CHAPTER IV

DENG XIAOPING’S HUMAN RIGHTS THEORY

ZHU MAJIE

 

The human rights issue is one central concern of the international community. Since its founding, the United Nations has worked out over 70 documents relating to human rights. These have set the universal principles of human rights for the international society and raised the protection of human rights to the level of international law. But in practice there have been severe contradictions and tensions. The most prominent manifestation of this is that some Western great powers have interfered in other countries’ internal affairs and pursued power politics under the pretence of human rights. Deng Xiaoping went to the heart of the issue in one pertinent remark, pointing out that “Our concept of human rights is, in essence, different from that of the Western world, because we see the question from a different point of view”. 1 Combining theory with practice, he made a penetrating exposition of the dialectical relations between individual and collective human rights. He pointed out that national sovereignty is far more important than human rights, laid special stress on the importance of realizing the right to development and peace, and criticized Western traditional human rights theories and individualism. All these showed clearly the correct direction for the contemporary international community’s practices on human rights.

 

COLLECTIVE HUMAN RIGHTS ABOVE INDIVIDUAL HUMAN RIGHTS

 

The human rights generally recognized by the international community are basically of two categories: individual human rights and collective human rights. The documents relating to human rights passed by the United Nations, especially The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, set the universal principles of individual human rights and collective human rights. The two are different, but closely related. How the contradictions between them are dealt with is one of the principled differences on the human rights concept between China and Western countries. Deng Xiaoping spoke out on: “What are human rights; how many people are they meant for; and whether these rights belong to the minority, to the majority or to all the people in a country?”2 The Western world puts undue emphasis on individual human rights, the basic content of which is “natural rights”. Individuals seek rights to democracy, freedom, equality and property.

This kind of human rights concept is also embodied in the U.N. documents on human rights:

-                 Everyone has the right to life, liberty and personal security. No one should be held in slavery, subjected to torture or to cruel treatment.

-                 All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law.

-                 No one should be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy.

-                 Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence.

-                 Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.

-                 Adult men and women have the right to marry.

-                 Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, of belief, of communication, of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly and of association.

-                 Everyone has right to vote and stand for election.

-                 Everyone has the right of equal access to public service.

-                 No one should be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

 

Meanwhile, U.N. documents on human rights stress collective human rights. They include economic, social and cultural rights, rights to national autonomy and racial equality, rights to development and peace, permanent sovereignty over natural resources, rights to participate in and enjoy human common heritage, to protect the human environment and unconditionally to accept humanitarian aid. Through the long-term efforts of developing countries the international community has come to recognize these collective rights. The human rights stressed by Deng as belonging to the majority or the people are a summary of collective human rights. He also pointed out that “personal interest” should be “combined with the overall interests of the collective, the state and society”. 3 “Were we to do the opposite and pursue personal, local or immediate interests at the expense of the others, both sets of interests would inevitably suffer.” 4  Obviously, negating collective human rights by individual human rights will certainly lead to individual privileges which infringe upon the interests of the others. Therefore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stresses that everyone has duties to the community and everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others. Individuals and collectives are all subjects and players in human rights, and both should work in concert and harmony. But in practical life, contradictions and conflicts between individuals and collectives on rights and interests may often occur. The principle for resolving contradictions and conflicts is that the rights belonging to the collective are above individual human rights and personal interests must be combined with the overall interests of the collective.

 

NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN HUMAN RIGHTS

 

National sovereignty is the highest and most important embodiment of collective human rights.

Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “Actually, national sovereignty is far more important than human rights, but the Group of Seven (or Eight) often infringe upon the sovereignty of poor, weak countries of the Third World. Their talk about human rights, freedom and democracy is designed only to safeguard the interests of the strong, rich countries, which take advantage of their strength to bully weak countries, and which pursue hegemony and practise power politics.”5 Looking back on the history of over 100 years, colonial and imperialist aggression, plunder and oppression have reduced many countries in the world to the status of colonies and semi-colonies; their peoples live in an abyss of misery. After a country loses its sovereignty it is impossible for its people to enjoy real human rights. Historical experience tells us that the “first priority should always be given to national sovereignty and security.”

“Some Western countries, on the pretext that China has an unsatisfactory human rights record and an irrational and illegitimate socialist system, attempt to jeopardise our national sovereignty. But countries that play power politics are not qualified to talk about human rights. How many people’s human rights have they violated throughout the world!”6 In fact, it is the third world developing countries which pay most attention to human rights. Their people most bitterly hate the power politics and hegemony of the great powers which take advantage of their strength to bully weak countries, through cruel colonial and imperialist invasion.

People know well that only when national sovereignty is maintained and is in their own hands can individual human rights be ensured. The realization of both individual and collective human rights cannot be divorced from the jurisdiction of the country. The improvement and enhancement of the human rights in each country are bound to rely on the gradual strivings of a country according to its conditions; no foreign country can take another countries’ job into its own hands, still less meddle in their internal affairs and infringe on their sovereignty on the pretext of human rights.

The Charter of the United Nations points out that the peoples of the Unite Nations are:

 

determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human being, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, . . . to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, . . . for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples.

 

But, some Western big powers act in a contrary fashion and have attempted to pursue their own values and human rights standards as universal principles. They make frequent indiscreet remarks or criticisms and unwarranted charges against other countries. All systems, methods and modes that differ from theirs are rebuked without exception as autocracy, dictatorship, wanton trampling on democracy, and infringement of human rights. In the U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices each year and in the activities of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, almost all countries criticized by name are developing countries. In fact developing countries have made important contributions to international human rights activities and constantly improve their own human rights situations. Most having suffered from foreign aggression and oppression, understand more deeply that national sovereignty is the fundamental premise for realizing their human rights. The U.N. Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples points out that all peoples have an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory, as well as to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

In the current international community, all states have their respective political, economic, cultural and social background, and naturally adopt different ways and methods in the process of promoting and protecting human rights. But in dealing with the relations between national sovereignty and human rights, national sovereignty must be given the top priority. Therefore, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “People who value human rights should not forget the rights of the state. When they talk about human dignity, they should not forget national dignity. In particular, if the developing countries of the Third World, like China, have no national self-respect and do not cherish their independence, they will not enjoy that independence for long.”7 “In studying and handling problems, both of us place the highest importance on the national interest.”8

 

DEVELOPMENT IS THE ABSOLUTE PRINCIPLE

 

The right to development is one of the important and inalienable human rights universally recognized by the international community, and most countries and peoples in the world are very concerned about it. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “Some countries have problems basically because they have failed to push their economy forward. In those countries people do not have enough food and clothing, their wage increases are wiped out by inflation, their living standards keep dropping and for a long time they have had to tighten their belts.”9 Therefore, to enable members of these nations fully to enjoy human rights, “it is crucial to expand the economy”. “Development is the absolute principle.”10 The fact is that in our global village poverty is the main obstacle to most countries and peoples realizing universal human rights principles. To poverty-stricken people, freedom, democracy, equality and happiness can only be an unattainable dream. Vast numbers of the people living in misery yearn for adequate food and clothing. Only by developing the economy can a necessary material foundation be laid for a comprehensive guarantee of human rights.

Development is one of “the two really great issues confronting the world today, issues of global strategic significance”.11 The reality of the current society is a wide gap between the North and the South in economic development, the increasingly strong scientific and technological superiority of the North, the developing knowledge-oriented economy and information technology bringing about a great development in productivity with each passing day. Monopoly capital represented by transnational corporations is further strengthening its control of the world economy and increasing its share and competitiveness in the world market. In recent years, developing countries in the South have made encouraging progress, but their economies are still at a low level and very fragile. A single financial storm can wipe out all their achievements over many years. Three fourths of the world’s total population live in impoverished countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Many developing countries remain in the difficult position of being debt-ridden and unable to make ends meet. Economic crises, grain crises and energy crises have succeeded one another. Many customers of the large banks of developed countries can use ATM to withdraw money all over the world, while many poor people in developing countries have to borrow money from nearby persons practicing usury. This is the harsh reality of the gap between the North and the South. The U.N. Teheran Declaration points out that the increasingly wide gap between economically developed countries and developing countries has hindered the realization of human rights in the international community.

Realization of the right to development is an urgent need not only of developing countries, but is of the same importance to developed countries. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “some Third World countries are becoming more prosperous, but they cannot yet be considered developed. And many others are still extremely poor. Unless their economic problems are solved, it will be hard for all the Third World countries to develop and for the developed countries to advance further”. “In short, if the countries in the South are not duly developed, the countries in the North will find only very limited outlets for their capital and products; indeed, if the South remains poor, the North will find no outlets at all.”12

 

If the North-South problem is not solved, it will hinder the development of the world economy. The solution, of course, lies in North-South dialogue. . . . But dialogue alone is not enough; cooperation among Third World countries -- in other words, South-South cooperation -- should be stepped up as well. Exchanges, learning from each other and cooperation among these countries can help solve many problems, and the prospects are promising. The developed countries should appreciate that greater development of their economies is impossible without growth in the economies of Third World countries.13

 

As far as China is concerned, he pointed out that China is still poor; a GDP of US$ one trillion will mean a higher standard of living for its people and China will be able to contribute more to humankind. “More important, it will allow us to approach the standard of the developed countries in another 30 to 50 years’ time.”14 It is evident that the realization of right to development is a long-term and arduous task for all the countries in the world. This gives the guarantee of human rights in the international community a new aspect.

 

OPPOSING HEGEMONY AND SAFEGUARDING PEACE

 

This is one of the themes of the current international community for realizing the right to peace. The U.N. Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace solemnly declares that “the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace” and “the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each State”. Safeguarding international peace and security is the aim of the United Nations and also an important element in realizing fundamental human rights. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that peace is one of “the two really great issues confronting the world today, issues of global strategic significance”. “To work for peace one must oppose hegemony and power politics.”15

Since WWII, the peace issue has not been resolved and the world is still not too tranquil. From 1945 to the early 1990s, over 100 major conflicts occurred in the world, causing more than 20 million deaths. According to statistics, after the end of the Cold War, from 1990 to 1997, 273 local wars and armed conflicts on various scales occurred in the world, of which 79 were new. In Africa, tribal and racial conflicts, border disputes and civil wars have emerged for years on end. In the Balkans, the Bosnian War lasted for four years, then the Kosovo crisis broke out and NATO brutally trampled on the Charter of the United Nations and conducted wanton bombing and air attacks against Yugoslavia. In the Gulf area of the Middle East, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait triggered the Gulf War, which was the local war with the largest number of countries participating, the most advanced weapons and on a scale unprecedented since WWII. Incidents were again provoked because of Iraqi weapons inspection issue and the U.S. and Britain carried out military strikes against Iraq. In the Caucasus there are endless disputes and frequent wars with the smoke of gunpowder filling the air. In those countries and regions suffering upheavals, conflicts and wars, there is no peace, people suffer and large numbers of refugees flee abroad. One cannot begin to talk about enjoying fundamental human rights.

The causes of this lack of peace in the world are complicated, but the main source is the hegemony and power politics that threaten world peace and stability. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that in inciting unrest in many countries, the Western world, especially the U.S., is “actually playing power politics and seeking hegemony. They are trying to bring into their sphere of influence countries that heretofore they have not been able to control”.16 This is the essence of the issue. Some Western great powers rely on their superiority in economy, military affairs, science, technology and culture. Regardless of the norms of international relations, they make use of such issues as human rights wantonly to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. They assume the airs of the “world leaders” and “world police” and try to impose their own social system and values on others. They exert pressure and even sanctions and armed intervention on all those not to their taste, thus causing disputes or tense situations. Taking a broad view of the wars and armed conflicts all over the world in recent years one can find the hand of some Western great powers.

Realizing the human right to peace requires the establishment of a new order of international relations. “The key principle governing the new international order should be noninterference in other countries’ internal affairs and social systems. It won’t work to require all the countries in the world to copy the patterns set by the United States, Britain and France.”17 This is the universal voice of the vast countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Practice has also proved that “allowing a few countries to monopolize everything, as they have done for years, has never solved any problems, and it never will.” “If the Western developed countries insisted on interfering in other countries’ internal affairs and social systems, it would lead to international turmoil, especially in the developing countries of the Third World”.18 Therefore, the only correct solution “is peaceful coexistence and cooperation of all countries with different social systems on the basis of the Five Principles, not interference in other countries’ internal affairs and provoking disorder”.19

 

STABILITY IS OF OVERRIDING IMPORTANCE

 

Summing up the practical experiences of China and the world at large, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that “stability is of overriding importance.” “Human rights and democratic rights are not related to this question.” “The reason is very simple. In China, which has a huge population and a poor economic foundation, nothing can be accomplished without good public order, political stability and unity.”

 

As soon as they seized power, the so-called fighters for democracy would start fighting each other. And if a civil war broke out, with blood flowing like a river, what ‘human rights’ would there be? If civil war broke out in China, with each faction dominating a region, production declining, transportation disrupted and not millions or tens of millions, but hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing the country, it is the Asia-Pacific region, which is at present the most promising in the world, that would be the first to be affected. And that would lead to disaster on a world scale.20

 

In order to maintain political stability and unity it is imperative to oppose bourgeois liberalization. “In developing our democracy, we cannot simply copy bourgeois democracy”. If we copied Western systems, “that would only make a mess of everything”.21 “The democracy in capitalist societies is bourgeois democracy -- in fact, it is the democracy of monopoly capitalists. It is no more than a system of multiparty elections, separation of judicial, executive and legislative powers and a bicameral legislature. Ours is the system of people’s congresses and people’s democracy under the leadership of the Communist Party; we cannot adopt the practice of the West.”22 According to China’s conditions, the building and improvement of a democratic system requires a very long time. But Western countries “are unhappy that China adheres to socialism”. So they make use of human rights to stir up troubles, interfere in other countries’ internal affairs and even exert sanctions against them. Their final strategic objective is “to bring about the peaceful evolution of socialist countries towards capitalism”.23 This is the essence of “human rights diplomacy” of some Western countries.

            We cannot abandon the people’s democratic dictatorship. Deng Xiaoping pointed out that to maintain political stability and unity, “we cannot abandon the people’s democratic dictatorship”.24 China implements the policy of reform and opening-up and insists on the socialist road. Though it has developed rapidly in the last 20 years, it is still in the initial stage of socialism, which will last for a very long historical period. “For a fairly long period of time the proletariat, as a new, rising class is necessarily weaker than the bourgeoisie. If it is to seize political power and build socialism, it must therefore impose a dictatorship to resist capitalist attack.” “If some people practise bourgeois liberalization and create turmoil by demanding bourgeois human rights and democracy, we have to stop them.” “It is right to consolidate the people’s power by employing the force of the people’s democratic dictatorship. There is nothing wrong in that.”25

In sum, “if China wanted to shake off poverty and modernize, stability was crucial.”26 To maintain stability, it is imperative to oppose bourgeois liberalization. Implementing the people’s democratic system is just to protect the majority’s human rights, safeguard national sovereignty and realize rights to development and peace.

For judging the soundness of a country’s political system, Deng Xiaoping put forward three criteria: “First, whether the country is politically stable; second, whether the system and policies help to strengthen unity among the people and to raise their living standards; and third, whether the productive forces keep developing.”27 Practice has proved that China’s implementation of the people’s democratic system has safeguarded political stability, promoted the rapid development of productivity, constantly improved the people’s living standards and ensured the people’s enjoyment of human rights. Deng Xiaoping laid much stress on improving the legal system and pointed out that “to ensure people’s democracy, we must strengthen our legal system. Democracy has to be institutionalized and written into law.” “We must stress the need to effectively restructure and improve the systems of the Party and state in such a way as to ensure institutionally the practice of democracy in political life, in economic management and in all other aspects of social activity.”28

Under the new situation of reform and opening-up, China has paid special attention to strengthening and improving the legal system. It is under the fundamental national system that the human rights of the Chinese people have been strongly protected. According to China’s conditions and under the guidance of Deng Xiaoping’s human rights theory, China’s human rights practice has been developing and improving. What needs repeated emphasis is that “stability is of overriding importance.” and that “we cannot abandon the people’s democratic dictatorship.” China is the largest developing country in the world and a stable and developing China is a firm force to maintain world peace. It will make due contributions to the human rights undertaking of the international community.

 

NOTES

 

1. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 130.

2. Ibid.

3. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2, p. 236.

4. Ibid., p. 183.

5. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 334.

6. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 3, p. 336.

7. Ibid., p. 321.

8. Ibid., p. 320.

9. Ibid ., p. 342.

10. Ibid ., pp. 363, 365.

11. Ibid ., p. 111.

12. Ibid., p. 112.

13. Ibid., p. 66.

14. Ibid., p. 67.

15. Ibid., p. 66.

16. Ibid., p. 336.

17. Ibid., p. 346.

18. Ibid., p. 347.

19. Ibid., p. 348.

20. Ibid., pp. 321, 347.

21. Ibid., pp. 195, 196.

22. Ibid., pp. 237-238.

23. Ibid., p. 333.

24. Ibid., p. 351.

25. Ibid., pp. 351-352, 367.

26. Ibid., p. 336.

27. Ibid., p. 213.

28. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. 2, pp. 156, 334.