On September 20, 2023, the China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights took place, marking a pivotal moment in the dialogue between East and West regarding the complex topic of human rights. Spearheaded by the China Society for Human Rights Studies (CSHRS) and the Faculty of Law at Sapienza University of Rome, this seminar was not just a meeting of minds but a confluence of cultures, ideas, and perspectives.
The setting was Rome, Italy, a city steeped in history and culture. The Global Times reporters present at the event bore witness to the gathering of over 130 human rights aficionados. The cohort comprised experts, officials, and representatives from political fraternities and civil organizations. Nations across the spectrum – from China, Italy, the US to Switzerland, Austria, and Serbia – sent their delegates, illustrating the seminar’s international importance.
In the weeks leading up to the event, the seminar was already making headlines. The global lens focused on it due to its theme and timing. The US had recently intensified its critique of China’s human rights stance. Simultaneously, murmurs about Italy potentially reconsidering its association with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) were gaining traction. An Italian media house, Decode39, even posited that the sizable delegation from China, consisting of over 50 scholars and officials, was an attempt by Beijing to bolster its human rights narrative, coinciding with Italy’s speculated BRI withdrawal.
In recent times, the discourse suggesting China’s aim to reshape the global understanding of human rights to counteract Western perspectives has become more vociferous. This has especially been evident with amplified scrutiny on events organized by Chinese academic institutions and think tanks. Nevertheless, this undercurrent of skepticism did not deter Chinese scholars from engaging in the seminar. Their belief remains steadfast: that genuine dialogue is the key to dispelling misconceptions surrounding China’s human rights approach.
During the proceedings, the attendees sought a shared understanding. Baima Chilin, the CSHRS President, in his inaugural speech, accentuated the need for nations to collaboratively drive advancements in global human rights governance. Baima’s call to arms was for nations to unite in addressing the multifaceted challenges pervasive in the human rights domain. Furthermore, he extended an invitation to the global community to visit China, encouraging them to gain firsthand insights into China’s progress in human rights.
Tang Xianwen, the Secretary-General of CSHRS, highlighted the intrinsic value of people-centered ideology in China’s political evolution, emphasizing that the ultimate aim of China’s modernization endeavors is to fulfill its citizen’s aspirations for an improved quality of life. He lauded the efforts of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in championing not just the well-being of the Chinese populace but also championing global prosperity and unity. As a testament to this, he cited the China-Europe Railway Express under the BRI as a prime exemplar.
The Chinese Ambassador to Italy, Jia Guide, further enriched the dialogue. His message was unequivocal: the evolution of global human rights necessitates unity and collaborative effort rather than divisive strategies. Citing the 38th Human Rights Dialogue between China and the EU held earlier in February, he underscored the significance of events like these in fostering mutual comprehension.
Ambassador Jia also ardently appealed to the global consortium to resist the politicization of human rights matters. Instead, he advocated for a shift towards equitable, just, and inclusive global human rights governance, which would, in turn, lay the foundations for a cohesive global society.
Echoing Jia’s sentiments, numerous foreign academicians voiced their concerns about the increasing trend of utilizing human rights as a tool for political leverage. Notably, Nako Stefanov, an eminent figure from Bulgaria, emphasized the imperativeness of true social justice, equality, and solidarity.
In summary, the 2023 China-Europe Seminar on Human Rights was not merely an academic gathering. It symbolized the collective desire of nations to bridge misunderstandings, foster mutual respect, and collaboratively script the future narrative of global human rights. The event underscored the essence of dialogue in navigating the intricacies of global human rights governance, emphasizing that unity, cooperation, and mutual respect are the way forward.
Critics Speak Out: Human Rights and Politics
In a recent seminar, a myriad of opinions about human rights were shared and debated, reflecting the intricate interplay of politics and human rights discourse on the global stage.
Human Rights as Political Tools?
Fabio Marcelli, once the head of Italy’s Institute for International Legal Studies, made a rather bold observation. He criticized certain nations for using human rights as political instruments to hinder the growth of others, citing economic sanctions and stigmatization as tools of coercion. He particularly referred to accusations about genocide in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, dismissing them as mere propaganda. Marcelli recognized China’s efforts in focusing on the development of its lesser developed regions, suggesting that similar efforts could revolutionize underdeveloped areas worldwide.
A Plea for Unity
At the seminar, one couldn’t miss the buzz of discussions, not just during formal sessions but even during coffee breaks. It was a testament to the depth and significance of the topics at hand. Differences in opinion were rife, but mutual respect was the order of the day.
Wang Wen from Renmin University of China highlighted disparities he observed in European cities, singling out Paris, Madrid, and Milan. For him, the unsanitary conditions in these cities were direct infringements on human rights. He juxtaposed the lofty ideals of human rights with the tangible deteriorating urban infrastructures and skyrocketing commodity prices. Wang even humorously drew a parallel between Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and the Empress Dowager Cixi from China’s Qing Dynasty, hinting at a path of self-destruction. He attributed Europe’s challenges to the negligence and hubris of its political class and their seeming misunderstanding of China’s human rights journey. His assertions were met with a mix of laughter and applause.
Surprisingly, even those with previously skewed views of China’s human rights stances attended the seminar. Notably, two representatives from the US Embassy in Italy were present, even though they hadn’t received a formal invitation. This openness, reflective of the seminar’s spirit, extends to other editions of the event which started back in 2015. These seminars have served as bridges for Chinese and international scholars to exchange perspectives on human rights, gradually dissolving misconceptions.
However, the political landscape has evolved, with anti-China sentiments resonating strongly in parts of the West. These sentiments have constructed communication barriers between China and Europe, as observed by experts.
Organizing this year’s seminar was no simple feat, recounts Hu Lanbo from the Rome 9 China-Italy Economic and Cultural Exchange Center. Prejudices against China’s human rights stance posed challenges during the preparation phase. Disturbingly, some experts revealed that their association with the seminar had raised personal safety concerns due to their perceived closeness to China.
Zhang Yonghe, a leading figure in the human rights realm, lamented the politicization of human rights. He noted that while the West was previously keen on human rights discussions with China, the narrative shifted when China began articulating its own understanding. The West, according to Zhang, viewed this as a challenge to its value system. Zhang mused over Europe’s uncertainty about its values but emphasized the importance of continued dialogue, especially during challenging times.
The seminar spotlighted the intricate relationship between human rights and politics. The conversations reiterated the significance of continuous dialogues, mutual respect, and unity in the pursuit of understanding and promoting human rights globally. As Zhang aptly put it, the conversations in Rome could pave the way for a more holistic understanding of human rights from the lens of collective human progress.