Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Comment to the Asia Pacific Foundation's "Canada-Asia News"

RE: "CHINA: Leading NGO Says Gov't Will Ban All Tobacco Advertising by 2011" (August 28)

The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control is not actually an NGO as NGOs are understood here in Canada. It is rather a GONGO (Government Organized "NGO") that is subject to the authority of the state, which in China is fully under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. The sine qua non of the non-government organization is that it freely exist in the civil public space separate from the governing apparatus. But the Chinese Communist Party has not defined any aspects of China's society as beyond its authority. The Chinese Association on Tobacco Control is an "official" Party organization sanctioned by the Chinese state's Ministry of Civil Affairs' registration process for "people's mass organizations." It is therefore a "front organization," not a freely formed association of concerned citizens. True NGOs remain illegal under Chinese law.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


While working in my office early this morning, in the 5:00am silence, I could hear the gentle sound of my 3-year old son laughing in his sleep in the room next door.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Guantanamo Uighurs

According to a Canadian Press report released yesterday, Canada was approached by the U.S. on several occasions to accept as refugees in Canada 23 Uighurs that were transported to their Prison Camp at Guantanamo Bay ("Canada balked at Guantanamo refugees: documents" by Jennifer Ditchburn: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_246d6hx4f). But we refused to take them. According to the report: "The sticking point seemed to be a point of principle. Under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, refugees cannot make claims to enter Canada from the United States except under a few specific exceptions, such as fear they would face the death penalty in America." Presently 17 of the men are still being held in the Camp and live in isolation for 22 hours a day. Five of them were accepted by Albania where they live under difficult conditions and face the risk of Albania giving in to Chinese pressure and being repatriated to China.

I am unclear why it is deemed to be a case that falls under the "Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement." Actually those Uighurs have never been in the USA to my knowledge. The Guantanamo Bay Prison Camp is purposively located outside the USA. Seems to me that Canada could have negotiated concessions in other matters out of the USA if Canada had agreed to help the USA, who apparently feel embarrassed about their incarceration and very harsh treatment of men who are evidently not terrorists or guilty of any crimes. Now Canada bears some responsibility for whatever happens to the 5 Uighurs presently in Albania. Surely we don't want to add another tragedy after the DFAIT mishandling of Mr. Celil's case. Best thing would be to bring them to safety here in Canada.

Why China Sells Poisoned Toothpaste and Poisoned Toys and Defective Tires

The Chinese Government promises to strengthen regulation of product safety and punish severely those who manufacture substandard stuff that is dangerous and unhealthy. But the issue is not simply greedy factory owners who put maximizing their profits over the public good or Government inspectors who can be bribed or intimidated to look the other way. The more fundamental cause is systemic. Under China's one-Party dictatorship, non-governmental organizations such as consumer advocacy groups are not allowed to form. Journalists who expose malfeasance are charged with "false reporting" or "endangering state security." The judiciary is not independent of Government, so the powerful are always protected. The upshot is that when buying a bottle of water in China one is never absolutely sure that the water inside the bottle is what the label on the outside promises and is safe to drink. The prevalence of above legal levels of preservatives, insecticides and other chemicals and bacteria in fresh and prepared foods is also a cause for concern. Fake products and consumer fraud is a fact of life in China today that one learns to live with.

The other negative characteristic of China's current political system is that no one truly represents the interests of ordinary Chinese people. When China's Communist Party abandoned Marxist ideology 20 years ago, it evidently also abandoned its commitment to furthering social justice.

So until China achieves democracy, I'm brushing my teeth with Canadian paste.

An editorial in the National Post on this topic can be found here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_253c8mw8g
My letter in response to this editorial can be found here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_254c7f74c
A letter to the Globe and Mail on this topic can be found here:
An interesting report on fake Vineland, Ontario icewine on sale in China can be found here: http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcfd6fxz_251gj2wpq

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Report on Democratic Development and Reflections on My Career to Date

I have finished a careful read of all 224 pages of the Report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, Advancing Canada's Role in International Support for Democratic Development which was released last month (http://cmte.parl.gc.ca/Content/HOC/committee/391/faae/reports/rp3066139/391_FAAE_Rpt08_PDF/391_FAAE_Rpt08-e.pdf). This topic, "democratic development," has been the focus of my career for over 25 years, so this Foreign Affairs Committee Report is of compelling interest to me. It also has prompted me to reflect on what I have accomplished in my career in government service, research and teaching. And mostly where my work has fallen short of my aspiration to make the world a better place by doing things that will bring justice to people who have not been fairly treated . Fortunately I am not temperamentally inclined to despair, but there are elements of a Shakespeare "Sonnet 30" kind of moment here:

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste;

or putting it more plainly "Thinking it all over, I wish I could point to more evidence that my work had actually made a difference for the people I had been hoping to help and in retrospect wish that I had not had to put so much time into things that in the end did not achieve the desired justice-promoting result."

In my "Rights Across Borders" second-year course for undergrads and in my "Core Seminar in Comparative Politics" course that I teach in Brock's graduate program, I attempt to identify the conditions under which democracy and respect for human rights will flourish. In both classes, I do a lot of "one the one hand . . . and on the other hand" prevaricating. My only clear and unambiguous conclusion is that there is not a lot of "science" in political science. Similarly, in my research work for some years now, I have been struggling with developing scenarios under which North Korea can make a stable transition to democracy. The more political theory I read in search of some analytical framework to structure my metres-thick piles of files on the DPRK, the further I seem to be from completion of this project. But I will persist in it to the end. I reckon it is too important to give it up.

Even though it is now 18 years past, I remember like yesterday watching a TV interview from Tiananmen Square in May 1989. A young student asked about what he understood was meant by "democracy" responding: "I am not exactly sure what it is, but I do know that we need a lot more of it." Actually there is not much consensus among political scientists and other "democracy specialists" beyond this sort of formulation. The Foreign Affairs Committee Report makes note of this fact in several places and urges that we work harder to get the definition of what we are dealing with when we talk about "democratic development" clarified.

My own introduction to democratic deveopment programming was after I was approached in 1992 in my capacity as Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with a request that Canada assist the Chinese Government in examining policy options for democratic political reform. So I set up the "CASS-Royal Society of Canada Democracy Project" which had 18 exchanges and conferences between '93 and '98. The idea was that after we provided the final report, President Jiang Zemin would announce a comprehensive program of political reform in his December 1998 speech to mark the 20th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's opening economic reform program which Deng had launched at the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978. But it did not come to pass. The rather watered down and platitudinous speech that Jiang did give did not allow Jiang to retire as "the father of China's post-Mao democracy."

It was disappointing for me, but by this time I was back working in the Political Section of the Canadian Embassy and able to hatch new schemes. I became responsible for coordinating the Bilateral and Plurilateral Human Rights Dialogues with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs --- quiet diplomacy was our new tack. But as I have discussed in earlier postings, it did not fulfil its promise. Staring in the fall of 1998, I oversaw the Civil Society Program for CIDA (changing the name from "Social Initiatives Program" to this more edgy name that means "Citizens'-Society-Program" in Chinese). The purpose of the Civil Society program is to support the development of a non-government public space in China, but the growth of the NGO sector has also proved mostly disappointing ten years on. All in all, lots of good will and trust have been built up, but things have not been going as we had hoped 10 years ago. For example we were pretty excited about the village elections in the early-'90s but there is little progress in extending the electoral process to higher levels of government now over 15 years later and the Village Party Secretary, the most critical local functionary, remains unelected.

The Advancing Canada's Role in International Support for Democratic Development Report which was released last month calls for a review of all the Government of Canada-funded activities to promote respect for democracy and human rights abroad and for the establishment of a new institution to ensure better coordination and effectiveness of future Government-funded democratic development projects. This strikes me as important in light of the above. Especially as the Foreign Affairs Committee could not meet with recipients of governance developmental assistance. They only were able to interview experts in "Democratic Development" and hear reports from representatives of Government agencies and NGOs providing this sort of aid. Moreover with this kind of thing there is a tendency on all sides to report success to protect the income and jobs and career success of the people working in the implementing agencies. So independent disinterested assessment is pretty essential.

The idea is that these "democratic development" activities should empower local agents of change by transfer of knowledge. Actually it is hard to spend large sums of money on this sort of project purpose. But from the bureaucratic point of view of CIDA small projects are not amenable to their administration and reporting requirements. So big projects are proposed. And this leads to the tendency of self-generated sham NGOs to form to attract generous foreign funding. Many of the same NGOs seem to exist on a variety of foreign government and NGO contracts, but democratic engagement evidently only penetrates to a small group and does not sustain once the foreign grant money for foreign travel and other project activities dries up. In China the agencies that have the capacity to successfully apply for foreign funding are actually GONGOS ("Government Organized NGOs") that is to say part of and subject to the direction of the Party/State and not actually in a public space. They are therefore held in check and only give the appearance of representing not civil society. For example, The All-China Women's Federation. the All-China Lawyers Federation, etc., etc.

But still I don't seem able to give this "democratic development" enterprise up. I am scheduled to speak at the Central Party School in Beijing on next month, as part of the Party School's exchange with Rights & Democracy. The project is very controversial. But how could I refuse the invitation of people who ask to know more about "Human Rights and Education in the 21st Century"? I will try my best to not let this be "a dialogue of the deaf." Mainly I do really try to listen. And I will speak openly and honestly. And hope for the best.