Engaging Beijing With Universal Values
Engaging Beijing With Universal Values

Canadians should remain fully engaged with China despite the difficulties created by its governance model. Democracy with very Chinese features is probably closer than many think. How many “experts” anticipated the Arab Spring?

We shouldn’t forget in this engagement that the values we represent are both Canadian and universal ones, including human dignity, rule of law, multi-party democracy, corporate social responsibility, and the need for access by people everywhere to good jobs.

You have just heard David Matas outline the persecution underway since mid-1999 against China’s peaceful Falun Gong community. Organ pillaging is a new crime against humanity and is completely contrary to the traditional values of the Chinese.

I’ll now attempt to show how Mao Zedong’s’s value system, maintained today by the Communist party, made this continuing barbarism possible.

Many historians include him with Stalin and Hitler as the three worst mass murderers of the 20th century. Jung Chang and Jon Holliday note in their biography, “Mao: The Unknown Story,” “In all, well over 70 million Chinese perished under Mao’s rule in peacetime.”

Mao Practices Continue

The worst of Mao’s assaults upon fellow citizens is detailed in Yang Jisheng’s 2008 book, “Tombstone.” It documents the death by starvation of 25-40 million Chinese from 1959-1961.

Practices of the “Great Helmsman” continue. In 2003, for example, the Party sought to hide the impact of the deadly SARS virus, which began in southern China and spread to its major cities. Only when a surgeon, Jiang Yanyong, sent to foreign media the actual numbers of Beijing residents struck by SARS did it launch quarantine measures.

Similar indifference to the public good recurred in 2008 over the Sanlu dairy tainted milk scandal, which caused sickness or death to some 300,000 Chinese babies. Zhao Huibin, a dairy farmer, revealed that quality testers at Sanlu took bribes from farmers and milk dealers in exchange for “looking the other way” on milk adulterated with melamine.

Arthur Kroeber of the Beijing-based consultancy Dragonomics, later stated that the Sanlu disaster was rooted in the Party’s continued involvement in pricing control, company management, and flow of information. “(It) views control of all three as necessary to its rule. … Further scandals are thus inevitable.”

Tibet and Dalai Lama

Another instance of Mao governance tactics persisting is Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In 1959, Mao wrote about the uprising, caused in part by the famine created by his Great Leap Forward.

Quoting again from “Mao: The Unknown Story”: “When word spread … that Mao planned to kidnap the … young Dalai Lama, thousands of Tibetans passed in front of his palace, shouting, ‘Chinese get out.’ Mao cabled that the Dalai Lama should be allowed to escape because he feared that his death would inflame world opinion. … Once the Dalai Lama had escaped, Mao told his men: ‘Do all you can to hold the enemies in Lhasa … so … we can surround them and wipe them out.”’

An estimated half of all adult Tibetan males were thrown into prison, where they were basically worked to death.

Today, the Party continues to accuse the Dalai Lama of fomenting violence in Tibet. In fact, as the spiritual leader of Tibetans, an honorary Canadian citizen, and respected world leader, His Holiness is Beijing’s best chance for a peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue. Advocating Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, he disavows violence, does not favor secession, and last year gave up his political leadership of Tibetans in exile.

Suppression of Dissent

The party-state still uses overwhelming force to suppress voices advocating dignity for all and the rule of law. One is Gao Zhisheng, a twice Nobel Peace Prize-nominated lawyer. A decade ago, he was named one of China’s top 10 lawyers. Party wrath was released, however, when Gao defended Falun Gong practitioners.

It began with the removal of his permit to practice law, an attempt on his life, a police attack on his family, and a cessation of any income. It intensified when Gao responded in the nonviolent tradition of Gandhi by launching nationwide hunger strikes calling for equal dignity for all nationals. One of his communiques described more than 50 days of torture in prison.

Trials in China are mere theaters. The deciding “judges” usually don’t even hear evidence given in “courts.” Canadian Clive Ansley, who practiced law in Shanghai for 13 years, explains:

“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.'”

Religious Persecution

Mao championed “the death of God.” Churches were banned. After his death, restrictions were loosened.

Today, worship is legal at churches controlled by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), such as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) for Protestants. Similar SARA-controlled patriotic organizations exist for Buddhism, Islam, and Taoism.

The Party stresses that “religion must have mutual adaptation within socialist society.” It defines what “adaptations” are required and by whom, so religions have to “modify” their practices to suit the Party’s political objectives (Chandler and Pan, 2001).

Consequently, the CCPA rejects the Pope’s supreme authority, and sham ordinations of bishops are conducted without a papal mandate. The TSPM is so tightly regulated that millions of Protestants have fled to illegal “House Churches” where they are persecuted.

Other faith communities are also suppressed. The Xinjiang-Uyghur region, considered by the large Muslim population as its homeland, has been the scene of rioting, injuries and death.

Natural Environment

Three decades of “anything goes” economics have done major harm to the people of China, their natural environment, their neighbors, and our shrunken planet as a whole. Consider:

  • Nearly half a billion Chinese citizens now lack access to safe drinking water, yet many factories continue to dump waste into surface water with impunity.
  • 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 already burns more of it than Europe, Japan, and the U.S. combined. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from Chinese coal plants are now reaching well beyond China’s borders, yet Beijing has failed to achieve anything substantive concerning the protection of water, air, and soil. Many experts conclude that China cannot go green without political change.

Note, for example, the fate of Lake Tai, China’s ancient “Land of Rice and Fish.” By 2007, it had turned a fluorescent green because of effluent waste. Two million people lost their main source of water.

Public Health

The state of public health in China today is troubling to friends abroad, largely because of the “no limits” and “pollute anything” capitalism. There was no health system for rural people and those not on state payrolls. Under the new privatized model, doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies were made “profit centers” and expected to finance their activities through patient fees.

The current regime is trying unsuccessfully to build a minimal health care safety net.

‘Ponzi Capitalism’

Jonathan Manthorpe concluded last year in the Vancouver Sun,

“What one is seeing in China is variations of what can only be called a Ponzi scheme. A local government, without a functioning system for raising tax revenue—and … so riddled with corruption … sells development land to garner cash … (first getting) rid of peasants living on the land …)

“The land will then be sold to a development company … owned by the local government. And, this being China, where the remnants of the command economy survive, the municipality has the power to instruct banks to lend the development company the money for the sale. So the local government gets its cash, the municipally owned company gets to build a speculative residential or industrial complex, and all seems well.”

Need for Tangible Safety Nets

The party-state continues to mistreat large segments of its own population in order to keep down domestic consumption, including the absence of an effective social net.

For example, less than a fifth of Chinese workers have pensions; even less are covered by unemployment insurance. Simultaneously since 1998, the government’s holdings of foreign-exchange reserves have risen to US$3.18 trillion by the end of last year.

Earlier this month around 150 Chinese workers at Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, threatened to leap from their factory roof in Wuhan to protest working conditions.

One explained, “We were put to work (on a new production line) without any training, and paid piecemeal. The assembly line ran very fast… we all had blisters and the skin on our hands was black. The factory was also really choked with dust and nobody could bear it.”

In 2010, fourteen Foxconn workers died by throwing themselves from the tops of company buildings.

A Way Forward

Universal values must be asserted continuously in dealings with Beijing. Sun Liping, sociology professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, noted that there were 180,000 “mass incidents” in China in 2010, everything from strikes to riots and demonstrations, twice as many as in 2006. The regime continues to rely on repression and brutality to maintain itself in office.

Canada could seek to replay in China the important role it had in establishing popular democracy in South Africa in the late 1980s. There are lessons in China from the non-violent civic resistance which has occurred in many nations. Each was different in terms of boycotts, mass protests, strikes, and civil disobedience. In all, authoritarian rulers were delegitimized and their sources of support.

When Prime Minister Harper visits China next month, he should make it clear that:

  • We stand with the oppressed people of China and seek their peaceable transition to the rule of law and democratic governance.
  • There will be zero tolerance in Canada when unfair trade practices are used by China, including theft of intellectual property and the continued refusal to honor commitments made to the World Trade Organization in 2001.
  • Canadian investors in China must be protected much better than at present.
  • Canada will sell products from the Alberta oil sands to Chinese customers, but is unlikely to sell ownership of any more plants to state-owned companies.
  • Our border and other customs personnel will seize counterfeit products made in China and seize precursor chemicals used to manufacture cocaine, heroin, Speed, and Ecstasy.

Taiwan Election as Mirror for China

Canadians and 23 million Taiwanese share a number of characteristics, including respect for human dignity, multi-party democracy, rule of law, and national self-determination.

We can admire the emergence of Taiwan from brutal martial law to a full-fledged democracy. Its prosperity rise is impressive: starting decades ago with a per capita income in the US$150 range, to an estimated US$35,700 on a purchasing power parity GDP basis (versus $7,600 in the PRC).

Taiwan, along with other familiar countries, is a democratic beacon in Asia—and is what the PRC can, should, and I believe, will be.

The January 14 election in Taiwan marked another step in the advance of democratic governance. Nearly three quarters of those registered voted and the candidates of the two major parties, the incumbent president Ma Ying-jeou (KMT) and challenger Tsai Ing-wen (DPP), both campaigned well and attracted huge rallies, the former being re-elected, but the opposition DPP increased both its voter support and seats in the Legislative Yuan.

On election day and in several preceding ones, 21 of us from eight countries observed the election in several centers. Our preliminary conclusion, which can be accessed here, was that the election was “mostly free, but partly unfair.”

I’ll only mention some indications of interference from Beijing we learned about:

  • Making it evident to voters which party it favoured, thankfully not by testing missiles off Taiwan as in the 1996 presidential election.
  • Subsidizing by about 50 percent the flights of an estimated 200,000 Taiwanese business people returning from China to vote.
  • Reducing the number of tourists visiting Taiwan during the election campaign period (presumably to minimize the number of nationals who observed a peaceful democratic election campaign).
  • Sending procurement delegations from China to southern Taiwan in company with KMT officials before the election.
  • Pressuring business leaders from Taiwan doing business in China to endorse the KMT.
  • Creating voter fear about economic uncertainty if the DPP won, a major factor favouring Ma and the KMT.

An interesting post-election piece appeared in the New York Times. The party-state news agency, Xinhua, avoided the words “president” and “democracy,” presenting the election as a merely local one.

A businessman from China who had observed the election noted, “This is an amazing idea, to be able to choose the people who represent you. I think democracy will come to China. It’s only a matter of time.”

It goes without saying that a democratic China would not be killing Falun Gong citizens in forced labour camps. That it continues to happen is a key indicator of misgovernance today in China.

This is an edited version of a keynote address presented on Jan. 18, 2012, at the Canadian Political Science Students Association Conference: A Canadian Perspective on Human Rights, at the University of Manitoba/University of Winnipeg in Winnipeg, Canada.

David Kilgour

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.

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