Seminar on “Bridging the Belt and Road Divide: Promoting Inclusive Development through Disability Cooperation in Southeast Asia”

In this seminar, Professor Zhang Wanhong assessed the activities and progress of Disability Cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries, and provides a discussion on the challenges and possible directions of China’s inclusive development efforts under the BRI framework.


Monday, 25 November 2019 — Professor Zhang Wanhong, Professor of Jurisprudence at Wuhan University, spoke at a China in Mainland Southeast Asia seminar on disability cooperation between China and countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). He explained how the BRI is expected to bring about new prospects for inclusive development and bridge the development gap amongst developing countries in Southeast Asia, and the challenges and possible directions of China’s inclusive development efforts.

Professor Zhang Wanhong (right) assessed the activities and progress of Disability Cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries. Dr Benjamin Loh (left) moderated the session. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

According to Professor Zhang, China is a signatory of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) since 2007, and the country has made steady progress to accommodate persons with disabilities. He stressed that a lot of international attention has been given to the trade and investment dimensions of China’s BRI, and less focus on the inclusive development agenda of the initiative. He argued that the BRI’s goal of fostering connectivity, not only through infrastructural development, but also through a greater exchange of cross-border goods and services, capital, and people is central to an understanding of China’s holistic approach to the BRI.

The BRI’s direction towards inclusive development is compatible with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and Professor Zhang subsequently detailed the importance of Article 32 of the CRPD which mandates international cooperation in the protection of rights for the disabled. He affirmed China’s commitment to her obligations under the CRPD by providing an extensive list of past and present initiatives that have risen as a result of collaboration between China and Southeast Asian countries. These initiatives and projects have cultivated greater awareness towards the rights of the disabled, covering the provision of humanitarian aid, exchange of expertise, para-sport exchanges and visits by performing arts groups.

Professor Zhang noted that the state of cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries on the subject of disability rights can be further strengthened in the years to come. He suggested that initiatives and projects should move beyond charity and the provision of medical assistance. Both bilateral and multilateral cooperation between China, ASEAN countries, NGOs and the private sector can explore improvements to the areas of employment and to allow more opportunities for the Internet Economy to be more accessible for persons with disabilities.

The China Disabled Persons’ Federation (CDPF) work in promoting the cause of disability cooperation has been impressive, according to Professor Zhang. He conveyed his hope that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society in the BRI countries will seek ways to communicate and cooperate with their overseas counterparts in order to increase self-reliance and participation of persons with disabilities to their society. He also reiterated his belief that managers of Chinese firms have an important responsibility towards people with disabilities, particularly when undertaking international projects.

The seminar concluded with a meaningful question and answer session. One participant posed a notable question about Chinese attitude towards the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Professor Zhang observed that contrary to mainstream belief, the declaration is not simply a product of the West because China was also privy to its drafting in 1948. According to him, elements of ‘eastern philosophy’ are clearly observable in many of the UDHR’s clauses. Other questions touched on the issue of skills transfer, the extent of disability cooperation between China and the West, and the sentiment towards inclusive development amongst Chinese firms. The seminar attracted close to 30 participants from academia, civil society, and the public.

This seminar was supported by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.

A meaningful question and answer session followed the speech. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)