The right to survival and development

The concept of “taking the right to survival and right to development as the primary basic human rights” has deep cultural and historic roots in China, and has also been the fundamental proposition for China’s participation in international human rights dialogue and cooperation since the early 1990s. In terms of human rights principles, the rights are not equally the same, and there are different hierarchies. To protect the citizen rights higher up in the hierarchy, restrictions on lower-ranking rights may be imposed, where necessary. For example, the right to life has a different hierarchy than the right to privacy. Therefore, it is more important to protect the right to life than the right to privacy.

By Pan Deng

State elaborates human rights. Taking a specific right as the center of the human rights elaboration in a certain period is curtailed by objective conditions, which is the embodiment of a country’s human rights policy, determined by its historical stage of the development.

In the first thirty or forty years of reform and opening up, the basic contradiction in the Chinese society was “the people’s growing material and cultural needs and backward productivity.” At that time, China’s central task was to raise the “quality” and gather “quantity” of the country as a whole. Development was once the “general key” to solving all the problems in Chinese society. Therefore, China has been holding high the banner of the right to life and the right to development, committed to improving the living standards of the Chinese people and striving to gain a peaceful external environment for development.

Theoretical contribution of China’s practices

Achieving development on the basis of survival and putting each type of human rights into practice in the development process are the inevitable logic of the spiraling development of human rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a fundamental document in international human rights, stated the breadth and diversity of human rights. The 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development defined the “right to development” as a new type of human right.

However, the international community has different views on the definition. More precisely, the orientation of values towards human rights in Western society still tends to insist that human rights should still be attached to the narrow realm of civil and political rights. Most Western scholars consider the right to freedom to be at the center of human rights, taking “justiciability” as the only form of reparation, and taking personal rights and the right to freedom of citizens as the most important form of human right.

The “Eurocentrist” view on human rights is formulated according to this mindset, which always holds the view that human rights are only about the right of individuals to oppose the government and that negative human rights with “liberalism” at the core, that is, political rights, are the most important features of all human rights. Such prejudice underestimates or even denies the attributes of human rights in the economic, social and cultural rights, and also ignores the State’s support for and promotion of the advancement of human rights.

Taking the lead in development is the main conflict between developed and developing countries in the current international state of affairs. Similarly, the disputes and antagonisms around the “right to development as human right” remain quite strong. China has not only taken a clear position to elevate the right to development to the category of fundamental human rights and prioritize and protect such right, but also through relentless and long-term efforts, has moved from achieving the goal of eradicating absolute poverty to pursuing the goal of achieving common prosperity. At the same time, China has considerably improved the level of protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, balanced the promotion of the protection of citizens’ rights and political rights, and comprehensively guaranteed the rights of specific groups.

China insists on putting the right to subsistence and the right to development as the most paramount forms of human rights, interpreting the core essence of the right to development with concrete practices, and raising the status of the right to development. In June 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the resolution proposed by China entitled “The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of all Human Rights,” including the concept of “development to promote human rights” in the international human rights system, which is China’s original contribution to human rights theory in the world.

The greatest human rights

Since 2012, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, and the main contradiction facing Chinese society has changed profoundly and shifted into the growing demand of the people for a better life and the unbalanced and insufficient development. People’s need for a better life is growing. Since then, the implementation of government policies has not only focused on people’s greater needs for material life but has also focused on responding to citizens’ growing desire for democracy, equity, justice, security, environment, among other aspects. In this context, China proposes the concept that “living a happy life is the primary human right,” setting itself the new goal for the progress and development of the cause of human rights.

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has always adhered to the people-centered conception of governance and has regarded the people’s yearning for a better life as its goal. It has achieved “complete victory” in the eradication of absolute poverty, carried out targeted protection of vulnerable groups, established a social security system for the entire population, perfected the system of public cultural services, fulfilled compulsory and free education in urban and rural areas, and improved the ecological environment. With the integral construction of a moderately prosperous society, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights will be more equitable and accessible, and the equal participation and development of various entities in the economic, political, social and cultural fields will be more practical, smooth and convenient.

Not only the concept of “primary human right” has been emphasized, but the Communist Party of China is also leading more than 1.4 billion Chinese in the pursuit of a happy life. This process is a great practice for China to promote the development of its own human rights cause and is also a new global contribution to this theory.


Pan Deng is a member of the Academic Committee at the Charhar Institute and the Executive Director of the Latin America and Caribbean Region Law Center of China University of Political Science and Law.The article reflects the author’s opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The original article can be found here