Peace, Justice and People's Security
A Chinese Perspective
In the post-Cold War era, as we step into the new century, more and more concerns about people's security have emerged, and our understanding of what constitutes human security has also been broadened. From a new concept proposed by the UNDP, we learn that people's security in today's world does not only mean the threats to a country's border, rather, it is something that is closely related to people's daily life, such as job security, income security, health security, environmental security and so forth. These human security issues are the emerging concerns of people all over the world including us Chinese, for large numbers of people in China are facing problems caused by these issues due to the impact of a changing world and society.
In this presentation, I'd like to reflect on promoting people's security from a people's perspective, for one of the objectives of this consultation, to my understanding, is to advocate that people "take the stand that people themselves are responsible to ensure their comprehensive security through their struggles, movements and initiatives."
As we view people's security in Asia, many worries and concerns soon arise. Due to time limitations, I will first share with you our major concerns on issues ranging from job security to income security and from resource security to environmental security in China, and then further elaborate on how we shall act one our responsibility to promote people's security in the aforementioned areas.
Since the end of the Cold War, market-oriented economic systems have spread and the process of economic globalization has accelerated. The economies of many developing countries have become part of the international economic system and economic globalization is one of the most important characteristics of the current era. Nations all over the world are experiencing opportunities as well as challenges brought about by economic globalization. Being the largest developing country in the world, China is naturally among them.
Since China's reform and opening up in 1979, we have gone through a tremendous change. The economy has gradually shifted from a planned economy to a market-ori-ented one. As more and more foreign companies invest in China, great opportunities as well as greater risk, problems and challenges are created. To catch up and keep pace with the global economy while further accelerating economic reform, China has had to lay-off workers, creating severe problems in the area of job security for many.
When China operated under a planned economy, once a person was assigned to a state-owned factory, his or her job security lasted forever. People were proud of working in the same place for years without being transferred. They probably never imagined that at the end of the twentieth century, some workers in state-owned enterprises would be asked to leave their job. According to recent statistics, by the end of 2000, 13 million workers were laid off in China. In the city of Shenyang, among a population of 6.7 million, about one million people face being laid off from their jobs. Predictions indicate that another 3 million Chinese workers will be laid off this year (2001).*
Most of these laid-off workers are in their mid-40s. As children, they suffered from natural disasters and lived in poverty. As teenagers, they experienced the Cultural Revolution and many of them were sent to rural villages to work in the fields. They had no opportunity for a good education. Soon after the end of the Cultural Revolution, they returned to the cities and were assigned to workplaces. They had no choice in the matter. Today, as the impact of reforms is being felt in state-owned enterprises (SOE), these middle-aged workers, lacking professional skills and high-tech training, are losing their jobs. Some laid-off workers sadly consider themselves a lost generation, for after years' of hard work, rather than preparing to enjoy the good life, they have become a burden to both family and society.
The lack of job security not only threatens the workers in the SOEs, but also people in rural areas. With the rapid growth of China's economy in cities since early 1980s, many young farmers have migrated to the urban areas to become temporary workers with no guarantee of job security. Once they experience urban life, most no longer want to go back to till the land. If they lose their jobs, their fate is dire. In exceptional cases, some have returned to run small private businesses in the townships, but they also have to deal with the pressures of competing with other laid-off workers who also want to start their own businesses. Moreover, a recent survey indicates that around thirty per cent of the rural population are excess labor force. These people can hardly have any job security in their daily life.
The lack of job security inevitably results in a lack of income security. In many places, laid-off workers only get 200 yuan per month compensation. With such a small amount, they are not able to support themselves, let alone their family. Young people migrate to townships to run small businesses, hoping to get rich quick. Their lack of income security, coupled with the desire for quick money often causes them to lose their integrity. The income gap between the city and the country further indicates that farmers have less income security. For instance, the average urban income for the first three quarters of 2000 was 4719 yuan , while rural income was only 1500 yuan for the same period, less than one-third the urban figure. I assume the thirty per cent rural population who are excess labor force have no income security at all.
Job and income insecurity is threatening our people and has become one of our major concerns. Some other problems, if we do not pay enough attention to them, will become a severe threat to us very soon. Hence, our concern also reaches to the areas of resources security and environmental security.
Resources include both human resources and natural resources. I will focus on natural resources, especially water resources. We are all aware that human beings are threatened by lack of water. It is estimated that by the year 2025, three billion people will suffer from water shortages. Serious lack of water may lead to regional or even world conflicts. Already, lack of water has become one of the key reasons that people are driven from their homes, and there are now 25 million "environmental refugees" in the world. China, as the largest developing country in the world, is no exception; we, too, are threatened by the scarcity of water. The wasteful use of water and water pollution has greatly intensified the water crisis in China. China is one of thirteen countries in the world suffering from water-poverty.
At 2800 billion cubic meters in total volume of water resources, China ranks sixth in the world. But this means only 2300 cubic meters per person, 121 st place in the world. Despite the scarcity, water use efficiency is very low in China. In agriculture, it stands at 30-40%, 2-2.5 times that in the developed countries; water use for each unit of GDP is 15-100 times that in the developed countries. In addition, wastewater discharge is increasing at 1.8 billion tons per year, and daily discharge is 164 million tons.
Water pollution is, of course, an environmental problem; and pollution is one of the greatest problems when we talk about environmental protection. China has serious pollution problem—air pollution, sound pollution, white pollution, water pollution and so forth. Urban areas suffer from a growing number of vehicles, many of them with inadequate exhaust controls. These same areas are often home to a number of factories without proper effluent management. A report shows that 65% of environment quality complaints are related to sound pollution. The noise comes mostly from trains, vehicles, construction yards, interior decoration, supermarkets, entertainment centers and so on. Water pollution has made 23.3% of river sections unsuitable for irrigation purposes, and entirely eliminated fish and shrimp in 45% of river sections. In addition, of 118 inspected cities, pollution exists in various degrees in underground water in 115 and 40% have been seriously polluted.
I believe that the aforementioned problems are to be found not only in China, but in many other Asian countries and even in developed countries. These concerns are not just ours; they are regional and global concerns. I believe that this is the very reason that brought us, a group of Christians representing our churches and people, here together. What shall we do to facilitate the transformation of our societies and to influence the policies and practices of our authorities? In this respect, I want to share with you what Chinese Christian think we should do in our society.
Christians in China are in a minority as they are in many other Asian countries, but as a community, they are an indispensable part of society. What can the church do to help solve these problems? The church, as part of the Body of Christ witnessing the glory of God's creation and as a social community on earth, should have her own reflections and put them into action.
The church should first of all consider social concerns to be her own concerns. Although many Christians in China have come to abandon the traditional understanding that the church should separate itself from society, quite a number of Christians in China still show indifference to what is going on in society. They still believe that Christian faith has nothing to do with secular society or with people's prosperity. What the church needs to do is to keep reminding itself that to follow Christ is to take up the cross, which Jesus did, by participating in society. The church should understand that taking up responsibility for the protection of resources and environment, promoting people's prosperity and safeguarding peace, justice and people's security is to fulfill God's mission for us on earth. Hence, the church should have her own voice in society speaking for justice and her own action in meeting these challenges.
Back to specific issues. It is the lack of opportunities for sufficient education and inadequate professional skills that result in the laying-off of workers. The church should call on society to provide more professional training opportunities for laid-off workers and encourage them to take on new challenges in this new era. I am glad to report that church-related organization such as the YM & YWCA and the Amity Foundation are very much involved in providing opportunities for training laid-off workers. These organizations have held many classes in computer training, foreign languages and other professional skills. We hope that in the future, there will be more church-run professional training programs.
We also need to call on society to optimize the social security system in China, for it will not only will benefit people who do not have job security, but also guarantee people's income security to a certain extent. It is a good sign that some local governments are trying to adopt new methods to increase farmers' income. Under the precondition of stable total production, they want to optimize the variety of farm products, as well as quality, distribution and processing ability. Relocation of excess labor force will receive due consideration as well. In addition, to help some people solve their financial problems, Christian should call on their churches to commit a portion of their Sunday offerings to assist the needy around them.
We need to call on society to educate people that natural resources are not unlimited. It is everyone's responsibility to treasure and protect our natural resources, such as economizing on water usage. A recent survey shows the average usage of water per person per day in China is 161 liters. If water-saving measures were introduced, only 2/3 or even half that amount would be needed daily. The repeated utilization ratio of water in China is only 30-50%, while that in the developed countries is 75%. Efforts need to be concentrated in this area. According to experts, to enhance the rate of wastewater treatment in urban areas, and to promote cleaner production to reduce the industrial water and its discharge are two good proposals for controlling water pollution in China, and these proposals have been adopted by many local governments.
Environmental degradation affects human survival and development. Only some of the causes of environmental problems are natural; we humans are responsible for the rest. Therefore, we need to call on society to first pass a good environmental protection law. To date, we have the initial draft of an "environmental protection law." The law aims to provide a comfortable environment for people by adjusting human environmental behavior. It claims that every citizen has the right to protect the environment and to live in a safe environment.
We should also call on society to learn from good examples of implementing the environmental protection law. In many big cities, afforestation is being done, and since 1998, Beijing has invested nearly 30 billion yuan in adopting dozens of measures to treat air pollution. Monitoring shows that air quality in Beijing city proper has notably improved as a result. The city of Ji'nan recently released an announcement on the "blue sky project." It states that all the restaurants and dining halls should complete pollution emission declarations before March. Lampblack cleaning equipment must be installed and restaurant waste water must be filtered. The "blue sky project" also includes plans for the regulation of exhaust emission in new vehicles. Some cities are dealing with so-called white pollution. For instance, starting from March 1, 2001, non-bio-degradable plastic bags will be banned in Kunming; fines are to be set at 10,000 to 50,000 yuan . Markets that use non-biodegradable plastic bags and individual violators will also be fined.
We hope that through the influence of actions such as these, and increased awareness about the need for environmental protection, our people can live in an environment with clean air, clean water, sunshine and tranquility. We believe that with the joint efforts and prayers from all nations and peoples, the world will be better tomorrow.
Lin Manhong (Melissa) is on the staff of the CCC/TSPM in Shanghai, and currently working on her Ph.D. at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. Presented at the "Peace, Justice and People's Security" meeting co-sponsored by the World Council of Churches and Council for World Mission, Kyoto, March 2001. English original, edited. A shortened translation of this piece appeared in Amity News Service, 2003.7/8.3.
*All statistics are taken from the website of the National Statistics Office of China, 2000.