Until quite recently, perhaps like you, I allowed my respect and affection for the people of China to mute criticism of the current Hu-Wen government. No doubt, I rationalized this position, especially during visits to China as Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, by saying that at least it was not like the regime of Mao Tse-tung. When apologists for the party-state in China insisted that the situation for a growing part of the population is getting better, I was, like others, too willing to overlook ongoing bad governance, official violence, growing social inequalities, widespread corruption and nepotism, and terrible injustices still being done across China.
The Chinese people want the same things as all of us, including food, shelter, to be safe and secure, education, good jobs in a sound economy, and a good natural environment. Living standards have improved for many in the flourishing East coast and other urban areas.There is, however, a substantial cost to a large percentage of China's people. Many of them continue to be exploited by the party-state and domestic industrial firms, often owned by or contracted for manufacturing to multinationals, which operate today across China often like 19th century robber barons. This explains partly why the prices of consumer products 'made in China' seem so low—the externalities are borne by workers, their families and the natural environment.
My talk today will be divided into three parts: the Matas-Kilgour study, some thoughts on the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games and how joint action on trade laws by China's trading partners could favourably affect the overall situation.
1- Matas-Kilgour report
David Matas, an international human rights lawyer in Canada, and I last year concluded our independent investigation about allegations of alarming abuses. We found to our deep and ongoing concern that since 2001 the government in China and its agencies have killed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners, without any form of prior trial, and then sold their vital organs for large sums of money, often to 'organ tourists' from wealthy countries (Our report is available in nineteen languages at www.organharvestinvestigation.net ).We amassed a substantial body of evidence and became convinced beyond any doubt that this crime against humanity has occurred and is still happening.
Neither of us is a Falun Gong practitioner, but our own experience with Falun Gong in the numerous countries we have visited, seeking to bring this crime to a halt through public awareness, has been overwhelmingly positive. Falun Gong practitioners attempt to live their core principles of "truth, compassion and forbearance." They are persecuted in only one of the 80 or so countries in which they live and are good citizens in all.
Matas and I have interviewed a number of Falun Gong practitioners sent to forced labour camps since 1999, who managed later to leave both the camps and China itself. They told us of working in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay and little food and many sleeping in the same room. They made export products, ranging from garments to chopsticks to Christmas decorations for multinational companies. This, of course, constitutes both corporate irresponsibility and violations of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
The labour camps, operating across China since the 1950s, are outside the legal system and allow Party members to send anyone to them for up to four years with neither hearing nor appeal. All that is needed is to get an obedient police officer to sign an order of committal. The camps are remarkably similar to one's in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany.
The propaganda phase, begun in mid-1999 against a then estimated 70-100 million Falun Gong practitioners across China, demonized, vilified and dehumanized them in Party-controlled media. Many Chinese were thus persuaded to think of the community as irrational. It recalls a similar media campaign unleashed by the regime in Rwanda against its minority Tutsi community prior to the genocide there in 1994. Manfred Nowak, the former UN Rapporteur on Torture, concluded after a visit to China in 2005 that Falun Gong comprised two-thirds of the alleged victims of torture, with Uyghurs the next largest at 11 per cent.
The Chinese Medical Association quite recently reached an agreement with the World Medical Association that 'organ tourists' can no longer obtain transplants in China. Whether this is anything more than public relations, intended to benefit the Beijing Olympics, remains to be seen. Will organs seized from Falun Gong practitioners now go to wealthy Chinese patients instead, with the commerce and homicides thuscontinuing in the same volumes?
These deaths would not be occurring if the Chinese people enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic importance of each one of them. Human lives across the country appear to have no more value to the Party than does health care for disfavoured hundreds of millions of citizens, or the well-being of Buddhist monks in Tibet. In my judgement, it is the toxic combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything is permitted' economics that allows this form of governance to persist.
2- Beijing Olympics
A number of the world's most brutal 'thugocracies' have fallen under the government of China's influence during its attempts to control as much as possible of the earth's natural resources. I'll mention only Sudan and Zimbabwe as representative cases, but I'd ask you to reflect on the state of human dignity in Tibet, Burma, Xinjiang (the Uyghur homeland) and across China to decide if you think an Olympiad should be held in Beijing this summer. The regime has reportedly (Globe and Mail, 18July08) even closed dozens of Uyghur restaurants in Beijing and expelled many Tibetans and Uyghurs from the capital as it prepares to welcome "One world, One dream" next month. Some thought both groups were supposed to be full citizens of China.
Contrast the party-state's promises on human rights and media freedom made to convince the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that it should host the Games with each reported new human rights abuse committed in the name of 'stability', which means preserving the Party's monopoly on power.
In Sudan's Darfur state, since April, 2003, 300, 000- 400,000 African civilians have been murdered by bombs, bullets or burning directed by the Bashir military government in Khartoum, or died of directly related causes, such as starvation and disease. The government of China continues to assist Bashir in his ongoing genocide, including, financing and supplying arms in exchange for taking most of Sudan's oil production at cut rate prices.
Only last week, the BBC broadcasted an investigation of a batch of weapons sold to Sudan in 2005, including trucks that carried anti-aircraft guns. It showed pictures of plates on trucks with post-embargo dates – an accusation the Chinese government denied. Since the slaughter began, China's government has used the threat of its veto in the UN Security Council to block effective UN action continuously. Bashir is thus confident that he can complete his genocide in Darfur. He has appointed Musa Hilal, the one-time leader of the murderous Janjaweed, to a position in his government. Hilal was quoted expressing gratitude for "the necessary weapons and ammunition to exterminate the African tribes in Darfur." The government of China now objects to the International Criminal Court indicting Bashir for genocide and crimes against humanity.
In Zimbabwe, a Chinese company attempted to ship $70 million in arms to Robert Mugabe after he lost the first round of the presidential election held in March. Principled dockworkers in South Africa refused to unload the weapons and were upheld by their courts. The governments of China and Russia recently vetoed a UN Security Council proposal to impose targeted sanctions on Mugabe's ruling circle. As the Washington Post pointed out in a biting editorial last week, Presidents Mugabe and Bush will be joining each other at the Games Opening Ceremonies. As a Canadian, I'm proud that Prime Minister Harper will not be sitting with them-a difference among the many between our two countries explored in Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs.
The ongoing role of China's regime in Sudan, Zimbabwe and elsewhere is clearly not the conduct of a responsible member of the international community.
The world loves Olympiads because they feature the best athletic talent from our entire family of nations. This year's faces constant criticism because the host government is one of the most systematic violators of human dignity. China was awarded the Games by the IOC only after it pledged to respect the Olympic Charter and to improve its human rights record. The Olympic Charter itself speaks about "respect for universal fundamental ethical principles." Does this not ring increasingly hollow as the rest of the world adjusts to worsening practices of China's party-state as the Games approach?
Beijing is spending the yuan equivalent of an estimated 40 billion dollars on Olympic facilities (and has forced out of their homes without adequate compensation many tens of thousands of families to do so) instead of using much of it for badly needed social programs, education and housing for hundreds of millions of its nationals. It is simply not believable for the president of the IOC to imply that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics; for the party-state in China, it has everything to do with politics and its quest for legitimacy at home and abroad.
The Olympic Games and human rights movements worldwide share the same goals: respect, unity, dignity and equality among the entire human family. When these are violated by a host government, the Olympic ideal is dishonoured.
As consumers, we might all begin to ask serious questions to the corporate sponsors of the Games, including Coca Cola, Manulife, Visa, Kodak, Samsung, Panasonic, Omega, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, General Electric and John Hancock. Silence from them and the many other business sponsors and partners to the Games--63 in all—implies acquiescence with what is going on across China.
Many respected Americans from across the political spectrum and others around the world have already stood up for human dignity at the 2008 Olympics. Is Minky Worden, media director for Human Rights Watch, not correct when she says, "Olympic corporate sponsors are putting their reputations at risk unless they work to convince the Chinese government to uphold the human rights pledges it made to bring the Games to Beijing… Human rights are under attack in China, and Olympic sponsors should use their considerable leverage to persuade Beijing to change policy." The rest of us—you and I-- should too.
3- Enforce Current and New Trade Laws
Peter Navarro, author of The Coming China Wars, has a Ph.D in economics from Harvard and is a business professor at the University of California. He argues that consumer markets across the world have been 'conquered' by China largely through cheating on trade practices. These include export subsidies, widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products, currency manipulation, and environmental, health and safety standards so lax and weakly enforced that they have made China a very dangerous place to work.
Navarro has comprehensive proposals for all countries trading with China, which are intended to ensure that commerce becomes fair.
Specifically, he says new national trade legislation in the US and elsewhere should achieve the following:
- All trading partners must refrain from illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation and abide by the rules of the WTO;
- For currency manipulation, he supports what your bi-partisan US-China Commission has recommended to Congress: define it as an illegal export subsidy and add it to other subsidies when calculating anti-dumping and countervail penalties;
- Any trade partner must respect intellectual property; adopt and enforce health, safety and environmental regulations consistent with international norms; provide decent wages and working conditions; and ban the use of forced labour;
- Adopt a 'zero-tolerance' policy for anyone who sells or distributes pirated or counterfeit goods;
- Defective and contaminated food and drugs must be blocked more effectively by measures which make it easier to hold importers liable for selling foreign products that do harm or kill people or pets;
- Despite growing criticism, China's party-state continues to trade its UN Security Council veto for energy, raw materials and access to markets from Angola to Burma to Zimbabwe. Increased monitoring and exposure of China's party-state activities everywhere is important;
- To reverse the 'race to the environmental bottom' in China, to require all to compete on a level playing field and to reduce acid rain and smog affecting populations abroad, all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements should henceforth include strong provisions for protection of the natural environment.
Navarro reminds readers that some well-known American companies, including Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Skype, helped to build the "Great Firewall of China" and thus help the party-state to oppress its own people. He'd like to see stronger initiatives, including, prohibiting American companies from disclosing to the Chinese government information about Chinese users of online content.
In Mao-The unknown Story, Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans) and Jon Halliday wrote only two years ago: "Today, Mao's portrait and his corpse still dominate Tiananmen Square…The current Communist regime declares itself to be Mao's heir and fiercely perpetuates the myth of Mao."
Mao's worst cruelties were done to his own people—as many as three million executed in the early 1950s, some 300,000 intellectuals arrested for criticizing Party policies in 1957, an estimated 30 million died of starvation in 1959-61 during the "Great Leap Forward", and the Cultural Revolution cost perhaps another half million their lives and systematic education for an entire generation. The attempted crushing of Falun Gong, democracy movements, truthful journalists, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and other independent faith groups, human rights lawyers and other legitimate communities in recent years are indicators that China's party-state must still be engaged with caution on all matters.
I believe that if China revives its traditional values, abandons Leninism and adopts the rule of law, a free media and governance of, by and for all its people-- a democracy with very Chinese characteristics- - the new century will bring harmony for both China and its trading partners. The Chinese people have the numbers, perseverence, self-discipline, entrepreneurship, intelligence, culture and pride to make this new era better and more peaceful for the entire human family.