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    China comes to Town

    by Rohin on 17th October, 2005 at 4:32 pm    

    In just a few weeks, Hu Jintao, the Chinese President, will be arriving on our fair shores for a five day jaunt. Over the last few months, vast amounts of column yards have been dedicated to ‘Chindia’ in the press all over the world.

    China and India have been identified as massive emerging economies. But as the world becomes somewhat more knowledgeable about these two Asian giants, so too are the differences emerging, such as Shankar Acharya’s forceful assertion that these neighbours are far from equal. This weekend saw an unfortunate event which may have repercussions when the Chinese party comes to the UK in November.

    One of China’s most dedicated and well-known pro-democracy campaigners has been imprisoned for life. Peng Ming is the founder of the China Federation Party and last year was captured in Myanmar, whose authoritarian regime is a close ally of Beijing’s. The sheer doggedness of his manhunt typifies China’s intolerance of public opinion. But should this attitude extend to Britain?

    It is almost certain that when Hu comes to the UK, that opponents of China’s government will be prevented from voicing their opinions by prohibiting public demonstrations. Think back to 2001. Even though President Hu had a ‘Vice’ in front of his title then, supporters of Falun Gong and a Free Tibet were told, ever so politely, to piss off. The Metropolitan Police (bosom buddies of mine) did their bit by stopping the protestors going anywhere near Hu and his party.

    Both Falun Gong and the Free Tibet movement are, unsurprisingly, banned in China. But why the hell do we have to pander to their dictatorial oppression of free speech by doing their bidding and stifling legitimate protestors?

    Heck, it’s not just old eager-to-please Tony; German officials prevented any Tibetan flags being unfurled at a recent Germany-China football match. Why? Because the Chinese asked.

    One might dismiss the case of Peng Ming as an internal affair. I would not argue that we should be policing other country’s domestic politics. After all, the world’s been quite happy letting a Noble Peace Prize winner like Aung San Suu Kyi suffer, why bother about someone like Peng Ming? Peng had U.N. Refugee status. He was entitled to be protected from return to China from another nation. And yet he now faces life in a Chinese jail.

    This has all happened before. Wang Binzhang was another prominent pro-democracy advocate and campaigner who was returned from Vietnam to China and sentenced to life. Of course the Chinese government said “not us guv!” (or words to that effect) and blamed it on an ‘unknown group’ who must’ve kidnapped him, brought him to China and accidentally handed him over to the CCP (Communist Party).

    When loonie Narendra Modi was scheduled to visit the UK earlier this year, as part of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ festival, groups here publicly announced their plans to protest. I don’t recall anyone telling them not to. Going a few years back, WWII veterans turned their backs on the visiting Japanese Emperor in protest at his lack of apology for their treatment as PoWs. Blair agreed to meet with them. Yet Chinese dignitaries seem to be treated differently to visitors from the other two Asian powerhouses, even royalty. Those in power see only the mighty Chinese economy, blinded to the woeful human rights violations.

    The Olympics is approaching. All eyes will be on China like never before and if there’s one thing the Chinese know how to do, it’s put on a show. I’m sure it will be a wonderful spectacle and I’d love to visit. Perhaps this could be seen as an opportunity to gently drop some hints that the CCP has to change its ways. Remember, many economists predict that China will soon be more powerful than America.

    The Chinese government is used to getting what it wants. In this fascinating era of Asia’s emergence, the West must take steps to ensure that China’s ascendancy is not unchecked. I don’t mean grand gestures like sanctions (how about regime change?!), but is it so much to ask that British citizens are allowed to peacefully express their views? Or are we following China’s example and only listening to what we want to hear?

    “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

    “Please use your liberty to promote ours.”

    - Aung San Suu Kyi.

    This is a cross-post on my blog, where I’ll try to add some more later.

    Print this page and comments   |     |   Add to del.icio.us   |   Digg it!   |   Filed in: Current affairs, The World, Economics


    1. leon — on 17th October, 2005 at 4:56 pm  

      “the West must take steps to ensure that China’s ascendancy is not unchecked.”

      That should read the people of the “West must take steps to ensure that China’s ascendancy is not unchecked” because no western government is going to do anything other than rub their hands with glee at the business opportunities opening up…

      It will take raising the public awareness to the point of political action to force our government into “checking” China’s rise.

    2. Al-Hack — on 17th October, 2005 at 5:00 pm  

      I also find it interesting how countries like Iran and others are constantly berated in the press (cue Nick Cohen and Aaronovitch) for their human rights abuses. But where are these liberals when it comes to Chinese human rights?

    3. Al-Hack — on 17th October, 2005 at 5:01 pm  

      Oh, and good post Rohin, definitely worth flagging up.

    4. Nindy — on 17th October, 2005 at 5:14 pm  

      China is a communist state that is embracing consumerism with big hands. Talk about ironic.
      And communism doesn’t work. Never will. Good idea in theory, but as a reality, as an ideology which to base a government on, it’s just not practical. Sad.

    5. coruja — on 17th October, 2005 at 5:34 pm  

      A phrase I read recently sums it up perfectly - ” Everyone wants Beijing’s money and goods; no one wants its ideas.”

    6. leon — on 17th October, 2005 at 6:21 pm  

      “I also find it interesting how countries like Iran and others are constantly berated in the press (cue Nick Cohen and Aaronovitch) for their human rights abuses. But where are these liberals when it comes to Chinese human rights?”

      Yep (although the right is just as principled!), I think one reason is Iran isn’t compliant to the global financial system like China is becoming and India is. Once you signal you want to join the club you suddenly become a friend not a sworn enemy. The “Great Game” continues and the public is, largely, marginalised from the decision making.

    7. Old Pickler — on 18th October, 2005 at 10:52 am  

      Also, China doesn’t get criticised anything like as much as it should because some on the Left have a lingering affection for Communism.

    8. Rohin — on 18th October, 2005 at 11:25 am  

      Old Pickler, you really think that’s a reason? I’m not saying it’s not, I’ve just never heard that theory before. I’m left wing and from a communist part of India. But I have no affection whatsoever for the Chinese brand of communism. I think, as others have said above, it’s just the Beijing buck that distracts people from the ugly side of China.

    9. Mokum — on 18th October, 2005 at 2:00 pm  

      The money is definitely a motivation for what looks like slipshod and inconsistent politics. The main one, in my view, and for almost everyone, not just the West. The only people to take a strictly principled approach with these folks are the Tibetans, and look how well they did…

      However, optimistic pragmatists (we will inherit the earth) can look to face as another issue at work here. I’ve never known a society to command so much blind and total respect for authority. It’s engrained. A conversation in a very safe place can still ignore several elephants in the room. Open anger is also a big no no (the silent seething variety is OK, if bad manners).

      Sometimes the conversation reaches the objective anyway. Outsiders will miss the point and be annoyed by the mental and verbal games (see “flowers blooming”, “cats catching mice”, and a zillion other coded messages) along the way. The Chinese will shrug.

      This is a tough one. I’d love to be prime minister and tell Hu Jintao he is a tosser to his face, you know, like leaders do at a proper Arab League heads of state meeting or an EU summit. Yet I would accomplish precisely nothing, or worse. Kowtowing is bloody annoying, but if it is the way to get something done, and you know your flowers and your cats, maybe it’s worth it. Perhaps our mandarins really are mandarins, one can hope.

      The dear old London street, though, need never kowtow. I hope Hu Jintao gets a very noisy reception. He bloody well deserves one.

      As for “checking” China, see “US Navy”, or, perhaps, “Indian Navy, 2030”…

    10. Sunny — on 18th October, 2005 at 2:12 pm  

      So it’s more a case of kowtowing to the Chinese because they have economic muscle, but we can say what we like to the Iranians because they are not that much of a threat. What happened to the ideals that liberals keep talking about? I wonder how many times Cohen has written on Chinese human rights abuses.

    11. Mokum — on 18th October, 2005 at 2:46 pm  

      No, I meant kowtowing as a cultural price that may be worth paying in our diplomatic relations if it yields results for human rights as well as BAe or BP.

      Same goes for Arab and Muslim sensitivities, as far as I am concerned.

      This liberal has done his bit for China, in situ :-)

    12. Shail — on 22nd October, 2005 at 2:05 am  

      I am glad for China’s rise!! A strong economic rise and gradual transition will slowly transform the country into a more conformist nation.
      Sudden shocks to political systems can have dire effects. However the steady spread of free market values in China (led by wealth creation) will bring about change. We must however be patient, Rome was not buit in a day.

    13. AlexM — on 5th December, 2005 at 9:05 pm  

      The number one country I want it to be the world’s leader is USA. It doesn’t have a culture to seize other’s land; it has great value in democracy and freedom.

      The number two country I want it to be the world’s leader is China. It’s a country with no desire to invade others for more than two thousand years; it has great value in family and society harmony (confucianism). Communism won’t be last in China, in fact, everybody who has visited China recently won’t say that it’s a communist country. However totalism it is for sure.

    14. AlexM — on 5th December, 2005 at 9:13 pm  

      It’s hard to image that it’s other country to be the leader in our world.

      Russia? No! Japan? No!

      India? could be the third choice, but so far it even can’t fix it’s caste problem. Unlike conmmunism in China, which can be demolished overnight (just like that in Soviet Union), caste is a chronic disease that deeply resides in the people of India and exists for thousands years.

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