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Universal Values with Chinese Characteristics

Chinese President Xi Jinping has mounted a sweeping campaign against deeply-rooted corruption since assuming office last year. – Reuters pic, July 21, 2014.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has mounted a sweeping campaign against deeply-rooted corruption since assuming office last year. – Reuters pic, July 21, 2014.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, certainly has a huge task before him – not only cracking down on rampant corruption, but attempting to change the mindset of a population which some say has lost its moral compass. A recent circular from the Communist Party’s powerful Organisation Department stated that party officials must be prevented from “being disoriented and losing themselves” to the effect of Western ideals, citing “profound social-economic changes at home and abroad have brought multiple distractions to officials who face loss of faith and moral decline”.

Xi Jinping, party general secretary since November 2012, has vowed to restore China to its former greatness, and cleaning the party of corruption is perhaps his most important task. Since assuming office, Xi and the Communist Party have cracked down on bribery, gift-giving at lavish banquets, illegally amassed wealth, and party officials with multiple mistresses .

While Xi may be correct that the success of the Communist Party and the country may be determined by the conviction of corrupt officials and the restoration of a moral compass, shunning such Western ideals to “avoid being lost in the clamor for western democracy, universal values and civil society,” may prove wrongheaded.

While the arguments both for and against Western democracy for China at this point in time are fairly well-known, the argument against universal values is less understood. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is generally recognized as the foundation of international human rights law, and the first universal statement on the basic principles of inalienable human rights. The UDHR, created almost 60 years ago, first recognized what are considered universal values: including nondiscrimination, equality, and fairness.

Dr. Peng-chun Chang, a Chinese national, was one of nine drafters of the declaration, and most Chinese would agree with many of the 30 articles stated as part of the UDHR, including:

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

The Communist Party has repeatedly stated its belief that China has the right to promote its own interpretation of such ideas to better suit its national condition and level of economic development. But universal values are by definition intended to be applied across all nationalities, and any country which rejects universal values is really not denying their existence – just the granting of universal rights to their citizens. The Communist Party has often cracked down on those who seek to challenge the party’s right to govern or on its citizens who push for more freedoms, some of which are included in the UDHR.

By not recognizing universal values and fobbing them off as a Western concept, the Communist Party has once again added a new phrase in our understanding of China, one of “universal values with Chinese characteristics”.




Gary Sands

Gary Sands is a Senior Analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a Director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek, Washington Times, The Diplomat, The National Interest, International Policy Digest, Asia Times, EurasiaNet, Eurasia Review, Indo-Pacific Review, the South China Morning Post, and the Global Times. He was previously employed in lending and advisory roles at Shell Capital, ABB Structured Finance, and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation. He earned his Masters of Business Administration in International Business from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a Bachelor of Science in Finance at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, Connecticut. He spent six years in Shanghai from 2006-2012, four years in Rio de Janeiro, and is currently based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Twitter@ForeignDevil666