By John Ross
I supported Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour Party. As I have known him for thirty years I know Jeremy Corbyn is the most principled leader of the Labour Party in my lifetime – the most committed to human well-being. On Tuesday he is scheduled to have a personal meeting with Xi Jinping during the latter’s British visit.
The significance of China’s contribution to human well-being can be understood by both Jeremy Corbyn and the left in the US and Europe.
On key issues for the development of China, Britain, and other countries Jeremy Corbyn has the same positions as China. He is an opponent of any US military build-up against China and of proposed measures in trade agreements such as the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) which are against the interests of the population of the participating countries, China and developing countries in general.
Sections of the British media present a supposed choice that Britain has to choose between either pursuing purely economic interests or criticising China over ‘human rights’. This posing of the issue is totally false - China should be supported precisely because of its contribution to human rights. China has done more to improve the overall situation not only of its own people but of humanity than any other country in the world - as the facts show.
Taking the latest World Bank international definition of poverty ($1.90 daily expenditure at 2011 internationally comparable prices) from 1981 to 2010, the latest data, China has raised 728 million people from poverty. The rest of the world reduced poverty by only 152 million people. China therefore lifted almost five times as many people out of poverty as the rest of the world put together.
To demonstrate what this means for humanity’s well-being 728 million people is more than the population of the EU, more than the population of the Latin American continent, more than twice the population of the US, and 11 times the population of Britain.
For someone with Jeremy Corbyn’s concern for humanity, particularly the least privileged within it, this is the best imaginable news.
Nor is this a gigantic step forward just for China but for human well-being. China’s entire population, not just the poorest, has seen increases in living standards which are without comparison in human history. China’s average annual increase in ‘total consumption’, including not only direct household living standards but education and health spending, has been over eight percent a year for three decades – not only the world’s fastest but by far the most rapid increase in living standards for the greatest number of people in human history. China has brought social security protection to 820 million people, more than the population of the EU, and health care to over a billion – three times the population of the US, almost the population of Africa, and nearly twice the population of Latin America.
The simple but gigantic example of women in China and India graphically illustrates the real issues involved in human rights globally – and women in China and India together constitute one in every five people on the planet. A Chinese woman’s life expectancy is 77 years, and literacy among Chinese women over the age of 15 is 93%: an Indian woman has a life expectancy of 68 and literacy rate over the age of 15 is 66%. India may be a ‘parliamentary republic’, in which Facebook may be used, but (regrettably for India) the human rights of a Chinese woman are far superior to the human rights of an Indian woman.
This presents the issue of human rights in the clearest fashion. The most pressing questions facing the overwhelmingly majority of the world’s population, who live in developing countries, are not those of Western ‘human rights’ campaigns such as those of ‘Amnesty International’. Over 500 million people in India do not have a toilet - for those who live in the real world to have a toilet is a far more important human right than internet restrictions. And if Indian women had the right to move to China, and would live nine years longer and achieve literacy by doing so, innumerable people would move north of the Himalayas – and that is said by someone who wants nothing but for India to make the same progress China has achieved.
Do these gigantic achievements in human rights in the real sense mean China has no problems? Not a single serious person in China believes this. To take merely some striking issues, major environmental damage exists in China. But despite this real issue overall China’s social and environmental conditions demonstrate that great progress has still been made. Life expectancy, as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has demonstrated, is the most sensitive of all indicators as it sums up all different pluses and minuses in social, environmental and other indicators. A person in China lives three years longer, and someone in the US two years less, than would be expected from their respective per capita GDPs – showing overall social and environmental conditions in China are significantly better than would be expected from its stage of economic development and in the US significantly worse. But that does not alter the fact that China still has to take huge steps to overcome environmental problems.
Furthermore despite China’s unprecedented achievement in the reduction of poverty, it still has to finish the job by raising another 100 million people out of poverty. It would therefore be highly interesting for Jeremy Corbyn to discuss with Xi Jinping the President’s recent pledge to complete the task of eliminating internationally defined poverty in China by 2020.
As China is still building up its social security system towards the level made possible in Britain and other advanced countries, and as international studies show Britain’s health service to be the world’s most cost efficient, a mutually valuable discussion could take place between Jeremy Corbyn and President Xi on how, taking into account their countries different conditions, both can strengthen their health services.
But what China has no need of at all, indeed what is grotesque given China has produced the greatest improvement in human conditions in human history, is to be delivered sanctimonious lectures by other countries – particularly those whose recent activities include invading other countries, such as Iraq, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths spreading chaos throughout the Middle East, or whose historical relation to China was to force it to import opium, to burn its greatest architectural achievements, and for a century and a half to hold islands off its coast as a colonies.
I cannot put words in someone else’s mouth, but my summary of the basis for an honest discussion with China would be roughly the following: ‘President Xi, the world rightly greatly admires China’s progress in the improvement in the conditions of human beings, of human rights in the real sense – which are the greatest of any country in the history of the world. We should discuss how other countries can draw lessons from these achievements.
‘As you yourself have pointed out China, as it is still a developing country, still has long path of development ahead. You have set out the “goals of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the centenary of the CPC in 2021 and building China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, and harmonious by the centenary of the PRC in 2049 so as to realize the Chinese Dream of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation." Could you outline this in more detail? And in the same way we study your achievements in improving the conditions of not only China but humanity there may some aspects of our experience China may draw lessons from?
‘I particularly noted your statement of what China sees as its relation to the overall condition of humanity: "Throughout 5,000 years of development, the Chinese nation has made significant contributions to the progress of human civilization… Our responsibility is… to pursue the goal of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, so that China can stand firmer and stronger among the world’s nations, and make new and greater contributions to mankind."
‘Britain is also one of the world’s great historical nations. I love my country deeply, and the enormous contributions it has made to world culture and science, and in which struggles such as the Suffragettes or to create our health service are a source of great pride. There are regrettably some things in my country’s history, as with every great state, which I am not proud of. Some of these I mentioned and were crimes done by Britain to China. It is therefore particularly gratifying that this negative past can be put behind and China and Britain can now work in conditions of equality and mutual respect. On that basis, in the very different conditions of the two countries, we can both make further contributions to what must be the goal of any country’s policy – the improvement of the condition of human beings, of human rights in the deepest sense, including the right of each country to pursue its own national way of life. On that basis, as with China, my hope is that Britain will not only improve its own conditions of life but make new and greater contributions to humanity.’
Jeremy Corbyn is totally devoted to the interests of humanity, and in particular to the least privileged within it. He can therefore make up his own words. But any balanced reflection on human values will make clear that not only he but the world should rejoice to see that China has been able to take the greatest step forward for real human rights of any country.