Search this site powered by FreeFind

Quick Link

for your convenience!

Human Rights, Youth Voices etc.

click here


For Information Concerning the Crisis in Darfur

click here


Northern Uganda Crisis

click here


 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Misplaced muscle

Otago Daily Times
August 14, 2009

"Political power grows from the barrel of a gun" was once a much-quoted saying of revolutionary Chinese leader Mao Tse Tung.

The world has moved on from the Cold War era in which the words assumed currency - both among supporters and detractors of the great dictator and his brutal brand of communism.

In a post-detente era in which there are sufficient nuclear weapons to guarantee mutually assured destruction should armed conflict be initiated, real politique is more about terms of trade.

But from time to time China still insists on resorting to brute force - albeit in economic terms.

The ammunition may be different, but the threats are real and the effects are unhelpful.

If it is undoubtedly true that the West has much to learn about negotiating China's political psyche - particularly as it seeks to unlock that country's prodigious potential markets for exporters - it is also beyond question that China must discover, first, the extent to which the West will bend on sacrosanct notions of freedom and democracy to accommodate the "friendship"; and, second, the nature of the media-information nexus that it sometimes seeks to influence.

While the latter may be self-evident to those who have lived their lives in open societies, it sometimes seems lost on heavy-handed officials who have not.

The latest clumsy attempt to intervene in the cultural affairs of other nations involves Australia and, coming on top of the arrest of Australian national Stern Hu in the Rio Tinto "spying" furore, has seriously elevated tensions in the relationships between the two countries.

Ironically - although unsurprisingly - it has served only to highlight and publicise the very subject that China sought to supress.

The row erupted at the beginning of the month when the Chinese Government attempted to pressure the Australian Government into cancelling the planned visit to Melbourne of exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.

The visit was to coincide with the screening of a film about Ms Kadeer, The 10 Conditions of Love, during the Melbourne International Film Festival.

Australia's Ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, was called to a dressing down by the country's foreign ministry where vice-foreign minister Zhang Zhijun told him that Australia must "immediately correct its wrong-doings" and cancel Ms Kadeer's visa.

The meeting came as Chinese hackers attacked the film festival website and closed it down, and as Chinese film-makers boycotted the festival.

The ensuing publicity meant that the audience for the film rocketed and its venue was changed to a larger theatre - in this case the Melbourne Town Hall.

And so the schism escalated when, at the weekend, Chinese officials threatened to end Melbourne's 29-year sister-city relationship with Tianjin if Lord Mayor Robert Doyle did not intervene to stop the screening.

It is understood that the Chinese consul-general in Melbourne, Shen Weilian, requested a meeting with Mr Doyle after the venue change was announced.

And that at the meeting, Mr Shen told Mr Doyle he risked jeopardising the Australia-China relationship, including the Melbourne-Tianjin arrangement, if the screening was not cancelled.

Rightly, Mr Doyle remained unmoved, despite pressure from many of his own councillors to concede on economic grounds.

The Chinese have labelled Ms Kadeer a terrorist and have accused her of inciting the ethnic clashes that killed up to 200 people in western China last month.

They were particularly upset that she was to be given a public platform so soon in the wake of the riots between the Uighurs and Han Chinese in Xinjiang.

This is not a new tactic.

Chinese authorities have used their economic muscle to supress the Falun Gong movement, and to attempt to silence the Dalai Lama and the aspirations of the people of Tibet.

More locally, there were ugly scenes and political fallout in 1999 when Free Tibet protesters in Christchurch were aggressively moved on from outside a State dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin.

Reportedly, this was so that the premier did not lose face.

But more likely it was so that he did not have to be confronted with an unpalatable reality: that much of the democratic world, however much it wants and needs to do business with China, does not accept its oppressive approach to censorship, human rights and political opposition in its own country.

This makes it all the more important it understands that when it attempts to export the same attitudes and standards, its overtures will be rebuffed.

A bouquet is due to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and his city's film festival.

Home Books Photo Gallery About David Survey Results Useful Links Submit Feedback