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FOCUS March 2000 Volume 19

Address by Qian Qichen, Vice Premier of the People's Republic of China

Your Excellency Mrs. Mary Robinson,
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Representatives,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Friends,

First of all, please allow me to extend, on behalf of the Chinese Government, congratulations on the convocation of the Eighth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region and a warm welcome to Mrs. Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other friends present here for coming to China to participate in this workshop.

In recent years, this workshop has become an important forum for Asia-Pacific countries to exchange views and promote cooperation on the question of human rights. Through discussions and exchanges on the basis of equality and mutual respect, these countries, learning from and drawing upon one another's experience, have enhanced their mutual understanding, and consolidated and expanded consensus, thus setting an example of effectively promoting the cause of human rights through international cooperation. They have also identified unanimously at the workshop four regional priorities of human rights cooperation for the current stage, namely, to formulate national plans of action for the promotion and protection of human rights; to establish and strengthen national institutions of human rights; human rights education; and to realize economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. The current workshop will continue in-depth discussions centering on the above issues. It is my sincere hope that this workshop will help to expand our consensus on the question of human rights, produce more experience that can be shared and contribute to the constant improvement of the level of human rights enjoyed by people in this region as well as the common development and progress in the Asia-Pacific.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Asia-Pacific countries boast a time-honored history and cultural traditions that have many positive elements on respect for human rights. Although the positions and views of these countries on the question of human rights are not exactly the same, what we share obviously outweigh our differences. As close neighbors, we know better than others the history and cultural traditions of the people and the realities of the countries in the region. The Asia-Pacific countries have every reason to step up their cooperation on human rights. Here I would like to share with you the following views and suggestions.

First, while we all respect the basic principles of the UN Charter and the UN human rights instruments, we should build on and carry forward the fine cultural traditions of the region and highlight our own values. As the cradle of some of the world's major ancient civilizations, the Asia-Pacific has a rich store of the humanities. With a long-standing tradition of benevolence, people here value such principles as self-discipline, self-improvement, respect for the elderly, care for the young and harmony of the society and seek a balance between rights and obligations and between individual and collective interests. The Asian financial crisis that occurred in the last couple of years has made quite a few people skeptical about everything Asian. Given the fact that in the 20th century economic crises have occurred in other regions and that the causes for the financial crisis are extremely complex, it is obviously unfair to lay the blame on cultures or values alone for the crisis. Today, as the Asian economy is already on the way to recovery, we are convinced that the people in Asia, with their pioneering spirit, will be able to overcome the many difficulties lying ahead and march forward courageously. They have every reason to keep up their fine cultures and values and promote the all-round development of human rights while attaining economic growth.

Second, efforts should be made to promote international dialogue and exchanges in the human rights field. Countries have different national conditions, therefore it is only natural that they have differences in their approach to the promotion and protection of human rights. These differences should be handled properly through dialogue and exchanges on the basis of equality. The vast majority of the Asia-Pacific countries had in modern times the agonizing experience of being bullied by imperialist powers and hence cherish all the more their sovereignty and national dignity. Moreover, in recent years, the Asia-Pacific countries have stood out as a major international advocate for dialogue and exchanges, and this workshop is precisely a concrete testament to such a spirit of cooperation based on equality. I believe that in face of the ever-changing international situation, they will be able to make new contributions to the progress of the world cause of human rights along with the rest of the international community.

Third, common action should be strengthened in realizing the economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. The Asia-Pacific region is mostly made up of developing countries, many of whom are in a crucial period of economic and social development. A considerable proportion of its population which accounts for over 60 percent of the world's total are still living in destitute poverty. To develop the economy, eradicate poverty, promote development and realize prosperity is the common task confronting the Asia-Pacific countries. Clearly it is absolutely necessary for them to discuss and study these issues in an in-depth manner through regional cooperation.

Fourth, we must draw upon all the useful experiences in the world instead of blindly rejecting anything foreign. It can be said that democracy and the rule of law are no country's monopoly and that they do not come under a unified model in the world. To learn from other countries' experience is not to copy it mechanically. Only when appropriate measures suited to the local conditions are adopted in light of a country's specific characteristics and the needs of the people can democracy be effectively broadened and improved and the rule of law be promoted and strengthened. The Asia-Pacific is a populous region, and the countries here are similar to one another in many ways including the level of economic development, so they should boost their cooperation and exchanges in building up democracy and the legal system.

Fifth, the Asia-Pacific countries should seek, to the best of their efforts, common points and the basis for cooperation on the human rights question. At present, four priority areas have been identified for cooperation in this field in the region, and many countries have taken concrete follow-up steps, which undoubtedly is of positive significance for the advancement of the human rights cause in the region. Given the diverse national conditions, different stages of social progress and work priorities, countries may develop, in both content and form, different national institutions of human rights, national action plans and measures for the promotion and protection of human rights. Universality does not mean blind identity. Every measure that serves to promote and protect human rights effectively and every institution or plan that proves to be truly operative should be encouraged and endorsed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Chinese nation has always held man' s dignity and value in respect. The immense energy China today radiates is a vivid reflection of the broad scope in which the Chinese people give free and democratic play to their creativity. As China is a developing country with a population of nearly 1.3 billion, to realize the people's right to subsistence and development represents a fervent desire of the Chinese people and an objective of the Chinese Government. The size of the Chinese population living in poverty has been cut by over 200 million in China in the past two decades. The vast majority of the rural population now have enough to eat and to wear and the people' s living standards have been markedly improved. At the same time, China has been working hard to build up democracy and the legal system and, in recent years, amended the Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedural Law, which has greatly improved human rights protection in the judicial area. The successive promulgation and implementation of the Administrative Procedural Law, the State Compensation Law and the Administrative Review Law have served to better safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the citizens. China has been making intensified efforts to deepen the building of democracy at the grassroots level in the rural areas, promoting a fair and equitable electoral system, advancing vigorously judicial reforms, enhancing the transparency of the judiciary, strengthening supervision of law enforcement and meting out, according to law, severe punishment to corruption. Our goal is to run the country according to law and build China into a socialist country under the rule of law.

In building a prosperous, democratic and culturally advanced modern country, the Chinese Government and people are ready to work alongside the people in other Asia-Pacific countries and in the rest of the world to promote the human rights cause as well as peace and development in the Asia-Pacific and the larger world.

I wish the workshop a complete success.

Thank you.


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