Rights not a luxury: Fang

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 May, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 1994, 12:00am

HUMAN rights is not a luxury or a foreign concept the Chinese people can afford to live without, but a prerequisite for China's modernisation, according to exiled scientist Fang Lizhi.

''A healthy society, a prosperous society cannot be economic only. Politics, education, culture and respect for human rights are all part of a developed society,'' Dr Fang said from his Arizona home.

''Without these, a society cannot be called developed even if it is economically rich.'' The astrophysicist, who was exiled to the United States after the June 4, 1989, crackdown, also spoke out against lobbyists who claim Chinese do not need human rights because there is a cultural difference between the East and the West.

''It's nonsense . . . For a developing country, human rights is not something extra. China cannot be a developed country unless the Chinese people can have human rights,'' he said.

Dr Fang called on intellectuals to stand firm on fundamental principles such as human rights and be prepared to go against the tide.

''Being an intellectual means that you can remain silent when other people are noisy. But when the time comes that you have to stand up [for a principle], then you have to stand up for it. That is the critical point,'' he said.

''You can't hide yourselves just because the subject is no longer trendy,'' he said.

The astrophysicist conceded there had been ''relative improvements'' in human rights in China in the past decade.

At least, Dr Fang said, the authorities had begun to realise that human rights was an issue they could no longer ignore.

But much improvement was still needed, Dr Fang said.

''Human rights in China is definitely much worse than in Western Europe or North America. Although Western Europe and North America have their own [human rights] problems, they are not on the same level [as those in China],'' he said.

The problem with China, he said, was that most people did not recognise the importance of human rights.

''In China, once you are sent to jail, all your rights are taken away from you. You are no longer a human being, you become an animal, or a slave - completely.'' The dissident scientist said, however, he was confident a new corp of leaders would emerge in China.