It’s crucial that Western countries raise the issue of human rights with countries such as China during the current economic crisis. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, told RNW’s China Desk that social justice will ultimately strengthen national economies.
De Schutter argues that it’s important to involve vulnerable groups in developing social safety nets. “Not only do such safety nets ensure a decent existence for the very poorest, but this approach helps ensure a long-term economic approach. Consultations with the vulnerable and consideration of the consequences mean fragile states have a better chance of developing policies that genuinely stimulate the economy”.
Corruption and poverty
The benefits are not only economic, according to De Schutter. He claims China’s central government would also benefit: “Land grabbing by corrupt officials is an issue in parts of China, for instance. A genuine dialogue between the administration and local people would make this sort of problem visible and mean the government could take action more quickly and effectively.”
Corruption is a persistent problem in China, and tackling it is one of the ways the government hopes to keep the Chinese population satisfied. Continuing economic growth and prosperity are vital, but also problematic. Even though China has succeeded in lifting 662 million people above the poverty line in the past 30 years, the total number of those who are extremely poor is still huge.
Beijing announced in April of this year that 130 million Chinese are living in poverty. And that’s measured as those living on less than $1 a day, while the UN and the World Bank set a higher boundary of $1.25 per day.
“An additional problem is that the gap between rich and poor has grown enormously in China in recent years. This has led to increasing dissatisfaction, especially in rural areas”, says De Schutter, and that dissatisfaction is worrying the government. “Every government official I talk to tells me the current Chinese system is under huge pressure”, he explains, “and a solution has to be found quickly”.
The UN rapporteur claims that this pressure means Beijing is slowly but surely trying to address human rights issues. “The regime is terrified of a Chinese version of the Arab Spring. They fear that without reform, a cultural revolution will see the country descend into chaos.” De Schutter concludes that China is at a crossroads. “The Party must change things, otherwise things will change without the Party”.