The Forum on Global Human Rights Governance, themed Equality, Cooperation and Development: The 30th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and Global Human Rights Governance, was held in Beijing in mid-June 2023.
Jointly hosted by the Information Office of China’s State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the China International Development Cooperation Agency, the forum attracted over 300 participants from nearly 100 countries and international organizations, including United Nations (UN) agencies.
In a congratulatory letter to the forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping “stressed the need to respect all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, jointly follow the path of peaceful development, act on the Global Security Initiative, and create a secure and peaceful environment for realizing human rights.”
Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez attended the forum remotely, addressing a panel about the Global Security Initiative and human rights protection. We publish his remarks below.
A version of Carlos’s presentation has been published in Beijing Review.
A few weeks ago, US president Joe Biden called upon his fellow G7 leaders to stand against China’s “aggression”. A few days ago, Mike Turner, the chair of the US’s House Intelligence Committee, referenced “unbelievable aggression by China.”
Indeed, it is entirely normal in Western politics and media to hear China referred to as “aggressive”, “belligerent” and “expansionist”; as a country which is trying to impose its will on the world by means of force, by means of bullying.
Such an accusation, coming from the major imperialist powers, is nothing if not ironic.
After all, it’s well known that the US has been at war for 228 out of its 247 years of existence.
At this moment, there are nearly a thousand US troops in Syria, in violation of international law and Syrian sovereignty. This very year, the US has carried out several air strikes against Syrian government targets.
The US continues to be involved in the disastrous war in Yemen, which has created the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
In recent memory, the US has waged brutal wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yugoslavia.
It has active duty military troops stationed in nearly 150 countries, and it maintains 800 overseas military bases.
Its military expenditure is approaching a trillion dollars a year – meaning that a country with 4 percent of the global population accounts for 39 percent of the world’s military spending.
In relation to the crisis in Ukraine, the US’s policy from the start – indeed, before the start – has been to pour fuel onto the fire and to provoke conflict.
Sixteen months into Russia’s special military operation, it’s patently obvious that the only path to peace in the region lies through dialogue, not through escalation. And yet the US continues to provide more and more sophisticated weaponry to Ukraine, whilst doing everything it can to sabotage substantive peace talks.
Besides military aggression, the US is also the pre-eminent world power in terms of economic coercion and unilateral sanctions. It currently imposes unilateral sanctions on China, the DPRK, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and several other countries. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs describes the US as “by far the world’s biggest deployer of unilateral coercive measures.”
Let’s compare all this with China’s record.
Since its founding in 1949, China has maintained an extraordinarily peaceful record.
Between 1950 and 1953, over a million Chinese volunteers fought in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea. And between 1965 and 1969, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops contributed to the defence of Vietnam.
Besides these wars, plus brief border disputes with India and Vietnam, China has been at peace.
And of course, it should be remembered that the character of China’s involvement in the wars in Korea and Vietnam is fundamentally different to that of the US’s involvement. The US was waging unjust, genocidal wars of imperialist aggression. China was waging just wars of self-defence, sovereignty, solidarity and independence.
China has not been waging war against Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Yugoslavia. In relation to the Syrian War, China has consistently stood against external interference, against sanctions, and in support of dialogue, reconciliation and reconstruction.
By mediating a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, China has contributed significantly to the possibilities for peace in Yemen.
The overwhelming majority of people in the whole Middle East recognise that “the US bombs, while China builds.”
China is involved in extensive projects to build schools, hospitals, energy infrastructure, telecoms infrastructure and transport systems in Iraq – a country that was flattened by the US and its allies’ bombs, a country that lost a million people as a result of a US-led war for oil.
As I mentioned earlier, the US accounts for 39 percent of total global military spending (with 4 percent of the population). China by comparison accounts for 10 percent of global military spending, with 18 percent of the world’s population.
Meaning that China’s per capita military spending is around 20 times smaller than that of the US – in spite of the fact that China has 14 land borders to the US’s two; and in spite of the fact that China, not the US, faces a sustained campaign of encirclement and military intimidation.
And although China is also a nuclear power, China has around 350 nuclear warheads, in comparison to the US’s five and a half thousand. Furthermore, China is the only country to operate an unconditional no-first-use of nuclear weapons policy, which has been in place since China’s first successful nuclear weapons test in 1964.
While the US has been pouring fuel on the fire in Ukraine, China has been working to help put out the fire. The only major government to maintain good relations with both Russia and Ukraine, China has designated a special envoy to help facilitate negotiations, and has put forward a position paper directed towards building a lasting peace, calling for a resumption of negotiations and an end to unilateral sanctions.
Where the US pushes coercion and sanctions, China adheres to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter.
While the US seeks to expand NATO, and even with the creation of AUKUS to construct a global NATO, China participates in global and regional bodies directed at peaceful cooperation.
China’s Global Security Initiative is a reflection of this orientation towards peace and development.
The GSI proposes a security architecture based on mutual respect; mutual benefit; respect for sovereignty; cooperation on global challenges; and opposition to bloc politics, unilateralism, Cold War and confrontation.
This is a modern reiteration of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which first put enunciated publicly by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1954. These principles reflect China’s basic geostrategic positioning as a socialist country of the Global South.
China opposes imperialism, because China has suffered under imperialism. One of the most important accomplishments of the Chinese Revolution has been precisely to end imperialist oppression of China.
China opposes interference and destabilisation, because China has suffered from interference and destabilisation. Indeed even today it faces interference by the imperialist powers in relation to China’s internal affairs, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Whereas the West thrives on war, China thrives on peace.
The aggressive, expansionist behaviour of the US, Europe and Japan has been driven by the imperatives of capitalism: growth at all costs. Relentless expansion; the domination of markets, resources, land and labour. This has been the secret of the West’s success, and the source of the Global South’s misery.
China’s development on the other hand is not built on the oppression of other countries, or on the profits of the military-industrial complex, but on the hard work of the Chinese people and the strategic brilliance of the Chinese leadership.
China’s history, its economic structure, its development level and its ideological orientation combine to make it a force for peace, for global development, for mutually-beneficial cooperation and exchanges with the peoples of the world.
Indeed, as the largest developing country and the largest socialist country, China is the leading global force for peace, development and multipolarity.