China has given much to the world during five millennia. My own respect for its people grew during several visits to the country; it was an honour to represent some Canadians of origin in the Middle Kingdom for many years in Parliament.
Democratic governments and their peoples, legislators and civil societies should be as actively engaged as feasible during the current leadership transition. Democracy with Chinese features is probably closer than many think. We should never forget in this that the values we seek to encourage are universal ones, including dignity for all, the rule of law, multi-party democracy, corporate social responsibility and the need for good jobs for everyone, including Americans and Canadians. (A useful handbook on democracy development by the Council for a Community of Democracies)
To illustrate the difficulties of such engagement with Beijing, take the case of Bo Xilai, whom many democratic governments and business people courted even after it was clear that he was on his way out of the Party. Canada’s prime minister met with him in Chongqing city on Feb. 11, nine days after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, sought refuge in the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. Bo and Wang had earlier been among the most brutal persecutors of Falun Gong practitioners.
Premier Wen Jiabao was so troubled by Wang’s conduct that his rhetorical question to Party members appears to have been leaked from a closed meeting on March 14, “Without anesthetic, the live harvesting of human organs and selling them for money—is this something that a human could do?” Wen also used the many lawsuits launched against Bo in 13 countries for his role in organ pillaging to have him removed as Commerce Minister in 2007.
Bo, Wang and others were members of former president Jiang Zemin’s faction in the Party, who rose because they supported Jiang’s brutal persecution of Falun Gong, ongoing from mid-1999 to the present day. Your State Department, for example, has known about the pillaging of organs from Falun Gong at least since 2006, but only in May 2012 acknowledged the well-documented crime against humanity in its human rights country reports. Democratic governments should be supporting Wen and reform-minded party members on this and a host of governance issues.
Political Maoism Ending?
Jung Chang and Jon Holliday end their 2006 biography, Mao, The Unknown Story, by stating: “Today, Mao‘s portrait and corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao’s heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao.” Many historians include him with Stalin and Hitler as the three worst mass murderers of the 20th century. Chang-Holliday note, “In all, well over 70 million Chinese perished under Mao’s rule in peacetime.”
The methods of Mao did not perish with him in 1976. In 2003, for example, the Party sought to hide the impact of the deadly SARS virus. Only when a doctor sent to foreign media the actual numbers of Beijing residents struck by SARS did the party-state launch quarantine measures. The same indifference to the public good recurred in 2008 over the Sanlu dairy tainted milk supply scandal, which caused sickness or death to some 300,000 Chinese babies. There is a myriad of other examples.
The Party still uses overwhelming force to suppress voices advocating the rule of law. One is Gao Zhisheng, a thrice Nobel Peace Prize-nominated lawyer. A decade ago, he was named one of China’s top ten lawyers. Party wrath was released when he decided to defend Falun Gong. It began with the removal of his permit to practise law, an attempt on his life, a police attack on his family, and a cessation of his income. It intensified when Gao responded by launching nationwide hunger strikes calling for equal dignity for all. One of his communiqués described more than 50 days of torture in prison.
Trials in China are theatres. The deciding ‘judges’ usually don’t even hear evidence given in ‘courts’. Canadian Clive Ansley, who practiced law in Shanghai for 13 years, explains the fate of Gao and so many others by observing: “There is a … saying amongst Chinese lawyers and judges who truly believe in the Rule of Law … [which] illustrates the futility of attempting to ‘assist China in improving its legal system’ by training judges. It is: ‘Those who hear the case do not make the judgment; those who make the judgment have not heard the case’…. Nothing which has transpired in the ‘courtroom’ has any impact on the ‘judgment.’”
Tibet and Dalai Lama
Another important instance of misgovernance is Tibet and the Dalai Lama. As the spiritual leader of Tibetans, an honourary Canadian citizen, and respected world leader, His Holiness is a new government in Beijing’s best hope for a peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue. Advocating Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, he disavows violence, does not favour secession and has this year turned over the political role to democratically elected men and women. When His Holiness spoke to a large audience in Ottawa earlier this year, he indicated that he felt the Chinese people generally would accept a degree of autonomy for Tibet if aware that this is all that is being sought. He also mentioned the tragic loss of now almost 30 Tibetan lives to self-immolation.
Three decades of ‘anything goes’ economics have done major harm to the Chinese people, the natural environment, neighbours and the world as a whole.
• Nearly half a billion Chinese citizens now lack access to safe drinking water; many factories continue to dump waste into surface water.
• A World Bank study done with China’s environmental agency in 2007 found that pollution was causing 750,000 premature deaths a year.
• Coal now provides about two-thirds of China’s energy, and it already burns more of it than Europe, Japan and the United States combined. Emissions from Chinese coal plants are now reaching well beyond China’s borders, yet the Party has failed to achieve anything substantive concerning the protection of water, air and soil. Many experts conclude, it appears that China cannot go green without political change.