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Engaging China During the Economic Crisis

Paper prepared by Hon. David Kilgour, J.D.
for forum on Forced Labour Exports from China
Theatre, Chamber of Deputies, Congress of the Union
Mexico City
March 30, 2009

Permit me to stress immediately that I have the highest admiration for the people of China and their millennia of hard work, long success with agriculture, numerous inventions, strong families (with veneration for elders), art, learning, literature, many other cultural achievements, and Confucian harmony over a long period earlier in governance.

Regrettably, as we face the worst worldwide economic crisis in eight decades, the actions of the Chinese government continue to cause grave concern among all who care for human dignity and the rule of law. What is equally troubling is that governments of some countries, affected by their own economic challenges, seem willing to bend on matters of principle in exchange for Beijing's "favours".

China has become a major trading partner of many countries in the world and the Chinese economy has seen enormous growth over the past three decades. There are very few countries which do not have a large trade deficit with China and partly for this reason there are today more than 345,000 dollar millionaires in the Middle Kingdon. In haste to court Beijing's financial assistance, much of the world has chosen to ignore the cost of China's surge in economic power for the people of China and others.

South Africa

Take, for example, the government of South Africa's recent decision to deny a visa to NobelPeace Prize laureat, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, to a peace conference, a move widely condemned by religious, political and business and opinion leaders in the country. The government in Pretoria has since cancelled the peace conference and banned the Dalai Lama from travelling to South Africa for 16 months, citing as an excuse next year's World Cup.

Unsurprisingly, the move has sparked an uproar among South Africans, who still see their country as a beacon of human rights because of its anti-apartheid struggle. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, himself also a Nobel Peace Prize holder, called it a "disgraceful" decision and a "total betrayal of our struggle history." Mandla Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and an organizer of the peace conference, said the move to bar the Dalai Lama was a "sad day" for a country that sees itself as a leader in Africa. In a poll on a South African website, 86 per cent reportedly said the government had "cracked under Chinese pressure."

I understand that more than 65,000 badly-needed textile job moved from South Africa to China over the past five or so years.No doubt some of these jobs went to Chinas forced labour camps, which David Matas and I learned from former Falun Gong workers in them also make garments for export.

The Dalai Lama

The Chinese party-state has unfairly accused the Dalai Lama of fomenting violence in Tibet. In fact, as the spiritual leader of Tibetans, a much-loved honourary citizen of Canada, and the most respected world leader according to a 2008 opinion survey in six European countries, Dalai Lama is certainly is Beijing's best chance for a peaceful resolution of the Tibet Issue.

The Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan autonomy under Chinese rule, but strongly disavows violence and does not favor secession. In an interview last year, His Holiness expressed fears that there is a possibility of greater violence after he passes away.


Allow me to add a few words about Tibet, given all the self-serving nonsense unleashed from Beijing earlier this month on the 50th commemoration of His Holiness's forced flight from Tibet after the 1959 Lhasa Uprising.

Tibet has become a militarized zone. Sandbag outposts have been set up in the middle of towns, army convoys rumble along highways, and paramilitary officers search civilian cars. A curfew has been imposed on Lhasa. Multiply that by the harsh facts over the past five decades: tens of thousands killed; hundreds of thousands imprisoned. Over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and temples, pillaged and destroyed. Thousands more Tibetans disappeared last year or were imprisoned.

Beijing justifies the closure of Tibet with the need for stability and harmony of the society. It should be reminded of the profound irony that peaceful demonstrations do not disturb stability. The presence of thousands of armed military and police often do.

In another disturbing development, Canadian and British researchers recently discovered a vast electronic spying operation, controlled from computers almost exclusively in China. By far the largest uncovered so far, the system has infiltrated 1295 computers in 103 counties and stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama.

Sacrifices by Chinese People

The Chinese people want the same things as all of us. Living standards have improved on the East coast and other urban areas. There are, however, substantial costs to a large percentage of China's people. Many of them continue to be exploited by the party-state and domestic industrial firms, often owned by or contracted for manufacturing to multinationals, which operate today across China often like 19th century American robber barons. This explains partly why the prices of consumer products 'made in China' seem so low-the externalities are borne by workers, their families and the natural environment.

In addition to the destruction of China's cultural heritage and staggering environmental damage, probably the greatest cost paid is the sometimes unimaginable abuse to human rights. The government has imposed decades of relentless persecution of Chinese citizens for their religious beliefs or dissent. We well-wishers of China have long hoped that the country's economic growth would be accompanied by increased respect for human dignity and the rule of law. The reality has been in the opposite direction: gross and systematic human rights violations in China continue undiminished. The party-state continues to regard itself as the only group with a claim to power; it employs every implement of government machinery to create an atmosphere of fear and to oppress one fifth of the world's population.

Falun Gong

To mention only one spiritual community, Falun Gong, David Matas, an international human rights lawyer in Canada, and I concluded after our independent investigation that since 2001 the party-state in China and its agencies have killed thousands of Falun Gong practitioners. This was done without trials and in many cases their vital organs were sold for large sums of money, often to 'organ tourists' from wealthy countries (Our report is available in nineteen languages, including Spanish, at We amassed 52 kinds of evidence and became convinced beyond any doubt that this crime against humanity has occurred and is still happening.

Many have asked why the government is so violently opposed to Falun Gong, which it fully sanctioned before 1999.

The answer, as a Chinese friend recently explained, is that Falun Gong, with its principles of "truth, compassion and forbearance," has attracted believers from all walks of life, including well-educated professionals, veteran party members and senior government officials. As a community with no visible organizational structure, on April 21, 1999 thousands of Falun Gong practitioners participated in a sit-in in front of the Party-state government house and left after a day-long of demonstration without leaving a piece of garbage.

Such discipline does not surprise any of us who have come in contact with Falun Gong practitioners, who are with almost no exceptions peaceful, loving and caring individuals with amazingly enduring dignity. The totalitarians in Beijing are terrified by such discipline. They are terrified by the support Falun Gong practitioners have been able to garner across China and around the world for their courageous fight. They fear that more and more of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will follow the lead of Falun Gong community and openly defy the continuing brutal oppression by the Communist party.

Gao Zhisheng

The party-state uses overwhelming force to suppress voices that advocate dignity for all and the rule of law in China. One such voice is Gao Zhisheng, 45, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated lawyer in the tradition of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. In 2001, he was named one of China's top ten lawyers by China's Ministry of Justice. Party agents released Beijing's full wrath, however, when he, a Christian, decided to defend Falun Gong practitioners.

It began with removing his permit to practise law, an attempt on his life, having police attack his wife and 14-year-old daughter and four-year-old son and denying the family any income. It intensified when Gao responded in the nonviolent tradition of Gandhi by launching nationwide hunger strikes calling for equal dignity for all Chinese nationals. In his most recent article, Gao wrote about more than 50 days of excruciating torture in prison. A few weeks ago, Gao's wife, Geng He, daughter Geng Ge, 16, and son Gao Tianyu, 6, escaped China and reached the United States, seeking asylum. While they will now be safe and cared for, Gao, the husband and father has since disappeared again, presumably rearrested for speaking out again. For his full account, please see "Dark Night, Dark Hood and Kidnapping by Dark Mafia." More information can also be found at in the Human Rights section.

Human rights organizations have long documented systematic and gross persecution by the Chinese government of its own citizens. For example, for many years running, Amnesty international has reported that China leads the world in executions, with at least more than 7000 sentenced to death in 2008, mostly without having received fair trials. Beijing has continuously ignored worldwide criticism of its human rights record. Most recently, during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights, the Chinese authorities rejected almost all the recommendations aimed at promoting democracy and human rights made by all the EU member states and by Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Switzerland as well as Canada.

Gao's memoir A China More Just, published in the fall of 2007 in English captures this record in compelling words:

"Yet no words, however strong, can possibly describe the darkness and terrible barbarity of today's dictators in China, nor the tragic annihilation of Chinese culture that they have perpetrated. Though I have strived to convey these qualities through my writing, having attempted to unveil merely one corner of China's darkness, I cannot help but feel the futility and frailty of language."

In my judgment, it is the toxic combination of totalitarianism and 'get rich at any cost' economics that has allowed the regime to hang on to power. This is to the serious detriment of a country, which has made many great contributions to world civilization, and to one human family now aspiring to equality, peace and prosperity for all.

China and the World Economic Crisis

Niall Ferguson, the Harvard financial historian, who predicted the present crisis has an excellent analysis of the present world financial crisis in his recently-published book, The Ascent of Money.

The 'Chimerica' section of Ferguson's book begins by pointing out that capital now flows from East to West, largely because the United States in 2007 alone needed to borrow more than $4 billion every working day to finance its $800 billion yearly current account deficit. The funds came in substantial measure from China's $262 billion yearly current account surplus. The phenomenon was occurring in a period when the average American earned more than $34,000 yearly and the average Chinese less than $2,000. By 2005, most Americans were saving virtually none of their incomes; the Chinese were saving about 45 % of their gross national income.

Ferguson: '' In 2006 Chinese holdings of dollars almost certainly passed the trillion dollar mark...From America's point of view, meanwhile, the best way of keeping the good times rolling in recent years has been to import cheap Chinese goods. Moreover, by outsourcing manufacturing to China, US corporations have been able to reap the benefits of cheap labour too. And crucially, by selling billions of dollars of bonds to the People's Bank of China, the United States has been able to enjoy significantly lower interest rates than would otherwise have been the case."

The people of China must not be blamed for the current economic crisis in the world. Wei Jingsheng, best-known Chinese human rights and democracy fighter who spent more than 18 years in jail ,explained eloquently: "The Chinese Communist government controls China's trade. Chinese workers do not have rights to protect their own interests. The government controls the Chinese media. It is exactly these human rights problems that result in the unfair and unequal trade, producing the abnormal trade deficit, tipping the economy of the developed countries, and finally ending with the current economic crisis. The imbalanced economic development in China has also resulted in the global energy crisis and environment pollution, and indirectly threatens the global security."

Indeed, the extremely low price of Chinese goods through distorted, and sometimes inhuman means, including slave labour, combined with its habitual disrespect of intellectual and other property, has contributed gravely to the economic hardship of many countries, including Mexico, where the rule of law obligates companies to respect labour and environmental standards. I am told that Mexico has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing and agricultural jobs to China. This includes thousands in the Texcoco region, where small businesses can no longer make Christmas decorations because the market is being flooded by competing products from China, which are made by Falun Gong and other prisoners in slave labour conditions.

Engaging China

The government of China must stop the persecution and other abuses of its own people. Beijing should not be allowed to take its increased role in dealing with the current worldwide financial challenges as a license to continued aggression on the Chinese people or to continue its unfair trade practices.

Here are three recommendations on how to effectively engage China during current economic crisis:

1. Refuse to live in fear

Paulo Freire said: "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. "

History has taught us time and again that acquiescence with perpetrators of violence only helps to embolden them. The failure of much of the world to hold China's party- state accountable during the last Olympics has only emboldened Beijing to continue to tighten its grip over the Chinese people, millions of whom are feeling disenfranchised as a result of jarring disparity in wealth distribution, rampant corruption and the added insult of chronic human rights abuses.

We should also heed the advice of former UN Secretary Kofi Annan who said: "We will not enjoy security without development, we will not enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights."

We might also remember the words of French writer Eve Curie who told us almost 70 years ago that "peace at any price is no peace at all... life at any price has no value whatever; that life is nothing without the privileges, the prides, the rights, the joys which make it worth living, and also worth giving. ... that there is something more hideous, more atrocious than war or than death; and that is to live in fear."

More and more Chinese people are refusing to live in fear. A civic movement known as "weiquan," taking its name from a Chinese characters that can mean "rights" as well as "power", is growing among victims of the system - the evicted; the cheated; the bereaved parents of babies who drank poisoned milk, and of schoolchildren killed in the collapsing classrooms during the Sichuan earthquake last spring.

A year ago, a group of prominent Chinese intellectuals circulated a petition urging the government to stop what it called a "one-sided" propaganda campaign and initiate direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama. It was signed by more than two dozen writers, journalists and scholars and contained twelve recommendations which, taken together, represented a sharp break from the Chinese government's response to the wave of demonstrations then sweeping Tibet.

In a document published on December 10, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, prominent Chinese citizens called for 19 changes to improve human rights in China, including an independent legal system, freedom of association and the elimination of one-party rule.

"All kinds of social conflicts have constantly accumulated and feelings of discontent have risen consistently," read the charter. "The current system has become backward to the point that change cannot be avoided ... China remains the only large world power to still retain an authoritarian system that so infringes on human rights,...This situation must change! Political democratic reforms cannot be delayed any longer! ...The era of emperors and warlords is on the way out. The time is arriving everywhere for citizens to be masters of states."

Since its release, originally signed by 303 people, in spite of a risk of arrest and jail, more than 8,100 people inside and outside of China have signed the charter.

In yet another sign that the Chinese people are refusing to live in fear, since December 2004, millions of Chinese people have renounced the Communist party and its affiliate machinery of terror in response to an appeal by Epoch Times, a newspaper run by Falun Gong practitioners.

Strong economic performance has been arguably the single most important claim of legitimacy for the Party-state in China, the current economic crisis will likely cause the Chinese people to question further such legitimacy, particularly industrial and workers who have long felt left out by economic policies that favor the rich.

2. Enforce Current and New Trade Laws

In the context of this forum, I should probably say immediately that rules-based trade has helped millions around the world to live better lives. A return to protectionism would only worsen the present economic problems for most of us. What many of us oppose, for example, is when a tire production factory near Montreal closed down a couple of years ago--throwing 850 persons out of work--to move to China, where WTO and other rules appear to be observed mostly in the breach, and where hard-working Chinese workers often have no work safety legislation, pensions, health care, unemployment insurance, are paid low wages and often work in poor conditions.

Peter Navarro has a Ph.D in economics from Harvard and is a business professor at the University of California. He argues that consumer markets across the world have been "conquered" by China largely through cheating on trade practices. These include export subsidies, widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products, currency manipulation, and environmental, health and safety standards so lax and weakly enforced that they have made China a very dangerous place to work.

Navarro has comprehensive proposals for all countries trading with China, which are intended to ensure that commerce becomes fair. Specifically, he says new trade legislation should achieve the following:

  • All trading partners must refrain from illegal export subsidies and currency manipulation and abide by the rules of the WTO;
  • Any trade partner must respect intellectual property; adopt and enforce health, safety and environmental regulations consistent with international norms; provide decent wages and working conditions; and ban the use of forced labour;
  • Adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy for anyone who sells or distributes pirated or counterfeit goods;
  • Defective and contaminated food and drugs must be blocked more effectively by measures which make it easier to hold importers liable for selling foreign products that do harm or kill people or animals
  • Increased monitoring and exposure of China's party-state activities everywhere particularly in cases where the party state trades its UN Security Council veto for energy, raw materials and access to markets from Angola to Burma to Zimbabwe.
  • To reverse the "race to the environmental bottom'" in China and require all to compete on a level playing field and to reduce acid rain and smog affecting populations abroad, all bilateral and multilateral trade agreements should henceforth include strong provisions for protection of the natural environment.

3. Take stronger action against corporations that facilitate the violation of human rights by the party state

Navarro reminds readers that some well-known American companies, including Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Skype, helped to build the "Great Firewall of China" and thus help the party-state to oppress its own people. He'd like to see stronger initiatives, including, prohibiting American companies from disclosing to the Chinese government information about Chinese users of online content. I agree!


Until quite recently, perhaps like some of you, I allowed my respect and affection for the people of China to mute criticism of its current Hu-Wen government. No doubt, I rationalized this position, especially during visits to China as Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, by saying that at least it was not like the regime of Mao Tse-tung.

When apologists for the party-state in China insisted that the situation for a growing part of the population is getting better, I was, like others, too willing to overlook ongoing bad governance, official violence, growing social inequalities, widespread corruption and nepotism, and terrible injustices still being done across China.

Almost 20 years after tanks and machine-guns crushed a democratic movement, the Beijing party state must be well aware of the role a deteriorating economy played in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests by millions of the Chinese people. In their recent fervor for Confucian teachings as part of "national studies" in an attempt to stir xenophobic nationalism, they should also remind themselves of Confucius' advice that the right to govern has to be earned with virtues. Social cohesion and harmony, the ideal social order promoted by Confucius, cannot be achieved until the party-state stops its violent repression of the Chinese people.

I believe if China revives its traditional values, abandons Leninism and adopts the rule of law, a free media and governance of, by and for all its people -- a democracy with very Chinese characteristics- - the new century will bring harmony for both China and its trading partners. The Chinese people have the numbers, perseverance, self-discipline, entrepreneurship, intelligence, culture and pride to make our new century better and more peaceful for the entire human family.

While the courageous heroes in China face formidable odds and stand as witnesses of the corruption, bribery, extortion, brutality, threats, and outright murder that are so common we members of the world's open societies must stand firm with them. We must speak out consistently and in public for Chinese democrats, to support political prisoners and to refuse to break ranks when the regime tries to single out this or that country for punishment.

We must continue to take principled action in defense of dignity for all members of the human family. This is how the world helped to end the aparteid in South Africa. This is how the world will bring forth a better world with a new China. The Chinese people will be watching! The people of the world will be watching!

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