Chinese Discourses of Human Security

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    • 00:10

      SHAUN BRESLIN: I'm Shaun Breslin.I'm professor of politics and international studiesat the University of Warwick, and I'm alsoassociate fellow of the Asia Programmeof the Royal Institute of International Affairs.Today I'm going to be presenting a casestudy on Chinese discourses of human security.In this case study, we're going to look at the waythat the concept of human securityhas been discussed and debated within China

    • 00:33

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and become part of Chinese discourses.In the process, we'll see how an idea developed.Chinese concepts in the West-- hasbecome Sinicized, imbued with Chinese characteristicsand understandings.This is part of a process of taking ideas of politics,international relations, and security into Chinaand turning them into something that works for China by making

    • 00:54

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: sure that they reflect Chinese context and circumstances.By the end of this, hopefully, you'llbe able to see how what we sometimesthink of as being universal valuesare not always taken as being quite so universalin every part of the world.The 1994 United Nations Human Development Report

    • 01:17

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: introduced a search for a new concept of human securitythat turned the focus of securityaway from states to people and sold the solutionto the insecurity in what it called "development, not arms."The basic thrust of the human security agendahas often been simplified to the objectiveof attaining individual freedom from fear and freedomfrom want.

    • 01:37

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: The 1994 report identified seven key areas of human security--economic, food, health, environmental, personal,community, and political.The project entails securing individual human beingsfrom threats to their existence, notstates-- life threatening challenges of disease,terrorism, pollution, grinding poverty, and so on.

    • 02:01

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: But it goes further than this by involving a range of issuesthat more traditionally sat within the development domain.This is not just about ensuring that peoplehave existential, basic needs, that theycan live their life secure in the knowledgethat they will have enough to eat and survive,but that they can live a life free from indignityand can make positive life choices.The state should provide an environment

    • 02:23

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: where individuals can flourish, develop, grow,and do what they want.For those who emphasize freedom from fear,the state-- and in particular the authoritarian state--are seen as being a potential source of the fearand indignity that individuals should not have to live with.Political freedom and democracy are typicallyseen as essential prerequisites for the provisionof full human security.

    • 02:45

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: And given that the emphasis on freedom from fearhas implications for the nature of domestic politicalgovernance, it does not sit easilywith political systems and processesin non-democratic countries.We might suspect that the human security concept might notseem well-suited to Chinese understandingsand discourses of security.And indeed, this is partly the case.There is a strand of academic thought

    • 03:06

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that sees it as another way in which the West triesto promote its human rights agendas,impose its liberal preferences on places like Chinaunder the false banner of universalism.But this rejectionist position does not tell the full story.A series of crises since the late 1990shave resulted in a re-think of whatconstitutes the nature of security in China

    • 03:27

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and what constitutes the major security challenges not just tobut also in China.As part of this process, issues relating to human securityhave received increasing attention,though often blurred with studiesof nontraditional security.That does not mean that they just passively take or acceptexternally defined human security discourses.

    • 03:49

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Chinese thinkers argue that each countrymust develop its own definition that works for it.After all, Japan and Canada differedover the importance of freedom from wantand freedom from fear.This conceptual ambiguity allows Chinese analyststo focus on socioeconomic agendasrather than more problematic political, legal ones.

    • 04:10

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Looking at the human security debate in Chinaallows us to consider how concepts gain new meanings whenthey travel and are interpreted by different peoplein different places.This is based on a firm conviction in Chinathat no concept or theory is simply taken and appliedto China.As with the way that other Western concepts and normssuch as human rights, nationalism, legitimacy,

    • 04:32

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and sovereignty have become parts of Chinese discourses,they need to be nationalized, to be definedand redefined to reflect unique and specificnational circumstances in China.Before going any further, we needto establish two important caveats.First, it's important not to exaggerate the importanceof human security.States and war still dominate in Chinese thinking

    • 04:54

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of security broadly defined.Secondly, human security is a politically sensitive term.There is particular sensitivity in China to anythingthat looks like external criticism of China'shuman rights regime and a feeling that China is oftenblamed or scapegoated by the international community.For example, after the Copenhagen Climate Summit.In the minds of many, human security and human rights

    • 05:16

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: occupy the same sort of academic ground.So it's important for Chinese writersnot to be seen to be feeding into anyof these negative or critical agendaswhen writing about human security in China.As with many terms that enter into Chinesefrom external discourses, it takes

    • 05:38

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: a while for a common Chinese termto become standardized as the dominant translation.Human security is probably best directly translatedinto Chinese as [CHINESE].This term was indeed widely used in the first wave of writingson human security, which essentiallyintroduce what the concept was and where it came from.And we'll come back to this shortly.

    • 05:58

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: But nowadays if you search for human security as [CHINESE],it's more often to do with car safety, safety at work,and so on and so forth.And this is because [CHINESE] means both "security"and "safety" in Chinese.So as the discourse developed and discussionsbegan to turn to what human security might meanfor and in China, it was largely replacedby [CHINESE], which refers to the security of humanity

    • 06:22

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: or humankind as the whole rather than of the individual.Now immediately this takes a referent pointaway from the individual and back upto some sort of greater whole.Human security also crops up as partof the debate and discussions of a whole range of securitydialogues-- comprehensive security, new security,

    • 06:42

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: common security, cooperative security,and sustainable security.This is because it forms part of a wider searchto find a new way of understanding securityin a changed and still changing world.China still faces a number of traditional military securitychallenges, and the potential for some sortof armed conflict most likely in the East or South China Seas

    • 07:03

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: remains very much alive.As such, there's no real argument in Chinese writingsthat the traditional should be forgotten and replacedby the new.But there's a general consensus that since the end of the ColdWar, with the onset of globalization,the trend of what the main threat is to and in Chinahas changed from the threat of war to issuesthe primarily relate to human insecurity.

    • 07:26

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Interestingly, both nontraditional securityand human security was somewhat slow in emerging in China.As with other countries, changes in thinkingwere largely driven by responses to key events.But while 9/11 is seen as being important for changingglobal agendas, in particular those of the United States,other events have been much more important in Chinaand have prompted spikes in interest

    • 07:47

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: in writing in human security.The starting point of interest in nontraditional securitythat in turn gives birth to interest in human securityis usually dated to the Asian financial crisis of 1997.The crisis not only brought home the blunt realitythat China's economic fortunes werelinked with what happens elsewherebut also raised questions about the nature

    • 08:08

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of international relations scholarship in China,particularly the dominance of realism.More recently, the global financial crisishas once more turned attention to howChina's own economic security is dependent on whathappens elsewhere.The '97 regional crisis did much to consolidate initial thinkingon new economic vulnerabilities and security challenges.

    • 08:30

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: September 11 then drew attention to the threatof new non-state sources of political or military violence.But for China it was the SARS outbreak of 2003that, more than anything else, highlighted new threatsto humans and humanity, quite simplychanged the nature of not just academic thinkingbut popular attitudes towards individual security and risk.Indeed, interest in human security in China

    • 08:51

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: peaked between 2003 and 2006, a period which not only coversthe SARS outbreak but the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004and the bird flu outbreak of 2006.There's an increasing confidence in China

    • 09:11

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: in questioning the applicability of Western conceptionsof security and international relationsfor understanding contemporary China.This entails identifying the historical experiences thatare thought to be at the heart of theory-buildingand asking whether their construction on philosophies,histories, and experiences make them suitable onlyfor Western countries that generated them.

    • 09:34

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: As China has a different history and a worldview builton harmony and benevolence, China should not simplytake existing theories but insteaddevelop concepts and theories thatare built on China's own unique experiences instead.For some, this entails developinga distinct Chinese theory of international relationsand the creation of theories both from and also for China.

    • 09:58

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: Presumably, by implication, other countriesneed to develop their own individual theoriesfor their specific histories as well, an issuewe shall return to later.Others like Zhao Tingyang and Yan Xuetongseek a more radical reappraisal and a strong emphasison the transferability of Chinese approachesto other settings and Neo-Tianxiasm,

    • 10:19

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: which might provide the basis of a new set of global normsto challenge the existing Western hegemony.More often, though, it entails ensuringthat Western ideas are modified to reflect Chinese experiencesand Chinese context.So ideas like human security go through a processof Sinification to ensure that they'reimbued with what is known in Chinese [CHINESE]

    • 10:40

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: or, in English, "with Chinese characteristics" that give thema distinct Chinese flavor.First developed to explain a distinct socialismwith Chinese characteristics, it is now added to just aboutany concept or approach that you can think of.Thus, for example, while human rights may be universal,the national conditions of each sovereign stateshould dictate which rights are privileged over others.

    • 11:03

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: So historical precedence, cultural predilections,and current levels of development in Chinaresult in the predominance of collective and socioeconomicrights over individual and political ones.The general principles of rights are universal,but their actual manifestation and prioritizationare specific and national in nature.So while there is some suspicion that human security is

    • 11:23

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: another tool that the West can use to criticize China,Chinese discourses largely accept that human security'sa universal goal.Freedom from fear and freedom from wantare what both individuals and countries want.This does not mean, however, that all individualsand countries should think of human security in the same way.The argument goes something like this.Different countries have different levels of development

    • 11:46

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: that shape the way they see the world and think about security.Thus, for example, Western countriesdon't have to worry about basic socioeconomic rights,so they have the luxury to focus on political rights instead.Similarly, while the biggest threatto the security of the citizen of the USmight be international terrorism,the glaring present danger for people in the developing worldcome from poverty, underdevelopment

    • 12:07

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and environmental challenges.So the specific meaning of human securityshould be defined by each individual countryon the basis of its own unique circumstances.After all, in the original debatesover the establishment of a human security agenda,while Canada and Norway place an emphasis on freedom from fear,Japan instead preferred an emphasis on human dignitybased on lack of want and freedom from crime.

    • 12:30

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: So if what human security means differsbetween different developing countries,it's likely to differ even more so between the developedand developing world.So, universalism is seen as the problem, not the solution.And perhaps ironically, any countrythat tries to impose its own understandings of rights

    • 12:52

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: on China is actually abrogating the sovereign rights of Chinato develop its own national understandings and practicesand impinging on China's own cultural security.At best, this emerges out of whatis seen as a form of cultural arrogance.At worst, it is depicted as a deliberatestrategy of foreign forces to break up and Westernize China.To stop them, developing countries

    • 13:13

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: need to ensure that the United Nations, whichis credited as originating the interest in human securitythrough the original report, remainsthe sole repository of human security-related authority.In addition, developing countriesshould ensure that their human security interest, not thoseof developing states, remain at the heart of human securitydebates when discussed at United Nations.

    • 13:35

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: By insisting that the United Nations remains the onlycitable authority, even if Western countries' normsdo come to dominate debates, theywill not be able to transform discourses into actionwithout Chinese acquiescence.So it's important for China to actively participateand exercise its discursive power, [CHINESE],and allow the establishing of what

    • 13:55

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: human security means to China.It's against these Chinese criterion,not any other, that the attempt to guarantee human securityshould be judged.By rejecting universalism, insistingthat each country has the right to re-define norms in the lightof their own national conditions,what is left of this universal is stripped downto vague aspirations.Everybody wants human rights, democracy, and security,

    • 14:18

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: but what democracy, rights, and securitymeans-- how they might be attainedand who's interest should be prioritized--depends on the national setting.So in China, the major focus is on broadlydefined socioeconomic threats to human security,the spread of infectious diseases,

    • 14:39

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: and environmental challenges.And the latter two both have socioeconomic dimensionsas well.And perhaps the most comprehensive attemptto define a specifically distinct Chinese understandingof human security, Guan and Guo in 2008,took the UNDP definitions and imbued themwith a Chinese context to arrive at the following categorizationof what human security means in and for China.

    • 15:02

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: In terms of economic security, at the national level,they refer to the operational stability of the economy.At the societal level, equitable distribution.And at the individual level, theystressed employment and income stability.In terms of political and societal security, whichis obviously important in a country like China,at the national level, they referto political and social stability and the mass'

    • 15:24

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: confidence in the government.At the individual level, the protectionof individual rights as stipulated by the law--the provision of fundamental public services.In terms of food security, they made a divisionbetween food security supply, makingsure you have enough food, and food safety.This has been a big issue in China in recent years.In terms of healthy security, relative

    • 15:45

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: safety from infectious diseases and having accessto adequate medical services.Personal security, they referred to beingfree from being the victim of crime, disease, accidents,natural disasters, and the threat of terrorism.In community and cultural security,they first looked at the stability and developmentof the community itself but also the maintenanceof cultural diversity and the protection

    • 16:06

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: of cultural heritage.They added on two other sectors here.In educational security, the availability of educationat an adequate, appropriate level for each person.And in social/moral security, a generally safesocial moral/ethical atmosphere to allow each personto develop their potential.In ecological and environmental security,they broke it down into resource security,

    • 16:28

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: the ability to attain enough energyresources and other resources for industrial development;ecological security, preventing ecological destruction;and environmental security, preventingenvironmental destruction and its effect on people.They also have another vague categorycalled "Other," which referred to human trafficking security.In other works, we find people talking

    • 16:50

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: about the pressure of population growthas a specific human security challenge for China.And the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake alsorefocused attention on the human securitychallenge of natural disasters.Chinese understandings mean the provision of human security

    • 17:11

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: can largely be achieved through an emphasison socioeconomic development.To be sure, it's important to ensurethat people are free to exercise the rights that existand laws are supposed to have given themand the local officials do what they're meant to doand don't undermine trust in the state.But notwithstanding the recent record of growth,the biggest human security challengesstem from China's relative lack of development.

    • 17:33

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: So the primary task to promote human securityis first to promote growth or, more correctly,a type of growth that doesn't exasperate existinginequalities and insecurities and providesa real developmental trajectory.So while one of the points of developing understandingsof human security in the first placewas to move the focus away from the states in the collectivetowards the individual, Chinese understandings and discourses

    • 17:56

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: often re-blur the distinction and restore the stateas the reference point.Moreover, this focus on the role of the stateis enhanced when we move away fromdomestic, socioeconomic sources of insecurity-- inequalityand economic security-- towards transnational issues.That the sources of much human insecurityare non-state factors has been widely recognized

    • 18:17

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: in Chinese writings.But even though human security issuesdriven by non-state actors don't respect national boundaries,it is states that engage in international interactionand cooperation to try and deal with and hopefully preventthe transnational spread of human security challenges.Piracy, smuggling, infectious diseases,drug and people trafficking, environmental degradation--

    • 18:38

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: these are all examples of problems that cannot be solvedby individual states acting alone and require, instead,collective solutions.Here, the evolution of human security thinkinghas been one of the considerations thathave moved China in a new directionwhen it comes to thinking about the benefitsof regional and multinational cooperationand institutionalization.

    • 19:03

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: If human insecurity didn't exist,it's extremely unlikely that Chinese thinkers wouldlike to create and define it.But given that it does exist, then itmakes no sense to simply let others define it instead,particularly if they define it in ways thatcould lead to China being criticized or perhapseven penalized by the international community.So by exercising definitional or discursive power,

    • 19:24

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: the concept of human security hasbecome Sinicized, with the focus on the mostimportant and imminent human security challenges to China.There is some suggestion that Chinese officialsare becoming more proactive in tryingto get preferred Chinese conceptsand definitions over others.When it comes to debates in places like the Human RightsCouncil, for example.But it's too early to proclaim China

    • 19:45

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: a norm-maker in international security studies just yet.While it's relatively easy to find Chinese statements thatexpress dissatisfaction with the norms and principles thatunderpin the existing global order,it's rather more difficult to finda clear and coherent expression of what preferred Chinese worldorder might look like instead.So rather than think of China as a sourceof new norms for the time being, we can instead, perhaps,

    • 20:07

      SHAUN BRESLIN [continued]: think of it as a veto actor trying to prevent othersfrom establishing their norms as the basis for global politics.If there's one big picture conclusionwe can draw the way that Chinese debates have reinterpretedhuman security, it's in the rejection of universalism.Whether China can make the further transitionto become a maker of norms that others accept and followreally remains to be seen.

Chinese Discourses of Human Security

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Abstract

Professor Shaun Breslin analyzes the position of China in negotiating human security issues amid the international community. He discusses China's perspective that each country should develop their own nationalized brand of universal rights.

SAGE Video Cases
Chinese Discourses of Human Security

Professor Shaun Breslin analyzes the position of China in negotiating human security issues amid the international community. He discusses China's perspective that each country should develop their own nationalized brand of universal rights.

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