China comes to Town
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 cross-post on Pickled Politics.
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