Friday, January 23, 2009

Comments on China's National Report Submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 10 November 2008

To my knowledge this report it not available on the UN Human Rights Council yet. That will be the authoritative version. But in the meantime a draft can be found here:
Other relevant documents here:,459.html

Charles Burton

Comments on China's National Report Submitted to the UN Human Rights Council on 10 November 2008

This document is complicated to interpret. Many parts of it could lead readers lacking specialized expertise in the political and social realities of China today to draw conclusions with regard to the state of China's compliance with the 25 international human rights conventions to which China is party that are inaccurate.

The weakest parts of the Report are those touching on matters relating to freedom of expression, right to political participation and freedom of association. But some parts of the Report evidently do provide insight into China's shortcomings in realization of economic, social and cultural rights and the measures the Government of China is considering implementing to address these.

Paragraph 6 contains the standard defensive disclaimer for China's serious shortcomings in its human rights record: "Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights. It is therefore important that countries engage in dialogue and cooperation based on equality and mutual respect in their common endeavour to promote and protect human rights."

But Paragraph 7 sets out a more proactive statement of positive political political intent: "Governments at all levels are now conscientiously implementing the Scientific Outlook on Development, an approach that places people first and seeks to ensure comprehensive, coordinated and sustainable development, in an effort to build a harmonious society characterized by democracy, the role of law, equity and justice."

Paragraph 9 notes that "The Constitution of the People's Republic of China expressly stipulates that 'the State respects and safeguards human rights'. Chapter II of the Constitution sets out in detail the fundamental rights and duties of citizens, including civil and political rights, such as the right to vote and to stand for election, freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration, of religious belief, of correspondence and of the person; and economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to work, to rest, to education, to social security and to engage in academic and creative pursuits. The Constitution also has specific provisions on the protection of the rights of women, the elderly, minors, persons with disabilities and ethnic minorities."
But in China the primary political issue is the lack of political will to actually implement these provisions of China's national Constitution.

Paragraph 13 includes an utterly specious claim that "Every citizen who has reached the age of 18 has the right to vote and stand for election. Elections are competitive, with direct elections at the county and township levels. For several years the voter participation rate throughout the country has been above 90 per cent." No reference is made to the desirability for genuine electoral democracy in China or of any intention to move toward it.

Paragraph 15 also includes content that is patently at odds with reality in China today: "China adheres to the principle that all ethnic groups are equal and implements a system of regional ethnic autonomy in areas with high concentrations of ethnic minorities. Organs of self-government are established in these autonomous areas to ensure the exercise of autonomous rights, including the right to enact legislation and the right of ethnic groups to independently administer their affairs in such areas as the economy, education, science, culture and health." Key issues here are serious shortcomings in provision of native-language education and suppression transmission of history that is at odds with mainstream Han interpretations. Cultural and religious freedom is also a major issue in most non-Han areas of China.

With regard to labour rights, paragraph 24 notes: "A system of labour standards covering working hours, rest, leave, remuneration, prohibition of child labour, and vocational safety and health is taking shape." But then in paragraph 27 there is a patently deceptive claim that "Employees have the collective right to conclude labour contracts with employers covering remuneration, working hours, rest, leave, labour safety, health, and insurance benefits."

The claim in paragraph 43 of the death penalty being applied with "extreme caution" is belied by the statistics that show that China has more executions that all other nations combined. The proviso of some provisions for mercy "if immediate execution is not essential" in this paragraph is disturbing.

In paragraph 49 indicates: "The Criminal Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, the Judges Law, the Public Procurators Law and the People's Police Law explicitly prohibit the extortion of confessions by torture or the illegal collection of evidence. The Criminal Law establishes as a punishable criminal offence the extortion of a confession by torture, the collection of evidence by force and the ill-treatment of detainees. Anyone who perpetrates such acts will be held criminally responsible. Under the Law on State Compensation, any citizen who suffers from physical injuries caused by torture applied in order to extort a confession, acts of violence, or the unlawful use of weapons or police instruments shall be entitled to claim State compensation. Every people's court at the intermediate level and above has a compensation committee." Nevertheless the reports of pervasive use of torture to extract confessions show no sign of abating. Reports of people being compensated for being subject to torture or of police and security agency and prison personnel being sanctioned for engaging in acts of torture almost nil.

Paragraph 59 is also a highly specious claim: "The Constitution explicitly provides that citizens enjoy freedom of speech and of the press, and have the right to criticize a State organ or its officials and to make suggestions." This provision in the Constitution is clearly not enacted.

Paragraph 80 rightly notes: "China is a developing country. Although its total GDP ranks among the world's highest, the country still ranks well below 100 in terms of per capita GDP. Imbalances in development between urban and rural areas and among regions persist, as does the imbalance between economic and social development. Economic and social development are hampered by such constraints as resources, energy and the environment."

Paragraph 84 also makes a highly valid observation: "The problem posed by the fact that public health services are not adapted to people's needs remains acutely obvious. The imbalance in the development of health-care services between urban and rural areas and among regions persists. Irrational allocation of resources, weak public health services, inadequate rural and community-based medical services, poor regulation of the manufacture and distribution of pharmaceuticals, the rapidly rising costs of medical care and medicines have all elicited strong reactions from the people." Similar observations could be made with regard to provision of educational services, and social welfare provisions particularly pensions and other poverty alleviation measures.

The last two paragraphs summarize the political and legal areas where China falls short through a positive spin but without any specifying of measures to ameliorate the existing situation:
101. Deepening political restructuring; expanding citizens' orderly participation in political affairs, improving democratic institutions, diversifying the forms and expanding the channels of democracy; holding democratic elections, further developing the process of democratic decision-making, democratic administration and democratic oversight, guaranteeing the people's rights to be informed, to participate, to be heard and to oversee; gradually adopting the same ratio of deputies to represented population in elections to people's congresses in urban and rural areas.
102. Advancing the rule of law as a fundamental principle and deepening the reform of the judiciary; advancing democracy and openness in the judicial system; further regulating law enforcement and judicial practice and strengthening judicial oversight; improving the human rights training given to public servants, providing education in human rights and the legal system to all members of society and enhancing citizens' awareness of their rights and obligations.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Economic Explanation for Why Strikes By Teaching Assistants Go On Too Long

I feel a lot of sympathy for students at York University currently waiting out the strike by their TAs. The University term will likely be extended into the spring and summer period when the students had been expecting to take up paying jobs to help pay their tuition for 2009-10.

The TAs on the other hand will not likely be suffering much economic loss in the end. Usually TAs are paid by the term so their contracts are for 8 months out of 12. The other 4 months they live off what they were paid for the previous 8. So seeing as the winter term will be extended into the spring to make up two 12-week periods of classes followed by exams, the TAs only suffer a financial loss if the strike extends beyond 16 weeks.

The professors presumably will get 100% of their annual salary as they are simply shifting their non-teaching work to the strike period.

So it is mostly the students who suffer from a prolonged strike.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Comment on the January 19 Spring Festival Gala 2009 Show at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa

The show was really great and mostly of a fairly high culture nature suited to the NAC as a venue (dual erhu-violin concerto with Ottawa Symphony, etc.) I was happy with it as it really highlighted to Canadians what a rich culture and civilization China has.

The Chinese Embassy should be doing more of this sort of positive soft diplomacy in my opinion. On the rest of the troupe's stops of the tour in the States it is more of a "united front" thing designed to maintain identity with the PRC among people of Chinese origin who have resettled abroad. So in the States the show is mostly in Chinese including more popular contemporary numbers and stuff inaccessible to English speakers such as comic dialogues.

Anyway the Chinese Ambassador Lan Lijun appeared rightly very pleased with the version of the show put on in Canada.

Everybody (including me) hopes "Dashan" will take my place as co-MC next year.

Southam Hall appeared to have been sold out, but I doubt this show generates a profit.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Announcement of Chinese Spring Festival Show at National Arts Centre in Ottawa January 16 for which I will be Co-MC


East Meets West

Ancient and Modern China Combine to Celebrate the Chinese New Year

at the National Arts Centre, Ottawa

Friday, January 16 at 8:00 p.m.

A visual and musical masterpiece, The Spring Festival Gala 2009, the Spring Festival Gala 2009 will feature 50 leading artists and musicians from China, including the China Broadcasting Performing Arts Troupe, in collaboration with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
The glorious history of the Middle Kingdom, the beauty and the incredible diversity of the ethnicities and landscapes of China, will be captured through music, dance and visual spectacle producing a multi-disciplinary celebration of talent, rhythm and harmony.
Seven traditional Chinese instruments will be showcased individually and with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, "Master of String" of Hu from China, Ms. Jiang Kemei, will perform a double concerto with the music master of OSO to provide a truly unique 'East-meets-West' musical experience.
A group of young girls from the recently affected earthquake region of Sichuan will be telling the rich and colourful history of the region through traditional dance.
Northern China culture will also be illustrated by the distinctive throat singing talent of Black Steed, a quintet Mongolian male singing group that also demonstrates traditional Mongolian musical instruments.

Maestro of China National Peking Opera House will perform the episode from the well known Monkey King story, the Journey to the West. Two renowned visual artists demonstrate for the audience the true sense of Chinese culture by the on-stage painting and calligraphy in the background of traditional Chinese music instrument playing.

International award winning acrobats, dancers, singers and musicians make up the full cast of this truly unique cultural experience designed for the whole family. This feast of artistry reflects the highest quality of Chinese performing arts on the world stage today. It will surely be one of the major cultural attractions in the National Capital Region in 2009.

Tickets for the Spring Festival Gala 2009 are available from the NAC Box Office, Ticketmaster and local Chinese community outlets. Prices range from $20.00 to $80 for regular tickets.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

Charter 08 Arrests

After the issuing of the Charter 08 (see signed initially by several hundred prominent Chinese intellectuals Liu Xiaobo was arrested on October 8.  Since then the Charter has been signed by thousands more.  But to my knowledge only Mr. Liu is being held. 

My interpretation is that if the Chinese authorities arrested more people for attaching their names to this document, this would embolden many more of their colleagues who agree with the content of the Charter but are afraid to sign for fear of political persecution.  It would be like a "Sorcerer's Apprentice" scenario: the more arrested, the longer the list of signatories.

Political opposition to the status quo of one Party rule in China appears to be coalescing through this process.

China Meetings and the Chatham House Rule

These days well night every academic conference on China or NGO "consultations" with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs are held under the "Chatham House Rule"

This rule is explained on the Chatham website ( like this:

"The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:

'When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.'

The world-famous Chatham House Rule may be invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information."

But I wonder why participants in meetings about China find it necessary to conceal their identities when stating an opinion on or interpretation of contemporary Chinese politics?   What are we afraid of?  Isn't openness and transparency what we ask of our Chinese counterparts?  Why do we not ask it of ourselves?


Worry about Robert Fowler, Louis Guay and Huseyin Celil

According to media reports it appears that the fate of the Canadian diplomats, Robert Fowler and Louis Guay who vanished while travelling in Niger remains unknown to us.  We also don't know the status of Huseyin Celil presumably still in prison in Xinjiang.  Are they still alive?  Are they well?  Are they being subject to torture?  

On the one hand we lack information on what Fowler, Guay and Celil were really doing so far from Canada.  And on the other we don't know their subsequent fate when things went badly wrong.

I feel a sense of despair about not knowing, about the asking and getting no answers.  

I pray for their safe return to their anxious families here in Canada.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I am Speaking at National Library in Ottawa on January 15 at 7:30pm

The Reforms of Deng Xiaoping

by Professor Charles Burton

of Brock University

Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 7:30 p.m.

Library and Archives Canada, Room 156

395 Wellington Street, Ottawa

All are welcome.*

In the context of the 30th anniversary year of the opening and reform policies of the new China, Professor Burton will review Chinese politics and economics prior to reform and opening up. He will take us through the momentous events of 1976, “The Year of the Dragon” starting with the April 5, 1976 movement (the Tiananmen people’s homage to the recently deceased Zhou Enlai), the consolidation of power by Mao’s political heir Hua Guofeng, his rivalry with Deng Xiaoping, and the October purge of the "Gang of Four". He will look at the factors accounting for Deng Xiaoping's rise to power and show why Deng's strategy to stimulate the economy while ensuring political and social stability proved very successful. He will then take us through the politics and economics in China after Deng Xiaoping's 1992 "Southern Tour" and the impact of Communist party leaders Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang, Jiang Zemin on the reform policies, leading to the current President Hu Jintao's stamp of approval on Deng Xiaoping's legacy after 30 years of revolution 1949-1979 and 30 years of opening and reform from 1979-2009: What has been gained and what has been lost?

Dr. Burton has been Associate Professor of Political Science at Brock University since 1989. Since 1991 he has been borrowed twice from Brock by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to work in the Canadian Embassy in Beijing from 1991 to 93 and most recently from 1998 until 2000, as Counsellor for Political Affairs.

Dr. Burton received a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto in 1987 after studies at Cambridge University. He also spent three years at Fudan University in Shanghai in the late 1970s. His first job was with the Communications Security Establishment in the Department of National Defence in Ottawa. He is author and editor of books and articles about China and North Korea, his major fields of research and policy advice.


As is our custom, tea and refreshments will be served. There will be a charge of $5 for non-CCFS members. The CCFS-Ottawa Annual Membership is $20 for individuals, $25 for a family and $12 for students.

For further information about the Society or this event, call L. Merklinger at 819-777-8434 or go to Membership forms are available at this website.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Condoleezza Rice to visit China Jan 7-8

BEIJING (AFP) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit China on January 7 and 8, the foreign ministry said here Friday, in her last scheduled trip before the Bush administration leaves office.

Comment: Interesting. Brings to mind P.M. Chretien's reception of the Chinese President in Ottawa on Mr. Chretien's last day in office.