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Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, right, and his counterpart from China, Wang Yi, participate in a press conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.The Canadian Press

This Chinese-language blog features Ontario Minister Michael Chan, whose views on China's human rights record are quoted here at length by an unidentified journalist.

The column has appeared on the popular web site and Mr, Chan's own official WeChat page.


The Problem That's Been Around for 40 Years

2016-06-06 陈国治

Michael Chan, June 6, 2016


When China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Canada recently, in response to a question from a Canadian journalist, he touched on the issue of human rights, and his response led to commentary from all quarters. A journalist interviewed Michael Chan about this, inviting him to share his views on the matter.


Michael Chan said that Western and other countries have been posing questions to China about human rights issues since the first day of reform and opening up [i.e. China's economic reforms starting in ~1978] until now—it's been about 40 years already. It's not some special, fresh, or suddenly new issue. So given that the same question has been asked for 40 years, why don't we take a look at just how far the human rights of Chinese have come, how much they've changed, and all that they've been through, in these 40 years?


Michael Chan said that human rights should be viewed from the perspective of livelihood issues — the progress of human rights is complementary and linked together with the progress of people's welfare. The best example is a report in the Toronto Star last week: In Sichuan there was a village at the bottom of a cliff, and the children had to climb and clamber over a ladder made of vines, over the rocks, to go to school. To reduce the danger—climbing the sheer cliffs and precipitous rock faces is so dangerous that one slip and a child could die—the kids could only go home once a fortnight. The human rights of those children is the right to an education, but the price might be one of their lives! So the inner meaning of human rights is very broad, but the right to survival and a guaranteed livelihood are important components of human rights. Forty years ago, China was striving towards ensuring that the people would have enough food and warm clothes, to satisfy the basic needs of life. In 40 years, Chinese society has transformed from being about survival to being about development—and in the economy, education sector, healthcare, student exchange, migration, travel, and quality of life, these 40 years have brought about 1001 changes.


Forty Years Ago, and Forty Years Later


First on the issue of vehicles: Michael Chan said that he remembers when he was in China about 40 years ago, tricycles, bicycles, and pushcarts filled the streets, 10 of them abreast, and you never knew how you'd get across the road. Last month he again went to China, and though he again didn't dare to cross the street in big cities, the difference this time was that the vehicles on the road were cars! As of the end of 2015, there were already 124 million private automobiles in China, and a total of 280 million licensed drivers. The livelihood of the people has improved.


Then on the private economy: 40 years ago, the private economy in China was on the brink of collapse. In 1978 the ratio between light and heavy industry was 43:56, and light manufactured products were in drastically short supply. Now, 40 years later, according to official 2015 figures, China's Gross National Product has exceeded US$10 trillion. China is the second largest economy in the world, the largest industrialized country, the country with the largest agricultural sector, and the country with the second-largest service industry. At the same time, it's a country with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Over the last 30 years, China's average GDP growth rate has been 10% per year. China does the most trade in the world. The welfare of the people has been enriched.


Michael Chan continued, on the ease of tourism for Chinese. Forty years ago, leaving China for tourism was something that average Chinese people didn't even dare think about. Firstly, they didn't have money; secondly, policies didn't allow it. Now, 40 years later, tourism has gone from being something one does "once in one's life" to "leaving the country for a weekend." The total instances of Chinese traveling abroad exceeded 100 million for the first time in 2014, and spending while overseas was $US164 billion, which has invigorated local economies. The chairman of the U.S. Travel Association Roger Dow gave an even more vivid description: he said that Chinese tourists are "walking wallets." Statistics say that the over 100 million Chinese tourists have contributed to the growth of the global tourism industry by 19.62%. People's lives have become more interesting.


On the matter of studying abroad and emigrating: 40 years ago, the families able to send the younger generation off to study abroad were "as rare as phoenix feathers and unicorn horns." [i.e. 'extremely rare.'] If it wasn't a big family, or you weren't sent as part of a state programme, at that point there wasn't even this phrase "emigrate." Now, 40 years later, studying abroad and emigrating have already become completely commonplace. Over these past 40 years, China's big doors have swung open—for students, migrants, and returnees to leave China and come back has all become free and convenient. There are around 60 million overseas Chinese, and the number of Chinese exchange students in Canada is over 80,000. People are living with freedom.


Michael Chan said that just a few of the abovementioned examples show the development and changes of the last 40 years. Then there's health care, education, the standard of living, and China's rapid development which has improved the people's livelihood, and led to human rights in China becoming broader, and changing in multivariate ways. Foreign Minister Wang Yi's suggestion that the journalist go to China and talk to the Chinese people made Michael Chan remember something: In 2010 when Michael Chan and the former premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty visited China together, and sat down and chatted with the former Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Yang also suggested that they go out and talk about human rights with some regular Chinese folk. Michael Chan said, actually, you don't need to go to China to ask Chinese people; Canada has 80,000 Chinese exchange students: journalists can go and ask this 80,000-strong "army" — ask each of them what their feelings are about the livelihood and civil rights of the Chinese people, and do a survey. Of course, you can also ask Chinese tourists who are visiting Canada.


Michael Chan continued: the students at the bottom of the cliff in Sichuan yearn for a safe path to school, and survival is the human right issue that they face. The starting point for human rights is different for every country and people; the speed and process of economic development is also different. Maintain a stance of openness, goodwill, and a mind on development, and the future will be bright.

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