussed in the Seminar. It explores what this modernization means for enriching the tapestry of human rights. While experts from both China and the West had their own interpretations of human rights protection, many agreed on a fundamental aspect of Chinese-style modernization: it's about modernizing people's lives, expanding the metaphorical "cake," and ensuring everyone gets a share. This approach differs significantly from Western modernization, which historically involved seizing others' cakes for personal gain. The consensus was clear: human rights discussions become meaningful when people lead good lives.

Wang Wen, Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, shared his perspective after his visit to Europe. He observed untidy streets, homelessness, high prices, and the need to be cautious against pocket pick. His realization was that China is entitled to critique human rights in Europe. It's ironic that some arrogant and uninformed European politicians criticize China's human rights situation while overlooking their own issues.

Former Mayor of Frogn Municipality, Norway, Thore Vestby's speech left a lasting impression. He recently visited China and learned a new term, "An", which represents a sense of safety. Indeed, the ability to walk safely on the streets is one of the best expressions of human rights protection that China offers.

Lord Neil Davidson from the UK touched upon the importance of respecting the diversity of human rights. He reflected on history, citing the enslavement of African peoples, genocides, and the Opium Wars. These events shared a common thread: aggression driven by the belief of superiority. He emphasized that pride and prejudice only lead to disaster, and true progress comes when nations respect, learn from, and collaborate with each other.

East and West do not have insurmountable differences in their perspectives on human rights; rather, their unique histories have shaped their viewpoints differently. Human rights have often been used as a tool by the West to attack and criticize China. Even today, some European politicians echo the rhetoric of the United States and use issues like Xinjiang and Tibet to accuse China of its human rights situation. Human rights topics should serve as a bridge for cooperation rather than a political weapon. As China and Europe come together to explore these nuances, there is hope that a broader, more inclusive dialogue on human rights can emerge, transcending divisive rhetoric and fostering a spirit of mutual understanding and growth.

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