A flurry of events over the past few weeks have perplexed and excited China watchers and Sinologists in the West and have put a brighter spotlight on the human-rights violations of Beijing’s communist regime.
Responding to a WorldNetDaily report on China’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the U.S. Congress has thrown its hat into the ring on this critical issue.
According to the Straits Times of March 23, U.S. legislators have urged the International Olympic Committee to deny China, with its “abominable” human-rights record, the chance to host the 2008 Olympics and warned that if it were awarded the Games, its leaders would copy Adolf Hitler and use the event to cement their rule. A bipartisan group of 41 members of the House of Representatives is introducing a resolution calling on the IOC to reject China’s bid when it chooses the Games’ venue in July.
Said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., “China’s repressive regime does not deserve the Games. … it is the leadership in Beijing that will benefit the most should the Olympics be held in Beijing. They will benefit in terms of legitimacy and prestige, both at home and abroad.”
The non-binding resolution argues that China’s record of suppressing political dissent is incompatible with the Olympic ideal, which frowns on discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, politics or sex. According to the Straits Times report, China opposed the resolution strongly.
The resolution also says China should not be given the Games until it frees all political prisoners and observes internationally recognized human-rights standards. It also calls for the establishment of a Beijing Olympic Games Human Rights Campaign to deprive China of the Games and appeals for the endorsement of Secretary of State Colin Powell.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the United States did not “take a view” on which city the IOC should choose to host the Games, the Straits Times reported. But he did say that the U.S. government shared congressional concerns about China’s record in the area. Committee aides noted that the House of Representatives had overwhelmingly approved a resolution opposing Beijing’s bid for the 2000 Olympics, which were handed eventually to Sydney. A similar resolution is also expected to be introduced in the Senate.
According to the newspaper account, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said that “a few U.S. congressmen, based on prejudice against China, are opposed to holding the 2008 Olympics in China. This is a slight and a challenge to Olympic principles and will definitely be opposed by all peoples of the world who uphold justice.”
Lantos added, “China’s abominable human-rights record violates the spirit of the Games.” He said its leaders would use the Games to ram home their control, following the example of Hitler’s Nazis. Beside him was an enlarged page of The New York Times of August 1936 with the headline, “Olympics leave a glow of pride in the Reich.”
Waging war on Internet journalism
Beijing has criticized domestic and foreign media for their coverage of the March 6 school explosion that killed at least 41 people, most of them children. The attack came as the Ministry of Education issued a nationwide circular vowing to hold school heads responsible for the safety of their schools.
This event set in motion a chain of actions and reactions by the communist regime in Beijing to further control the Internet as a means to disseminate information — including chat rooms.
After the explosion at a primary school in Jiangxi province, many of those writing in chat rooms disregarded the official line that a madman had blown up the school. Instead, they discussed the other theory that the explosion had been caused by schoolchildren being forced to insert fuses into firecrackers for local firms.
Statistics show there were 6.5 million computers and 16.9 million Internet users in China by June 30, 2000.
The China News Weekly quoted mainland Internet safety expert Xu Ronsheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying China needed to step up its legislation to combat Internet crimes.
“We have the Internet police, but we should also have the law,” he said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said some media — an obvious reference to the domestic media — had “irresponsibly” filed reports on the explosion before the government announced results of the investigation.
China was the leading jailer of journalists last year, when worldwide 24 reporters were killed and 81 others imprisoned — including some for using the Internet, according to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Beijing held 22 journalists at the end of last year, several of them for using the Internet to disseminate information.
“We noticed certain irresponsible news reports even before the cause was established, and some overseas media even attacked China by carrying those untrue stories with elaboration distorting the facts. This is against the professional ethics of journalism, and thus absurd and erroneous,” Zhu said.
Beijing has blamed the blast on a deranged suicide bomber. But students, bereaved parents and other villagers said the school doubled as a fireworks factory and pupils had been forced for years to assemble firecrackers to supplement finances.
China’s Ministry of Education has issued a circular calling for the immediate inspection of all schools and measures to address any safety problems or hazards that may arise, the China News Service reported.
“Any neglect of management or mismanagement of responsibility in any safety accident will result in the severe prosecution of the responsible leaders,” it said.
The circular did not directly mention the blast. Any safety issues that could not be resolved must be immediately reported to the appropriate government department, it said.
As reported by WorldNetDaily China is stepping up its war on the Internet. According to the Hong Kong Mail, the Communist Party police apparatus is working on developing a system similar to “black box” flight-data recorders capable of monitoring Internet traffic as it seeks to tighten its surveillance of cyberworld activities.
The plan to record all Internet activities is part of Beijing’s preparation for legislation targeting cyber crimes.
“The research and manufacturing of a black box system is already under way,” said a government spokesman.
Citing Internet experts, the report said the authorities were looking to build a box that would be able to record all Internet activities for use as evidence by prosecutors. The report said the collection of such evidence had been a major technical problem faced by judicial officials because Internet information could be easily erased or adjusted. The report said criminals had erased Internet data to destroy evidence against them, while victims of crimes had inflated their losses by adjusting computer data.
An industry spokesman from the Webmaster (Hong Kong) Association, Ringo Lam Wing-kwan, expressed concern about the move’s impact on privacy and the free movement of information.
“Technically, the Internet police can put a black box on the Internet like the authorities put a camera on the exit of a cross-harbor tunnel,” Lam said.
The mainland established an Internet police force in 1998 and now has almost 1,000 officers operating in about 20 provinces. One division tackles e-mail crimes, while others fight child pornography, cyber terrorist activities and economic fraud. The report also said a cyber criminal in the central city of Wuhan had tried to blackmail an unidentified Hong Kong firm for 300 million yuan in November 1999.
Internet police, however, successfully identified the culprit, a man in his 20s, who sent the blackmail e-mail through cyber cafes. In March 1998, Shanghai entrepreneur Lin Hai was jailed for furnishing 30,000 mainlanders’ e-mail addresses to an overseas electronic dissident newsletter. He was released in September 1999. Members of the banned Falun Gong group have also been arrested for using the Internet to spread information about their activities and government efforts to crush the movement.
China’s attempt to control the press has found an unprecedented challenge in the Internet. Despite closing down websites and imprisoning website operators for having controversial information on their sites, as in the school explosion incident, Internet chat rooms are being increasingly used as a voice of the people.
The People’s Court?
Last month, China’s top judge came under fire from legislators over standards in the legal system and human rights. Xiao Yang, president of the Supreme People’s Court, was given a rough ride by delegates from the southern province of Guangdong during a meeting on the sidelines of the annual session of parliament, the National People’s Congress.
“Every year the poor quality of officials is listed as an ongoing problem in the work reports of both the judicial and the procuratorate,” delegate Li Yongzhong told the Xinhua News Agency.
“Every year it is brought up and we see that nothing changes. This must mean that it is a problem with the system,” he said. Li said that only about 20 percent of China’s judicial officials had a college education and he called for all judicial officials to have professional training as lawyers “like it is done in the West.”
Another delegate, Chen Lili, complained that a lack of respect for human rights in China’s legal system was a growing problem and that the government’s 19-month crackdown on the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group was full of “sharp contradictions.”
“Deng Xiaoping said we must seize our work with both hands. We have done a pretty good job with the economy, but with politics and in many other social areas, we have not done a good job at all,” Chen said, as quoted in Chinese news reports.
Meanwhile, the vice chairman of Guangdong’s People’s Congress called for clearer regulations on the establishment of judicial independence. In his report to the NPC, Xiao Yang admitted that protectionism by lower courts had led to a rise in violence against the police and a chronic lack of enforcement of verdicts.
He also said major reforms were needed to the recruitment system that allowed unqualified people to become judges and prevented bad apples from being fired. NPC delegates have never voted against government policy, but in recent years, they have showed their displeasure with the judicial system by giving it relatively low approval ratings. Delegates gave a 74.4 percent approval rating to the Supreme People’s Court last year and a 71.2 percent to the procuratorate.
The Economist takes on China
Even The Economist has taken a hard line on China and human rights. In the March 24 issue, the Economist ran a story entitled, “Who will condemn China?”
The story said:
“Those who prefer quiet diplomacy to the megaphone kind often argue that shouting at the Chinese government about the way it treats its people is counter-productive. Far better, they argue, to work with the Chinese, not against them, sending teams to teach them about the rule of law and inspectors to look at their prisons. In the meantime, of course, the non-confrontational attitude allows trade to flourish. The trouble with this approach is that it does not seem to be working. Most independent observers, as well as America’s State Department, believe that in recent years the Chinese government’s treatment of its people has been getting worse, not better, probably because the Communist Party feels itself under threat.
“First the embryonic China Democracy Party was smashed. More recently, hundreds, even thousands, of people have been locked up for simply wanting to practice a form of meditative exercise called Falun Gong. As many as 100 Falun Gong members, say the Americans, have been tortured to death. Tibetans and Uighurs are more actively repressed than ever. Psychiatric wards are filled with dissidents.
“So the Americans have this year, as last, tabled a motion of censure at the annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. And once again, Europe has chosen the spineless option. The European Union’s foreign ministers decided this week that they would not co-sponsor America’s resolution, though they would vote in favor of it. That might not sound too bad, but for one thing: There will probably not be a vote.
“If past form is anything to go by, the Chinese will head off the embarrassment by putting down a ‘no-action motion’ and then twisting the arms of a majority of the commission’s 53 members to make sure that it goes through. China has been busily buying votes by making it clear to poor countries that their chances of Chinese aid are intimately linked to the way they raise their hands in Geneva. But if the no-action motion succeeds, there will not even be a debate, far less a vote, on America’s highly critical resolution. The proper course for the EU would have been to co-sponsor the original resolution, as it used to do until a few years ago, when more commercial considerations intervened after back-to-back trips to Beijing by Helmut Kohl and Jacques Chirac. Instead, the EU has taken the hypocrite’s way out.
“But why all this fuss about a vote that never had much chance of success in the first place? Because symbols matter, because China evidently cares about the Geneva vote (especially as it may influence the decision on who gets the 2008 Olympics) and because the U.N. remains the last place where China’s human-rights record can be seriously scrutinized. The lure of trade long ago detached human rights from matters economic. Once China joins the World Trade Organization, even the annual American ritual of deciding whether China’s record is such as to allow it trade privileges will come to an end. As for Europe, its ‘dialogue’ with the Chinese on human rights is carried on far out of sight by relatively lowly officials, not ministers.
“Although China’s human rights record is a yearly theme at the commission, Beijing has repeatedly used a procedural measure to avoid condemnation. The U.N. Human Rights Commission meets in Geneva until April 27 to prepare recommendations on human rights and look into claims of violations. European Union foreign ministers agreed yesterday to support a U.N. draft resolution expected to condemn China’s poor record on human rights, but backed away from co-sponsoring it.”
As the world waits on a resolution to the current surveillance-plane incident, the human-rights record and continued crackdown on personal freedoms in the world’s largest nation will no doubt receive more attention from those within and without communist China.