The trick of pretending to be a "human rights teacher" in a few Western countries has long been unsuccessful, and the hypocrisy is well known in the world. These Western countries are advised to remove their pretense, abandon the Cold War mentality of using human rights as a tool for realizing hegemony, face up to their own human rights issues, strengthen dialogue and cooperation based on the principle of mutual respect, and truly contribute to the healthy development of the cause of human rights in the world.
So ends an "Opinion Piece" published 26 March 2021 in the People's Daily (The Trickery of "Human Rights Teacher" can't go on (bell ringing) [“人权教师爷”的把戏演不下去了（钟声）] (my translation).
This Opinion Piece summarizes, in a quite concise form, the character of China's response to months of push back by the liberal democratic camp and the organs of the United Nations, especially those tasked with the protection of its decades long project of developing a common framework for human rights (and now sustainability and climate change), for Chinese actions in Hong Kong and its Xinjiang policy. It comes immediately after a contentious meeting between Chinese and American officials in Anchorage, Alaska in which both sides took to lecturing each other on the nature and state of human rights in their respective states, and from the respective perspectives of quite distinct human rights ideologies.
If the Alaska meeting was a dress rehearsal of the central authorities new exposition of Socialist Human Rights in relation to the orthodox position of the liberal democratic camp and elements of the United Nations Human Rights apparatus, then this Opinion Piece provides a more derisive attack on the legitimacy of the human rights orthodoxies of the West and of its expression international human rights law. And indeed, it appears that taking a page from the liberal democratic camp, the Chinese authorities have decided that the road to the construction of a narrative of legitimacy of its own approach to human rights must be built on a foundation of a narrative of the illegitimacy of the current orthodox principles of human rights. From the Chinese perspective it serves as a well deserved tit-for-tat for years of Western indifference to and rejection of its own approaches to human rights. For the West it ought to raise alarms that the age when it could assume that it was the undisputed vanguard of developing human rights norms and consensus is now perhaps more meaningfully challenged.
But both the carefully prepared response of the Chinese delegation to the purported provocations of the Americans in Alaska and the "Opinion Piece" does more than indulge in a politics of illegitimacy. It also contains within it an equally concise window on the emergence of a Socialist approach to human rights--one that has been years in the making. The fundamental approach has already been endorsed by international human rights organs. I have analyzed this in more detail in Backer, Larry Catá, ‘By Dred Things I am Compelled’: China and the
Challenge to International Human Rights Law and Policy (January 15,
2020), pre-publication version available HERE. At its center is the notion of mutually advantageous cooperation embedded in an approach to human rights founded on core principles of prosperity and stability and measured by collective needs and responsibilities. Within this Socialist approach, the individual is de-centered, and political and civil rights are understood as a function of a responsibility to further economic, social, and cultural rights for the collective, to which the individual, like the state, has an obligation to further.
The twin pillars of the current Chinese campaign, then, are based on a two thrust approach. The first is the campaign to de-legitimate the construction of human rights as they have been developed since 1947 through the instruments and policies of international organizations reflecting the constitution traditions of liberal democratic states. This is nicely illustrated in the Opinion Piece--a very clever provocation. The second, and more positive thrust is the effort to put forward a Socialist alternative that expresses a Marxist Leninist conceptualization of human rights. This is still very much a work in progress, but progress is being made (e.g., ‘By Dred Things I am Compelled’). Wang Yi's exposition in Anchorage provides a hint at what may be coming--assuming that the position was not merely a propaganda stance. It contrasts U.S. and Chinese style democracy, and then frames core concepts around that conceptual chasm. When Wang Yi declares that "Our values are the same as the common values of humanity. Those are:
peace, development, fairness, justice, freedom and democracy" he means that from the perspective of Chinese style democracy. That points toward building a moderately prosperous society and the elimination of poverty for a community firmly behind the vanguard party.
There is no doubt much more to come. In the meantime these are worth careful study, a study enriched within the discursive contexts of contemporary American and Chinese internal conversations. Both point to efforts at transformative change; neither state will be the same five years from now; but they seem to be moving in opposite directions. It may be small comfort to note that these movements appear to move both back to doctrinal and ideological positions with more affinity to the 1970s than to the 2010s. But of course it is far too early to tell. The danger for both is that the transformation in which both states find themselves will prove more self destructive than positively transformative.
The Opinion Piece follows below (in the original and with my crude translation) along with the transcript of the contentious opening of the U.S.-China Meeting in Anchorage, the transcription of which was published by Nikkei Asia on 14 March 2021 from the original transcript posted to the U.S. State Department website.