Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The response of the Chinese Government was offensive in its tone. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao declared: "The Chinese side demands the Canadian side ... correct its mistaken conduct, immediately adopt effective measures to eliminate adverse impact (from the meeting) and stop winking at or supporting anti-Chinese activities by Tibetan forces. This disgusting conduct has seriously hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and undermined Sino-Canadian relations." This sort of hectoring is unlikely to have much impact on Canadians who are unlikely to buy into the "mistaken conduct" formulation presented in such a condescending and menacing fashion. It is more likely to simply strengthen the resolve of Canadian nationalists to deepen contact with Tibetans. But one suspects that this sort of Foreign Ministry statement is more directed at the Chinese domestic audience than at Canadians.
But some Canadians did support the Chinese Government's line. For example an opinion piece in The Toronto Star the day before by a former diplomat, Harry Sterling, said: "A nation's foreign policies should be based on its national interests, not on the personal whims or prejudices of whoever happens to be its leader at the time. Leaders of governments who confuse their own personal viewpoints with those of their countries' national interests can cause unwelcome and even dangerous consequences for their fellow countrymen. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a leader who increasingly appears to base his foreign policy actions more on his personal or ideological biases than on what may be in the best interests of Canada" (http://www.thestar.com/printArticle/270965). On October 30, the Canadian Press ran an account of an interview with former Canadian Ambassador to China, Fred Bild (my boss on my first posting in Beijing of whom I have nothing but the best of memories) reading: "A former Canadian ambassador to believes the government's decision to greet the on on Monday could cost Canadian companies lucrative contracts. Fred Bild, who served as ambassador to China between 1990 and 1995, doesn't believe China will intervene and sanction directly. But Bild believes Chinese threats should be taken seriously. Bild told The Canadian Press in an interview on Tuesday that China is a country where the state still has a large influence on economic decisions. He criticized the Tory government for creating a confrontational situation as opposed to the more discreet approach applied by Jean Chretien and Brian Mulroney, who reserved their criticism behind closed doors."
I also have yet to encounter any person of Chinese origin who approved of the Prime Minister meeting with the Dalai Lama. One of my Chinese correspondents referred to the Dalai Lama as a "dirty-looking, nasty-dressed Tibetan." Another emailed me to say that "I am very concerned with the Tory policy to Tibet. I am shocked when watching Harper's meeting with Dalai Lama, a meeting of some sort for a head of the state. The real issue here, I think, is not human rights in Tibet and China or a meeting with Dalai Lama, but how the Tory manages emerging issues with or potential impacts on China and how far Harper can go down this confrontational road. The whole event was totally ridiculous--Canada is not the US and Germany. We do not have whatsoever cards to play with the Chinese." The CBC website quoted my colleague and friend at the University of Alberta like this: "'Canada-China relations is somehow cool, if not the lowest point since the 1970s,' said Wenran Jiang, acting director of the University of Alberta's China Institute. He said if the goal is to help Tibetans, Canada should have a more balanced approach when dealing with China — using moral statements rather than 'political theatre' meant to grab votes."
My own feeling is that "criticism behind closed doors" endorsed by Mr. Bild has had no impact on Chinese policy toward Tibet. Moreover, empty "moral statements" not backed by the courage to bear consequences for our convictions, can be a form of tacit sanction to the Chinese authorities to continue their current approach to Tibet. That is to suppress Tibetan spirituality by restricting the numbers of young men who are allowed to become monks and severely restricting access to education in the Tibetan language, especially higher education in Tibetan Buddhism. This amounts to restricting the transmission of Tibetan culture in Tibet. This problem of cultural transmission is the paramount concern expressed to me by the senior monks that I have personally met in Tibet. This follows from the strong push by the Chinese Government to reduce the rich Tibetan culture to folkloric status, as simply a colourful characteristic of one of China's 55 minority nationalities. I am regularly presented by officials of China's Ministry of Ethnic Affairs with coffee table tomes on China's 56 officially recognized ethnic groups. Seems that except for the Han, the 55 others are all "happy people who love to sing and dance." To be modern in China is to speak Mandarin Chinese and eschew religion. Atheism is a prerequisite to membership in the Chinese Communist Party. So Tibetan Buddhists are explicitly denied access to this Party, the sole locus of political power in China today.
Let us assume that the system as espoused by Messrs. Sterling, Bild and Jiang works and the PM next time gives into Chinese pressure and rebuffs the Dalai Lama. Would we have a meeting "behind closed doors" afterwards wherein the Chinese Foreign Ministry would say something like: "You Canadians have corrected your 'mistaken conduct.' While the German Chancellor has recently accepted the Dalai Lama's invitation for lunch you have wisely turned him down. So we have decided not to license a German bank to do foreign currency transactions in Shanghai but we will give that license to a Canadian bank instead"? Do the Canadians then celebrate with grateful thanks to the Communist authorities and crack open the champagne? I don't think so. This is not something most of us ordinary Canadians can stomach. Most Canadian support Prime Minister's stance that "I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide. We do that. But I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values of belief in democracy, freedom and human rights — they don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."
Certainly there is an important point to be made that our Prime Minister should receive in his office whoever he wishes to see regardless of the protests of a foreign embassy. Undoubtedly the Dalai Lama had a number of important things to say to the Prime Minister over that 40 minutes. But it is indeed mostly about sending a message to the régime in Beijing which is that we respect the Tibetan cultural identity and oppose measures designed to suppress it. Will this cause the Chinese Government to factor in foreign opinion in its determination of future policy on Tibet? I believe that it will.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Interesting Connection Made by Amazon.ca Database (I did buy the book about North Korea, 2 copies in fact)
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Monday, October 22, 2007
Thank you for contacting Flickr customer care and sorry for the late respond. We are aware that images from Flickr are being blocked for users in China and definitely care very much about our friends who cannot access pictures. Our technical staff has looked into this and determined it is not an issue from our end. It appears that the Chinese government is restricting access to Flickr, although we have not received confirmation from them. We are checking periodically to see if the block is still in place, but haven't detected any change. We hope that it will be a temporary issue. You may also check the Forum for commentary and information about this issue from other Flickr members: http://www.flickr.com/search/forum/?lang=en-us&q=china
Thank you for your continued patience.
Comment: I used to have some 716 family photos on the Yahoo Photos site. Yahoo Photos closed this service and transferred all my pictures to Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cburton001). While Yahoo Photos was readily accessible from China, Flickr is not. But I don't know why the Chinese Government has decided to block access to this photo site, but allows access to others (such as Picassa). I wish they would explain why they are blocking Flickr.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
My reply: I do have some sympathy for Mr. Lu as I think it is a lot harder to have to act as Chinese Ambassador to Canada than to be his counterpart, Rob Wright, the Canadian Ambassador to China. This is because as Ambassador he has to fulfil the mandate given him by the Chinese Communist Party. The mandate of the Mr. Lu's Embassy is to promote China's interests abroad by engaging foreign nationals with influence in their country and to encourage "understanding" of China. In our case the "understanding" that is hoped to be arrived at is that China's human rights record is not as bad as western media, NGOs and governments allege, and that such human rights shortcomings that do exist are due to historical, developmental and cultural factors that will be overcome "although it will take a long time" (a mantra repeated in both formal and informal discussions). It is a humiliating position to have to take and one that is less and less tenable as more and more information about what is really going on in China becomes more readily available to Canadians. Then the next recourse is to make dark threats that Canada's economic interests will suffer if we don't keep quiet on China human rights, keep away from the Dalai Lama, and the Uighurs, and the Falungong, and the Taiwanese, etc., etc. These threats for the most part don't seem to have much substance to them, but Mr. Lu is obliged to go through the motions by instructing his subordinates to strike a sort of vaguely menacing pose. It is a kind of diplomacy of desperation. It is for this kind of reason that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has trouble attracting top quality recruits these days. I guess what it comes down to is that Mr. Lu is in the wrong job at the wrong time. But I think there is no reason to doubt that he loves his country and is trying his best under difficult circumstances.
Friday, October 19, 2007
By Ben Blanchard
Thu Oct 18, 6:46 AM ET
China's battle against intellectual property rights piracy will take "generations," a senior official said on Thursday, but added the main victims were Chinese and other countries should stop politicizing the issue.
Chinese IPR chief Tian Lipu said the government did not fear the United State's decision to take China to the World Trade Organization over complaints of widespread counterfeiting.
"Have you ever heard of another country whose whole leadership, including the president, study together intellectual property rights?" Tian asked reporters on the sidelines of a Communist Party Congress.
"I've been working in this field for years, and I've not heard of any other country doing this. But this happens in China," said the casually-dressed official.
China regularly defends its record on fighting piracy, saying it is a developing country and needs time. But pirated movies and music discs are openly sold in shops and on street corners in Chinese cities for as little as 8 yuan (about $1) a copy.
"Is IPR protection a problem? Yes, it is. But is it as serious as some say? Not necessarily. To a greater degree, it's hyped-up, politicized. We cannot accept that," said Tian.
"In fact, if China does not do well, the biggest victim will be China itself."
Tian said he had been taken to the northern province of Shandong to see an anti-piracy sweep where counterfeit DVDs and CDs had been rounded up.
"We discovered something -- more than 90 percent of the pirated discs were of Chinese artists," he said.
What China really lacked was awareness about why it was important to protect intellectual property rights. It was only in 2000 that the Chinese expression for IPR protection started appearing in dictionaries, Tian said.
"How long did it take developed countries? 300 years in the case of countries like Britain, or 200 years in the United States," he said. "One generation is not enough here. If you ask me, I estimate it will take three to five generations."
Piracy is a hot political potato.
In April, the United States lodged a complaint with the WTO over Chinese counterfeiting, which followed congressional anger over last year's record $232 billion U.S. trade deficit with China.
Tian brushed off the case.
"The U.S. has taken China to the WTO over IPR. I think China is not scared about this. The facts will prove our point of view," he said.
Reuters report on Internet at: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20071018/wl_nm/china_party_piracy_dc&printer=1;_ylt=Av9vX_6j4w.3jdULh8KCRGFn.3QA
Comment by me: Reading this sort of nonsense makes me regret my choice of academic study: contemporary Chinese politics. It is same humiliating argument as made by regime apologists for China not becoming democratic within our life times (see my posting about my interaction at the Central Party School below).
Thursday, October 18, 2007
China now has a 14-strong astronaut team. The team members, including Yang himself, are all CPC members.
"If China has its own space station, the taikonauts on mission will carry out the regular activities of a CPC branch in space in the way we do on earth, such as learning the Party's policies and exchanging opinions on the Party's decisions," said Yang, a delegate to the on-going CPC national congress in Beijing.
"If we establish a Party branch in space, it would also be the 'highest' of its kind in the world," said Yang, who is also deputy director of the China Astronaut Research and Training Center.
According to the CPC Constitution, a grass-root CPC organization should be established where there are three or more CPC members. The latest official figure shows that China has more than 73 million CPC members and about 3.6 million grass-roots CPC organizations.
"Like foreign astronauts having their beliefs, we believe in Communism, which is also a spiritual power," said Yang. "We may not pray in the way our foreign counterparts do, but the common belief has made us more united in space, where there is no national boundary, to accomplish our missions."
Comment by me: The "spiritual power" characterization of China's ruling party's political legitimating ideology gives me pause for thought. As China becomes a more and more important international actor, we may have more and more to worry about if this "spiritual power" is seen a force antithetical to "western democracy."
I have a romantic notion that when I get too old to do my regular work, I will retire to Kunming in southwest China and while away my old age by tutoring local children to improve their English language ability. This strikes me as a noble profession and a good way to keep my old heart young.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The fact is that it is hard to get people engaged by analysis that can't be boiled down to a single page of words. Faced with so many competing demands, Government policymakers need terse summaries to work with. I try my best to furnish them. And there is a certain elegance about proposing clean and simple interpretations of the complicated realities of these places. But I always worry about slighting the myriad aspects and factors that have to be smoothed over to produce this sort of précis.
As I accumulate more and more data by simply having been an observer of Chinese politics and society for already some 35 years, I now see a lot of sides to a lot of issues --- they all now seem to represent a complicated interaction along 3 dimensions. But on the other hand I am more and more committed to standing up for what is right and good.
This is related to the fact that I that I have started to notice that so many Chinese colleagues of the generation senior to me are now retired and inclined to self-absorption with their failing health, regrets over their past, and hurt over their perception of neglect by their grown children. So they don't talk about the contemporary public things that inspired our political passions 20 and more years ago anymore.
While it is discouraging to lose my conversation companions to old age, their fate does inspire me to try to do the right thing and strive to make a meaningful contribution, even if just a modest one within my limited area of expertise, before I join them as a new "has been".
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
I did because I feel a sense of moral imperative to not simply stand idly by and not speak out frankly about concerns over human rights in China. At the Central Party School one is pretty close to being able to "talk to the boss" there, but I don't harbour any illusion that my words can lead to change from within. Political systemic reform will probably only come to China in response to a crisis or a perception of a looming crisis. Talk is cheap.
There is a tension between the Chinese Government's desire to adopt a "united front policy" to deflect and neutralize criticism of China's lack of compliance with China's international obligation to fulfil the specific articles of UN Human Rights Covenants on the one hand, and on the other very real concerns on the part of Chinese intellectuals and policy makers that unless China engages in meaningful political systemic reform, in years ahead as economic and social transformation continues apace, the current ossified political system could itself be a threat to political stability as it fails to respond to growing problems of corruption and increasing gap between rich and poor, rural and urban, coastal and interior. It is a conundrum for the Communist Party as it seeks to come up with a basis for maintaining its power and its role as the sole existing political establishment. Everybody recognizes that the "social harmonious society" formulation is too lacking in meaningful substance to be sustainable in the long term. But no Chinese participant can state this directly. One Chinese participant stated quite boldly that "a multi-party system with separation of the powers of the executive and legislative branch and an independent judiciary and a de-politicized military is "very difficult". The elephant in the room was the dominating role of the Chinese Communist Party over every aspect of Chinese politics and law. Only outsiders could bring this up, but privately I was told by Chinese participants that they agreed with with everything I said and were grateful that I had made these points frankly and by using appropriate Chinese language. A key in this kind of engagement is to be respectful, good humoured and never condescending. But that being said one gets more respect by not mincing words.
The Central Party School is an ideal place for this sort of engagement because it provides in-service training for very senior Chinese officials and also has a mandate to prepare policy reports for the Chinese Communist Party leadership. At our day-long symposium there were also people from CASS and People's University who work with Party School staff among the 40 or so people participating which included some young grad students from the Party School.
The discussion was very stimulating as it took place in Chinese in an enthusiastic and lively atmosphere. It was evident that there was a significant split in opinion over the need for political systemic reform. On hard-liner in the group took considerable offence at pretty much everything I had said, making these points:
1. I am speaking from a Western perspective. China is an Eastern country with different culture and traditions. There is not one standard for democracy.
My reply was to reject the idea of "east" and "west" pointing out Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. I said there is a standard as defined by the UN human rights covenants all of which have been signed by China and most of them ratified as well. There is nothing in the articles of those covenants at odds with Chinese culture and history.
2. China will become democratic eventually but it will "take a long time." If China adopted independence to the judiciary the country would be unstable (luan) for 20 years
My reply was to cite the example of Eastern European nations such as Czech Republic, Poland, etc. who have made transformations from Leninist systems in a matter of a few years. The Party first broached political systemic reform in a comprehensive way under Zhao Ziyang in 1986 and then similar initiatives were proposed under Jiang Zemin 10 years later. 21 years have passed with no meaningful progress --- the political system is still the same. Is he suggesting that any fundamental change will occur within our lifetimes? if so, when will it be started?
3. I am racist and look down on Chinese
This comment caused the faces of most of the other participants to wince even more than through the earlier part of his comments. He tried to recover by saying that Chinese are racist too by referring to outsiders as "foreign devils." This kind of "rant" really brought the dynamic of the debate into focus. Basically the issue is between those who want no political systemic change and the much larger group who understand the need for it but despair as to how to bring it about.
Anyway I hope to return to the Party School next year. I am thinking of focusing on the merits to China's overall stability of a free press and opening up an NGO sector. I think these are more do-able in the short term than suggesting that the Party should allow an independent judiciary (which would immediately threaten the Party's continued leading role).