Toppling Chinese government no cure for human-rights woes

This past Saturday, the New Haven Green witnessed a scene that has become all too common: two rallies at loggerheads over the Beijing Olympics, both making overblown claims and neither willing to listen to the other’s perspective. The anti-Olympics rally fell victim to extreme viewpoints and name-calling, while the pro-Olympics rally missed the point altogether.

Those demonstrating in favor of the Beijing Olympics were offended by the fact that many activists have used this Olympic year to highlight the human-rights abuses facilitated by the Chinese government. Pro-Olympic demonstrators and commentators have criticized those who bring up China’s dubious record, saying that the Olympics are only a sporting event and that politics should be kept out of the Games. Some have called those who use the Olympic spotlight to criticize the Chinese government’s policies “anti-China.”

These arguments are bogus. First, the Olympic Games are a huge international event, and, as such, they are a lightning rod for debate. Second, there is a long history of politics in the Olympics and other sporting events (Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe et al). Third, “being non-political” is itself a political stance, a stance that gives tacit support to the status quo. Perhaps when pro-Beijing Olympics demonstrators say “non-political” they mean “non-controversial.” That’s certainly a political stance, but it still cannot be justified on its own merits.

Criticizing all anti-Olympics demonstrators as “anti-China” still misses the point. Most of those demonstrating for human rights in China have the best interests of the Chinese nation at heart. It misses the point to identify which demonstrators actually are anti-China, because important questions remain regardless. Questions still remain about Chinese guns and money aiding genocide in Darfur and unrest in Zimbabwe, and Chinese support for military dictatorships like that in Burma/Myanmar. Questions remain about harsh police and legal tactics in China, such as detention without a warrant, unfair trials, corruption, favoritism and overuse of the death penalty. And questions still remain about the treatment of religious minorities who cannot practice openly, about the detention of peaceful dissidents, about the failure to compensate those who are forced off their land to make way for industry and about the harassment of lawyers who try to defend these groups.

The most obvious criticism of the Beijing Olympics is that the Chinese government has broken its promises. When the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Games to Beijing, the Chinese government promised to improve human-rights conditions in several respects. Many of these promises have been broken. The “Re-education through Labor” policy, in which violators are sent to forced labor camps, is now applied not only to dissidents but also to citizens who operate taxis or shops without a license. Beatings and torture by the police continue, despite promises that such brutality would end.

Despite these valid criticisms, many of the anti-Olympics demonstrators on Saturday went much further. The operative word at the Falun Gong-organized rally was “regime,” not “government,” when referring to the power structure in China. The rhetoric went downhill from there. Not stopping at “cruel,” speakers went on to call the Chinese government “evil,” and the whopper “evil Communistic regime” came up from time to time. Another common theme was to compare the 2008 Olympics to the “Nazi Olympics” of 1936. Then one speaker, John Kusumi of the China Support Network, threw in the kitchen sink. He spoke of an “interim Chinese government,” a kind of shadow government operated by veterans of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, whose very existence is essentially a request for “regime change.”

At first, the Yale Amnesty International Club was a participant in the anti-Olympic rally. We were encouraged by early speakers who questioned the U.S. government’s human-rights record as well as that of China, but we were discouraged by more and more extreme views, culminating in Kusumi’s remarks. Simultaneously learning that our speaker’s slot had been cancelled due to time constraints and that the rally tacitly supported regime change, we revoked our support and left immediately. Amnesty International does not advocate regime change, and we will not support those who cut off dialogue by calling their ideological opponents “evil.” It is rarely productive, if ever, to take positions so dogmatic that they keep you from making compromises.

Asking hard questions of the Chinese government will yield progress. Despite the description of “evil” by many hard-line anti-Communists, the Chinese Communist Party has some reform-minded members who want to improve the rule of law. There are those in China’s government who will heed sober criticism of their country’s foreign policy, especially when it comes from an international perspective (and not, say, the U.S. Department of State). In other words, calling a government “evil” is hardly a way to get opponents to listen, and it is perfectly reasonable for pro-Olympics demonstrators to suspect that the more extremist activists want to bring down the Chinese government. Activists who take a measured approach, whose protests are loud but whose words are respectful, have the greatest chance of making a difference. While there are valid criticisms of every country’s human-rights record, the hawks who suggest regime change give activists a bad name.

Edwin Everhart is a junior in Saybrook College. He is writing on behalf of the Amnesty International Club at Yale.

Comments

  • carry anne

    Hi there,

    This Amnesty article is quite good at the start but toward the end it was pretty obvious that the "dogma" they were against was turning into their own dogmatic approach.

    The reason I say that is because at the start there was balance, but then the stance on "regime change" was all too one sided. Sitting on the fence is not a universal value. Compromise is not a universal value. I mean, in a specific dialogue with well informed participants, those can be useful approaches, but to stick to those so called ideal absolutely is indeed dogmatic, closed minded and unproductive if the situation is not one that rationally and logically calls for those tactics. If you take for example the case of the scandinavian bloke who raped his daughter and kept her in his private dungeon for 20 years, how long does Amnesty think it is cool to bargain and sweet talk the man, meanwhile he is indulging in everyday of freedom to commit uninhibited forced incest. Would Amnesty say that he ought to go to jail? Or would Amnesty say that we should continue to appease his nature by negotiating and sitting on the fence.

    I won't go so far as to say that Amnesty is part of the problem, but I do think that if you want to stand up for something, stand up for it, you can't be so wishy washy AND believe in justice. Justice is justice and I just think that if you think the CCP regime deserves to commit atrocities on people in it's own private dungeons while you sit on the fence and say evil is a bad word, are you really making a difference.

    I'm just throwing out the question to you. I do in fact think AMnesty is a force of good. But you should maybe consider taking a sure footed stance. Maybe some extra research on the regime will let you know who you are dealing with cause they are guilty and call me dogmatic, but that is the truth.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Carry Anne,
    So… any position short of inciting riots is "wishy-washy"?
    Your example with the cruel old man (I believe he's Austrian) is misleading. The Chinese government is not one person who is constantly suppressing and violating everyone else in the country. A large proportion of Chinese people support their government, even in its more controversial policies. So by calling a government "evil," you immediately make all those people your enemies.
    Human rights are such basic issues that the approach should be to convince, rather than to defeat, your opponents. And as I mentioned in the article, there are some reform-minded people in the CCP, and international pressure has been somewhat effective in the past. So while it's possible to have a situation where your opponent cannot be convinced (and therefore must be defeated somehow), China is not one of these cases.
    Edwin Everhart

  • Ted Lin (Chinese)

    Dear Edwin,

    What you saw or heard made you believe that "A larg proportion of Chinese people support their government, even in its more controversial policies." Allow me to put this way, most of Chinese people have been deceived by CCP. Only one voice is allowed in China, hope you understand why you said "larg proportion of Chinese people support their government". If they didn't listen and support the exxx CCP regime, they know exactly what would happen to them -- no jobs, no rights to live, etc.

    To be more specific about a Chinese's feeling on CCP, please read on,

    The following is the first a couple of paragraphs of the seventh of Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (ninecommentaries.com).

    --------------
    Foreword

    The 55-year history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is written with blood and lies. The stories behind this bloody history are both extremely tragic and rarely known. Under the rule of the CCP, 60 to 80 million innocent Chinese people have been killed, leaving their broken families behind. Many people wonder why the CCP kills. While the CCP continues its brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and recently suppressed protesting crowds in Hanyuan with gunshots, people wonder whether they will ever see the day when the CCP will learn to speak with words rather than guns.

    Mao Zedong summarized the purpose of the Cultural Revolution, "…after the chaos the world reaches peace, but in 7 or 8 years, the chaos needs to happen again." [1] In other words, there should be a political revolution every 7 or 8 years and a crowd of people needs to be killed every 7 or 8 years.
    ----------

    I believe that many Chinese people have quit CCP because they finally find out the true nature of CCP from Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (ninecommentaries.com). Hope you can find out why. Thanks for your article.

    Ted Lin

  • Zhenyu

    Dear Edwin,
    Thanks for expressing your viewpoints in the article. I would like to clarify some facts and share some viewpoints of mine with you which I missed before as one of the organizers of the HRTR rally. I apologize about my mistake.

    1. The Rally you refer as “anti-Olympics” on New Haven Green last Saturday was not anti-Olympics but Human Rights Torch Relay. It was for welcoming the arrival of the symbolic Human Rights torch to New Haven. In the media reports regarding this event, including Yale Daily News, none of them call it anti-Olympics. A few examples are: http://www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2008/04/china_protest.php http://en.epochtimes.com/news/8-4-30/69990.html http://www.nhregister.com/WebApp/appmanager/JRC/BigDaily?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_article&r21.content=%2FMAIN_REP%2FArticle%2F2008%2F04%2F27%2F1960862
    2. The theme of the Relay is The Olympics and Crimes Against Humanity can’t Coexist in China. It was shown on the big backdrop banner on the center of the stage. The theme means the bad human rights record in China does not comply with the spirit of Olympics. The CCP has to keep its promise and improve human rights while hosting the Olympics. The pure Olympics flag can not be stained by innocent people’s blood.
    3. The CCP does not equal Chinese government or China. Chinese people did not vote for their government. It was the CCP who used violence to seize the power and controlled the government and the country. People do not call the government “evil” but the CCP. “Anti-Government” and “Anti-China” are just the excuses the CCP used to defend the criticism to the CCP.
    4. The reasons why CCP is “evil” is because its killing history, “Since 1949, the CCP has persecuted more than half the people in China. An estimated 60 million to 80 million people died from unnatural causes. This number exceeds the total number of deaths in both World Wars combined.” (http://en.epochtimes.com/news/4-12-23/25124.html). The CCP continues its killing in Tibet and export the arms to aid the Genocide in Darfur, especially the Organs Harvesting from living Falun Gong practitioners. As David Matas, an international human rights lawyer, and David Kilgour, the former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, called this crime “This is a form of evil we have yet seen in this planet” see YouTube - Organ Harvesting in China (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ia04u0u8J8s) http://organharvestinvestigation.net/ .
    5. “The CCP has some reform-minded members”. That is true, very few. But they can not do much. All they can do are within the restrictions set by the CCP. Once they across the restrictions, they will be removed by the party no matter how high their rank are. A recent example is the former General Secretary of the Party and Premier Zhao Ziyang. Zhao Ziyang was purged for his sympathetic stance toward the student demonstrators in the Tiananmen Square in 1989 and spent the last fifteen years of his life under house arrest” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhao_Ziyang). Famous Human Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng violated the Party’s restriction for taking “the Party prohibited” case, Falun Gong case, and defend for Falun Gong. Then his law firm was closed. He was arrested. He finally recognized the evil nature of the CCP, he then denounced the Party. The CCP can not tolerate those good people who really want to do good deed for the interest of Chinese people instead of the interest of Party. Isn’t the CCP evil? The CCP is the one who anti-China and Anti-Chinese.
    6. The Rally does not support any political issues but human rights only. One speaker’s out of topic words do not representing the nature of the Rally but the speaker’s view. The organizers are not responsible for the speaker’s view for we do not have the rights to check their scripts in advance.
    7. The “regime” is what the CCP use for itself: “The Chinese experience accumulated through the past decades requires that we exercise this power of democratic dictatorship. We call it the ‘people’s democratic autocracy.”
    8. “Cut off dialogue”: we called many times for dialogue with the CCP. There is response. Hundreds and thousands of people went to Tiananmen to appeal in person. They were arrested, tortured, jailed and even killed. It is not the victims of the persecution who cut off the dialogue but the CCP. We do not have any problem with Chinese people. It is the CCP who stirred up people’s hatred toward us. We welcome any forms to communication with Chinese people and the CCP. Any effort on the dialogue will be sincerely appreciated.

    Thanks.

  • Searching for answers

    To comment #3
    Nine Commentaries on Communist Party offers a good explanation of why “A large proportion of Chinese people support their government, even in its more controversial policies."

    “The CCP created the 95:5 formula of class assignment: 95 percent of the population would be assigned to various classes that could be won over, while the remaining 5 percent would be designated as class enemies. People within the 95 percent were safe, but those within the 5 percent were “struggled” against. Out of fear and to protect themselves, the people strived to be included in the 95 percent. This resulted in many cases in which people brought harm to others, even adding insult to injury. The CCP has, through the use of incitement in many of its political movements, perfected this technique.” http://en.epochtimes.com/news/4-12-13/24830.html

    The recent example is the case of Wang Qianyuan. Please see
    Wang Qianyuan Becomes Public Enemy after Tibetan Freedom Rally http://www.asianoffbeat.com/default.asp?display=1709

  • Pete

    Hi,

    It sounds like another China bashing article to me. I do have problems with what you said about the 'evils' of the CCP party and why we should spread democracy to that country.

    First, let me tell you a country with 'human rights' issues. People get their hands and/or legs choped off for robbery. You get lashings for 'sexual deviance' and drunkenness. Heck people get beheaded for crimes like drug trafficking, armed robbers and rapists. There's little women's rights, gay rights, religious freedoms and etc… If you think it is China, think again, it is Saudi Arabia. And heck you can't even vote for your leader because it is an Absolute Monarchy. Yet what you see in the TV, newspapers and the internet don't want to say anything about it because US are bosom buddies with that country, US doesn't care what they do as long as the US supplies oil in exchange for arms.

    Second, do you think spreading democracy is the best solution for that country? Do you think democracy will improve quality of life to its citizens like giving the Chinese more earning power, giving the Chinese better healthcare, schools and food on the table? More than likely, no. Even though China is technically a communist government, its economy is certainly Capitalist. Its Authoritarian government is certainly trying to provide the social needs for its citizens. Would they sacrifice that so that they can elect their leaders? Come on.

    You guys from the Amnesty International should focus human rights in other countries other than China, even it it is favorable to the US.

  • Anonymous

    To comment#6

    China’s economy is still under control of the Communist Party though it looks like capitalist. The Party maintains the privilege to intervene the economy whenever it wants. Nothing can be really free in a dictatorship country. In such dictatorship system, all the ruling Party does is to maintain and strengthen its ruling power. Whenever you see it try “to provide the social needs for its citizens”, that means if it would not do so, it’s power would be affected. The citizens, such as retired people, workers, farmers and teachers, would be against the Party. It is not out of its willingness. In a word, whatever the Party does, is for its power, no matter it looks good or bad on the surface.
    The reason why the world focuses on China’s human rights is because China has a very poor human rights record. The best way for China to shy away from the criticism is to improve human rights as the Party promised when applying for hosting Olympics. Once the problem fixed, the criticism disappears. The beneficiaries would be Chinese people.