Sunday, April 29, 2007

Olympics, a catalyst for repression'

It's high time that the free world start paying attention to what AI has been saying for a while now. Is there anybody out there?
"We must strike hard at hostile forces both in and outside the nation," said Zhou Yongkang, urging the crackdown by security to uphold the goal of creating the "harmonious society" advocated by President Hu Jintao.

Indiatimes -
AFP New Delhi,India (BEIJING) April 29: Next year's Olympics is being used as a catalyst for repression in China, allowing hardliners to crack down on peaceful dissent in the name of stability, according to Amnesty International.

The rights group gave China a failing grade in its third report since 2005 on the Olympic host nation's performance in living up to international human rights standards in the run-up to the August 2008 Games in Beijing.

Citing "little evidence of reform" in several areas, the report, released on Monday, painted a bleak picture showing the Olympics "as a catalyst for a continued crackdown on human rights defenders, including prominent rights defence lawyers and those attempting to report on human rights violations."

Amnesty, accused by Beijing last year of mounting politically motivated attacks on China, welcomed new measures adopted recently by Chinese authorities concerning the death penalty and media freedoms.

But it said they were overshadowed by the state's obsession with stability and a "strike hard" policy adopted to counter peaceful dissent.

The London-based group said the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which awarded China the 2008 Games, should use its "significant influence" on the Chinese authorities to continue to raise human rights issues in the run-up to the Games.

The IOC executive board, meeting in Beijing recently, said it was a sports organisation with no political role.

The Amnesty Report cited a call by China's minister of police last month for a crackdown on "hostile forces" including religious sects and separatists ahead of the Olympics.

"We must strike hard at hostile forces both in and outside the nation," said Zhou Yongkang, urging the crackdown by security to uphold the goal of creating the "harmonious society" advocated by President Hu Jintao.

The so-called "strike hard" policy was apparent during the two-week session of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, in March, Amnesty said.

A security clampdown on central Beijing accompanied the session and according to some sources thousands of people were locked up in what was widely seen as a security rehearsal for next year's Games.

The report emphasised relaxation of media rules for foreign reporters in China in the lead-up to the Games and a new measure granting China's Supreme Court judicial review of death penalty sentences.

But not enough was known about the latter measure, with little transparency concerning its operation, the report said, while the number of executions in China -- the highest in the world according to estimates -- still remained a state secret.

Amnesty applauded the granting of more freedom for foreign journalists, who since January 1 this year have been allowed to travel outside Beijing with fewer impediments.

But it noted that in September last year new measures tightened control over the distribution of news by foreign media organisations in China, prohibiting dissemination of news deemed to "endanger China's national security, reputation and interests."

At the same time censors tightened control of the traditional news media and further curbed the free flow of information on the Internet.

The crackdown runs counter to promises by Chinese officials to ensure "complete media freedom" at the time of the Games, the report said.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Calls for Chinese abuse to end

Free China Brisbane organiser Shar Adams said there was only a small window of opportunity to get China to change its ways, to allow freedom of association and halt abuses including forced organ harvesting.

SMH:April 28, 2007 - 5:44PM - The Beijing Olympics should not go ahead unless China agrees to end its disturbing record of human rights abuse, organisers of a Free China rally said in Brisbane.

About 60 protesters gathered in central Brisbane to raise awareness of China's human rights abuses and to show solidarity with the thousands of people resigning from the Chinese Communist Party every day.

The rally was part of a series of global protests being staged in the lead-up to next year's Olympic Games.

Free China Brisbane organiser Shar Adams said there was only a small window of opportunity to get China to change its ways, to allow freedom of association and halt abuses including forced organ harvesting.

"Chinese human rights have not improved," Ms Adams told AAP.

"We are getting this incredible show of economic development but there has been no improvement on human rights, on the democratic process, on the legal system.

"With the games coming up it is important to use that leverage to help these processes come about in China while China is listening.

"I think it would be a travesty if the games were to go ahead and these things are still occurring in China."

Ms Adams said it was important for Australians to speak out, while they still could.

"China is becoming an incredibly powerful country on a global scale, if they are not listening now, they won't," she said.

"I am very concerned for the future, this is our region, the Asian Pacific, I don't want that sort of dominant culture pervasive in the region my children are going to be growing up.

"This is not about cultural differences, these are fundamental human rights."

Ms Adams said the west needed to provide support to the brave Chinese - about 20 million of whom had resigned from the Chinese Communist Party in recent years.

Similar rallies were staged in Sydney and Melbourne in recent weeks.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Old Beijing falls to Olympics bulldozer

: April 29, 2007 - Even the scribes of the Chinese state media were moved to a chorus of wistful regret last week at the news that the home of Beijing Opera is to be razed as the city’s redevelopment for the 2008 Olympics reaches a climax.

The demolition of the Guanghe theatre, where opera has been performed since the last years of the Ming emperors four centuries ago, is the latest assault on the ancient fabric of the city.

The theatre stands in the Qian-men district, once a fabulous warren of temples, apothecaries and aristocratic courtyard mansions huddled in the shadow of the Forbidden City.

There is no place for such untidiness in mayor Wang Qis-han’s £19 billion plan to fulfill the slogan “New Beijing, Great Olympics”. The Games have sealed the fate of an old Beijing that had survived the wars and revolutions of modern Chinese history.

The bulldozers and developers have already wrecked swathes of the imperial capital, evicting half a million Beijing citizens over the past decade and consigning them to tower blocks along the city’s outer ring roads.

“I urge the completion of these projects as our most urgent task for next year,” the mayor told city officials recently.

There is something shocking about the demolition of the Guanghe theatre that has struck a chord among lovers of China’s traditional culture and architectural heritage.

It was here that boys dressed as women sang and danced for mandarins and rich merchants in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Here too that Mei Lanfang, the Beijing Opera’s greatest maestro, launched a tortured artistic career immortalised in the film Farewell My Concubine.

It was Mei’s legacy that caught the attention of Xinhua, the state news agency, whose dispatch last week reported the decision to tear down the building and replace it with something suitable for “shows like those on Broadway”.

More than a century has passed since Mei, a mere boy of 10, took to the boards as the girl weaver in a classic opera with the evocative title of Palace of Everlasting Youth: Secret Betrothal at the Magpie Bridge.

Xinhua lamented that the theatre would be “crushed under the onslaught of Beijing’s remorseless bulldozers” and concluded that “yet another of the country’s cultural heirlooms is doomed”.

In fact it is worse than mere cultural vandalism. It is a perfect illustration of the political methods that have flattened three-quarters of Beijing’s hutongs, bustling lanes of historic homes and communities, to replace them with symbols of state power and shopping malls.

The official line on the demolition of the Guanghe theatre is a flimsy justification that the building was declared unsafe back in 2000. In reality, according to Chinese architects and experts who spoke anonymously, not only is there no need to tear it down but the Beijing municipality has the expertise and funds to restore it.

The proof is to be found in the archives of the People’s Daily, which reported with pride, in June 2001, the reopening of a rival opera house, the Guangde theatre, founded in 1796, after a lavish programme of renewal.

The Communist party was forced to acknowledge the corruption at the core of its relationship with commercial developers when it purged Liu Zhi-hua, the former vice-mayor, who was responsible for overseeing the construction of Olympic venues. The state media said he was at the centre of a scandal involving millions of yuans in bribes from property speculators.

In China all land is owned by the state and held under fixed-term leases by its tenants, allowing the government to issue eviction edicts without challenge. There are no rights to inspect plans, no public hearings and no scrutiny is permitted in the press.

Gangs of thugs have been sent to terrorize some recalcitrant Beijingers out of their houses, para-military police have suppressed a handful of protests and the state has handed out scant compensation to those forced from homes occupied by their families for generations.

Meanwhile, in classic propaganda fashion, the party has made much of the preservation of two 350-year-old Taoist temples unearthed on the site of the Olympic green, alongside the principal stadiums.

There was a more awkward fuss when diggers at the skeet-shooting venue uncovered a mausoleum for imperial eunuchs and 700 graves from which archeologists hastily retrieved more than 1,500 precious artefacts.

“Up until the 1950s Beijing was an architectural wonder, an almost perfectly preserved metropolis from the preindustrial era,” wrote Ian Johnson, the author and journalist, in his 2004 book Wild Grass.

Mao Tse-tung deliberately began its destruction when he razed the city walls, but his work has been completed by “reformers”, aided and abetted by some of the West’s most distinguished architects and consultants. Perhaps one day somebody will write a libretto about it.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Real Change In China?

When talking about Communist China we frequently hear the pet phrase "Who is changing whom?" Well there is some truth to that. George F. Will makes some good points here.
Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, the objective of U.S. policy has been -- and often has been proclaimed to be -- the steady subversion of China's repressive regime. The cure for communism is supposed to be commerce with the capitalist world: Trade can turn China's potentially aggressive energies into constructive, pacific channels.
Washington Post:
April 26, 2007; Page A29 - Excerpt - But suppose this is not so. Suppose James Mann is right to dismiss all this as the Soothing Scenario.

In his new book, "The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression," Mann is of the Moynihan School: The late Pat Moynihan spoke acerbically of Western visitors who returned from China more impressed by the absence of flies than by the absence of freedom. Mann considers the Soothing Scenario's implication -- that American investment bankers doing business in China are necessarily freedom fighters -- a tad too convenient.

He also distrusts the Upheaval Scenario, which is that China's regime will not succumb to a peaceful, incremental glide from Leninism to democracy but rather will perish in a spasm of economic dysfunction and political discontent. His Third Scenario is that decades from now, modernization will have made China immeasurably wealthier, and hence more geopolitically imposing, but not significantly less authoritarian.

Big business and other advocates of the Soothing Scenario use what Mann calls "the lexicon of dismissal" to refute skeptics like him: Skeptics are being "provocative" when they engage in "China bashing" that reflects a "Cold War mentality." But although the theory is that "engagement" with China will change China, Mann wonders: Who is changing whom?

The Soothing Scenario says: Tyranny requires intellectual autarky and the conscription of the public's consciousness, which is impossible now that nations are porous to cellphones and the Internet. But Mann says companies such as Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are cooperating with the government's censorship and security monitoring.

Mann warns against "McDonald's triumphalism," the belief that because the Chinese increasingly eat like us, they are becoming like us. That is related to "the Starbucks fallacy" -- the hope that as the Chinese become accustomed to many choices of coffee, they will demand more political choices.

His most disturbing thesis is that "the newly enriched, Starbucks-sipping, apartment-buying, car-driving denizens" of the large cities that American visitors to China see will be not the vanguard of democracy but the opposition to it. There may be 300 million such denizens, but there are 1 billion mostly rural and very poor Chinese. Will the minority prospering economically under a Leninist regime think majority rule is in their interest?

Mann is rightly disdainful of many meretricious and economically motivated arguments that American elites offer for the Soothing Scenario. In his polemical mood, however, he probably underestimates the autonomous and transformative power of today's commercial culture. Still, read his book as a guide for monitoring media coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the most portentous Games since those in 1936, in Berlin.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Canada not part of Olympic torch route

Is this why Canada is not part of the Olympic torch route? Excerpt: But one China-watcher said frosty Beijing-Ottawa relations may have been a factor resulting in Vancouver's omission.

Vancouver, like San Francisco, has a huge ethnic Chinese population and would be a logical choice if Canada-China relations were strong, noted Wenran Jiang, a political scientist and acting director of the University of Alberta's China Institute.

"But I'm not surprised that no Canadians cities were included," Jiang said. "I think the colder relationship definitely is a factor which might have contributed to Canadian cities not being included."

Paul Evans, chairman of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, said the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Games appear to be "isolated" from bilaterial tensions. "It strikes me as unlikely" that China would deliberately snub Canada on the torch route, he said.

Spokesmen for Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and Trade Minister David Emerson, minister responsible for the 2010 Games, referred media questions Friday to Canadian Heritage. But a spokeswoman in that department also dodged the issue. (more)
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Editorial: Good riddance to the Olympic torch

It's safe to assume that the same scenario will happen everywhere it goes. And no Canada was not included as a stop for the torch relay route and this is probably why.

"But if by some miracle the torch ends up on Taiwanese soil, no one who cares about Taiwan's freedom from Chinese violence could deny the right of people to protest its presence. And what a circus would result, with images beamed around the world (but censored in China): groups of colorfully dressed protesters from all around the country, on every street corner, on every sidewalk, hanging out of windows -- all holding big buckets of water."

Taipei Times: Saturday, Apr 28, 2007, Page 8 - The disingenuousness of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is breathtaking. To allow China to host an Olympics at all should have been warning enough; for IOC officials to now feign surprise at Taiwan's unhappiness with its proposed torch route suggests that there are still many feeble words and actions to come from them in the months to come.

But it's hard to imagine more feeble words than IOC officials pleading for Taiwan to separate politics from sport, apparently oblivious of the IOC's employment of the Olympics in Games past to heal political differences between states.

Already the expression "Genocide Olympics" has been coined for 2008, apparently in reference to the horrors in Sudan, whose murderous government is close to a client state of China. Yet the word "genocide" could one day also apply to Tibet, whose lands are being co-opted by Chinese migrants and whose indigenous inhabitants face ruinous political, cultural and religious oppression.

On current performance, the IOC is going to struggle to deal with the objections of human rights activists and like-minded world leaders who are disgusted by China's misrule and its lack of accountability on human rights.

The idiocy of Beijing, meanwhile, continues to impress. Its officials do not seem to understand the jurisdictional difference between a government and an Olympics committee. The Chinese can be forgiven in one respect: For them, there is no difference in practice. But in most other countries, Olympic committees are separate from government even if they work closely with government.

More importantly, the committees answer to the IOC. That is why the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee came up with a compromise route that was offensive to Taiwanese sensibilities and has been brought to heel by the Taiwanese government. And the assumption that the committee could negotiate an agreement with Beijing that would override government objections is laughable.

The presence of the torch was always going to be "political"; the real question was how the politics was going to be employed and whether an understanding was ever possible between Taipei and Beijing.

The fact that the Olympic torch's journey within Taiwan was restricted to the metropolis of Taipei suggests that the Chinese and the IOC took the ridiculous name of "Chinese Taipei" all too literally. If there had been a sincere attempt to coax Taiwanese into the spirit of the Games, the torch route might have been able to go elsewhere -- Kaohsiung, the east coast, rural Taiwan, an Aboriginal village or two. Instead, the whole process smacked of tokenism -- and possibly a kickback to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which holds power in the capital.

It is difficult to see how a compromise can be reached without either side backing down, and neither side will be inclined to do so.

But if by some miracle the torch ends up on Taiwanese soil, no one who cares about Taiwan's freedom from Chinese violence could deny the right of people to protest its presence. And what a circus would result, with images beamed around the world (but censored in China): groups of colorfully dressed protesters from all around the country, on every street corner, on every sidewalk, hanging out of windows -- all holding big buckets of water. OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Friday, April 27, 2007

Amnesty Int. Report: Executions declined in 2006

China made the list as the top worst executioner. See more reactions to the report here and here.

China's human rights record, not only concerning capital punishment but also freedom of expression and other issues, is "so contrary to the spirit of the Olympics," she added.

France24: Friday, April 27, 2007

Amnesty's 2006 data shows a fall in worldwide executions and a fall in the number of countries imposing the death penalty. China, Iran, Iraq, the United States, Pakistan and Sudan account for about 90 percent of the total, and China the bulk of these.

ROME, April 27, 2007 (AFP) - Judicial executions dropped sharply in 2006, and "hardline" countries that still practise the death penalty are increasingly isolated, Amnesty International said Friday.

The vast majority of the world's executions occur in China, where 1,051 were carried out last year, according to unofficial figures, although the true figure is believed to be between 7,000 and 8,000, Amnesty secretary general Irene Kahn told a news conference.

"Our figures on executions and death sentences are what we are able to gather. Unfortunately the death penalty is still shrouded in such secrecy that we fear the numbers are much, much higher," Kahn said as she unveiled the London-based rights group's annual report on the death penalty.

China and five other countries -- Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan and the United States -- accounted for more than 90 percent of judicial executions in 2006, the Amnesty report says.

"This shows that the death penalty is now the exception rather than the norm, and that the hardliners are more and more isolated," Kahn said.

Amnesty launched the report in Italy "because this country has been in the forefront of the campaign for a universal moratorium on the death penalty for a long time," she said.

The Italian government said in January, when it became a member of the UN Security Council, that it would use its tenure to get the UN General Assembly to adopt a resolution for a universal moratorium on capital punishment, but has yet to forward any such proposal.

Kahn met Thursday with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who she said "seemed to be very keen" to find ways to build a broad coalition to advocate abolition of capital punishment.

"There is now a real momentum to end capital punishment," Kahn said, urging "strong political leadership to build broad global support so that the hard-core top executioners may be isolated."

In the 40 years since Amnesty has been campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment, the number of countries to have eliminated it has risen from 16 to 88.

"The overall trend for some years now has been ... downward," Kahn said, adding that "vast geographical regions are now execution-free."

The United States is the only country in the Americas that has carried out any executions since 2003.

In Africa, including north Africa, six countries carried out executions in 2006, while in Europe, only Belarus still applies the death penalty.

A total of 1,591 people were executed, down from 2,148 in 2005, Kahn said.

After China, Iran was in second place with at least 177 executions, Pakistan with at least 82, Iraq and Sudan with at least 65 each and the United States with 53 in 12 states.

Kahn slammed the Iraqi government for reinstating the death penalty in 2004 after a brief suspension following the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"As we know, the number of violent killings has grown" in Iraq, Kahn said, adding: "The death penalty has only further brutalised the country."

Charging that "the Iraqi justice system is incapable of holding a fair trial," she said a death sentence there is the "ultimate form of injustice."

Kahn said China is "clearly under pressure" in the run-up to next year's Olympic Games in Beijing.

"We hope the Olympics will bring more international attention and scrutiny to the practice of the death penalty in this country," Kahn said.

China's human rights record, not only concerning capital punishment but also freedom of expression and other issues, is "so contrary to the spirit of the Olympics," she added.

In the United States, Kahn said, the "machine of death is highly flawed," citing inconsistency, arbitrariness, errors and cruelty in the application of capital punishment there.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

San Francisco to be Part of Olympic Torch Relay

For all you human rights activists out there, get your banners ready! BTW Vancouver didn't make the list.

ABC: Apr. 27 - Excerpt: KGO - San Francisco will make history once again as it plays a role in the 2008 Olympics. It is the only U.S. city to be chosen as part of the Olympic torch relay...

The mayor and several other local and Beijing dignitaries wrapped up a press conference about the torch passing this morning. They say it makes sense to come to San Francisco, including the fact that this city had the first and has largest Chinatown in the United States and we are considered a gateway to the Pacific Rim. (more)
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Beijing spring: Democracy is in the air

So, while democracy might be in the air right now, it is unlikely to be found on the ground for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, watch what Chinese leaders do, not what they say.

Well said Kent Ewing!

Asia Times: Excerpt - Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, two well-known figures associated with the Tiananmen protests - Ren Wanding and Chen Ziming - have been allowed to visit and speak freely to the press...

South China Morning Post commentator Chris Yeung, clearly buoyed by the visitors' presence, wrote: "When dissidents like Mr Ren and Mr Chen can walk and talk freely not just in Hong Kong but on the mainland and democracy is no longer a taboo subject among Beijing leaders, hopes for a democratic, free China are perhaps not a pipe dream." ...

Cynics, however, might suggest that this recent stream of talk about democracy is just another part of the effort to burnish China's international image before next year's Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and to strengthen the president's hand at the 17th Party Congress next in the autumn. The Olympics represent an unprecedented chance for China to shine on the world stage, and the country's leaders are keen to pull them off without any media hitches, including sidebars about China's continued suppression of political freedom...

For many analysts, it is significant that political and economic reform may now be seen as partners - albeit unequal ones - on the congress's agenda. It should be remembered, however, that Hu was also in a reformist state of mind before the last congress, calling on the media to aid the government in its drive against China's endemic corruption. What has followed, however, can only be characterized as a crackdown on journalists and human-rights activists that does not bode well for freedom of expression in the country...

So, while democracy might be in the air right now, it is unlikely to be found on the ground for a long time to come.

Meanwhile, watch what Chinese leaders do, not what they say. (more)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

U.S. Olympic Boycott Could Halt Genocide

David Sforza has the right idea.

Daily Nexus (UCA)Published Friday, April 27, 2007 - Excerpt: Sudan is China’s largest supplier of oil. As China’s economy grows, so does its need for oil. As a result, the country must import from remote areas of the world to get that oil, and do things that would be considered unethical, like supply a fighting force in Sudan with the necessary weapons to protect the oil fields, and slaughter at least 400,000 people and displace 2 million others. Yes, China is directly funding the Sudanese Janjaweed and the genocide that takes place in the Darfur region.

Of course, the Chinese have done much more than just fund this genocide. They have taken every effort to sway the United Nations into not declaring the crisis in Darfur a genocide. They have prevented efforts to send a United Nations force, and they have assured Sudan that such a force will not enter their country. As one of the five members of the U.N. Security Council, China has the ability to veto any bill that could make a difference in Sudan. As for the United States, our influence in Sudan has been limited because of China. We have not been able to facilitate a peace agreement. (more)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Why Celil doesn't stand a chance

J. Michael Cole weighs in the circumstances around Canadian Foreign Minister MacKay's first visit to China. The burning question is: will Canada sacrifice human rights over trade? And just yesterday China appointed a new FM ahead of the Communist Party Congress this fall. How will this affect MacKay's visit--apparently Yang Jiechi is a smooth talker.

Taipei Times: Friday, Apr 27, 2007, Page 8 - Huseyin Celil, a 38-year-old Chinese-born ethnic Uighur who fled to Canada in 2001 and then obtained Canadian citizenship in 2005, was sentenced on April 19 by a Chinese court to life imprisonment for the crimes of "separating China and ... organizing, leading and participating in terrorist groups [or] organizations."

Celil was first arrested in Uzbekistan and thence spirited to China, where he had been imprisoned for the past year before receiving his sentence.

Given that Celil has Canadian citizenship and in light of the Canadian government's awarding earlier this year of generous financial compensation to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin who in 2002 was deported from the US to Syria, where he was allegedly tortured, Celil's family would perhaps be right to hope that Ottawa will do its utmost to come to his assistance. After all, although it came ex post facto and after years of denial, Canadian authorities did come clean on the Arar case, setting a precedent in the international campaign against terrorism which aside from the awarding of reparations worth approximately US$10 million to Arar and an admission of guilt on the role government agencies played in his deportation, forced the chief of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- Canada's equivalent of the FBI, loosely put -- to step down.

Sadly for Celil and precedent notwithstanding, he is unlikely to receive much help from Ottawa -- or the rest of the international community, for that matter. And the reason is simple: China.

It is one thing for Canada to reprimand Syria on human rights for the very real possibility that individuals in its prison system are being badly treated, if not tortured. In fact, by launching a commission of inquiry into the matter of Arar's deportation and later on admitting that he had been wronged, Ottawa had chosen to side with one of its citizens not only against Syria but the US as well, which to this day refuses to grant him a chance to make his case in a US court and will not remove him from its long list of terror suspects. There is real cause for hope when a country goes to this length to defend one of its own, especially in the context of the campaign against terrorism and the inherent pressure from the US upon states to participate in the effort.

But hapless Celil has a tremendous handicap: China's economy and the lure it has, siren-song-like, on other countries. Statistics from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada show that Canada's total trade with China last year was close to C$42 billion (US$37.3 billion), while two-way trade with Syria for the same period was approximately C$72 million. China's GDP was estimated at US$2.225 trillion in 2005. Syria's was US$25.84 billion.

Given these statistics, as former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief James Mann points out in his book The China Fantasy, in recent years states have refrained from saying, let alone doing, anything "provocative" that is likely to "anger" Beijing, as doing so could have implications on trade. Given the size of the Chinese market and its vaunted potential for growth, Canada is not immune to this pressure and despite its envious, albeit imperfect, human rights track record, it, too, allows money to trump human rights. It is one thing to "anger" Damascus and put bilateral trade at risk; it is quite another when it comes to China.

All of this means that Canadian authorities will likely limit themselves to the usual mild criticism, meant for domestic consumption, of China's detention of Celil. Following news of his life sentence, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he had "raised the issue" with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, who will be visiting China on Sunday, said he would press the issue with Beijing.

Anyone remotely aware of China's human rights track record knows how effective "raising issues" with Beijing has been when it comes to the numerous dissidents it has locked up in its prisons.

This empty rhetoric, which reached its peak level when, in February, Harper said of the Celil matter: "I would point out to any Chinese official that just as a matter of fact, China had a huge trade surplus with this country, so it would be in the interest of the Chinese government to make sure any dealings on trade are fair and above board," will avail to nothing if it is not supported by concrete action -- sanctions, embassy recalls and the like -- as mere words are immediately met by Chinese officials telling foreign governments not to meddle in its "domestic affairs" and that insistence can only "strain relations" -- a song unfortunately repeated ad nauseum by the media.

Already, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao (劉建超) has threatened that Canadian criticism of China's human rights policies could jeopardize trade relations.

And the threats seem to have hit home.

Just one day after the announcement of Celil's sentence, Ottawa's rhetoric had already shown signs of softening. There were no longer questions of the injustice of the arrest, or the fact that Celil had been rendered from Uzbekistan (a country whose human rights record tellingly pales in comparison with China's) or, for that matter, of the absence of due process in his sentencing, including China's refusal to recognize his Canadian citizenship and, consequently, barring Canadian consular officials from getting in touch with him -- something even the Syrian government, a so-called state sponsor of terrorism, would not deny Arar, except on a few occasions. In one day, Canadian authorities had gone from opposing Celil's very detention to evaluating "allegations that Mr. Celil has been mistreated while in Chinese custody and possibly subjected to torture," to quote the Canadian foreign minister. In other words, Canada was no longer voicing direct opposition to the life sentence but rather to the possibility that he had been mistreated while in prison.

Harper was right when, back in February, he said that given China's C$9 billion trade surplus with Canada, it stood to lose much more from an interruption in the relationship than Canada does. Unfortunately, however, it isn't current numbers that have a real effect on how trade wags diplomacy, but rather expected future ones. Just as the promise of access to the Chinese market has allowed China to almost completely isolate Taiwan and Tibet, its attraction will ensure that rhetorical jousting aside, nothing will change and Celil, sadly, will not receive the assistance he is entitled to as a Canadian citizen.

MacKay will indeed "raise the issue" with his Chinese counterparts when he visits Beijing and for a few weeks politicians in Ottawa will make their sound bites by repeating that they will "stand tall for that citizen." In other words, Ottawa and Beijing will engage in the shadow play of a diplomatic spat; Canada will wax righteous and China will warn of dire consequences for the relationship. But gradually, the story will taper off into oblivion, just as will Celil.

J. Michael Cole is a writer based in Taipei.OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Beijing Fights Olympic Rain, But Can it Prevent the Protestors' Storm?

Smart question Laura Robertson! Faking the weather is China's latest trick.
CBN News April 26, 2007 -I always assumed the weather was one of those things we just didn't really have much control over. Some days it's sunny, other days it rains, and one way or another, life goes on. But officials in Beijing plan to beat the odds in the weather game-of-chance.

Yesterday, after meterologists predicted a 50% chance of rain for the August 8 Olympic Opening Ceremonies, Beijing officials announced a plan to use special techniques to reduce the chance of rainfall. Instead of letting nature take its course, Beijing scientists will use a process known as "cloud-seeding," to increase rainfall artificially before the Games begin.

Scientists are divided as to the effectiveness of this process, especially in the United States, but Chinese officials are optimistic. After the announcement to use cloud-seeding before the Olympics, one Xinhua headline read "Beijing Vows to Give Accurate Weather Forecasts for Olympics." I guess we'll find out if that optimism is accurate on August 8, 2008.

While weather issues seem to be under control, there seems to be a new firestorm of activists who are angered by some of China's human rights policies in light of the Olympics approaching.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

French President hope ponders Beijing boycott

Gutsy Royal is going at it again. Warning: this could hurt a good way though!

FRENCH Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has emerged as the first major international political figure to raise the prospect of a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Games, citing China's stance on the Darfur turmoil in Sudan.

News.Com Au By Rowan Callick in Beijing:April 27, 2007 01:00am - Excerpt:

She told French TV yesterday that "all means must be used" to halt "this abominable genocide" in the Darfur region of Sudan, a country from which China obtains 12 per cent of its oil imports - 2.6 million tonnes of crude in the first quarter of 2007.

Ms Royal responded to a question about France boycotting the August 2008 Olympics saying: "I don't exclude it."

When Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Sudan in February during an eight-nation African tour, he urged Mr Omar to accept a UN contingent - but at the same time forgave the Sudan regime $96 million in debt and handed over a further $16 million for projects including a grand new presidential palace.

For France to lead such a boycott would be especially painful for Beijing, for it has long been China's chief Western friend.

It emerged after chief censor Long Xinmin was replaced on Wednesday that France's ambassador in Beijing, Herve Ladsous, had on April 3 conferred on him the country's top award, the Legion d'Honneur. (more)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Editor and magazine disciplined by party

Who said that China's media control is more relaxed ahead of the Olympics?

Lifeweek's editor was penalized for reporting on politically sensitive historical events

South China Morning Post via Asia Media- Thursday, April 26, 2007 - Excerpt:

Beijing recently tightened restrictions on freedom of expression and shut down publications that displayed signs of boldness in what propagandists said were steps needed to ensure a harmonious social environment ahead of the 17th Communist Party Congress. The event will see a leadership reshuffle and set the development agenda for five years.

The crackdown also highlights strict media controls heading into the 2008 Olympics....

In a reshuffle, two deputy editors were appointed recently to strengthen the editorial work.

In November the propaganda department and the media regulator ordered the magazine to reform after the publication of three issues seen as politically sensitive.

Lifeweek is run by the Sanlian Book Publication Group, a state-run publication giant.

In its October 30 issue the weekly ran a cover story on the 30th anniversary of the end of the Cultural Revolution, with a front-page picture of Mao Zedong's wife, Jiang Qing, standing trial. Jiang was part of the "Gang of Four" who played a pivotal role in the 1966-76 turmoil.

In its September 11 issue it ran a lead story on the 30th anniversary of the death of Mao, with his image on the cover. And in its August 30 issue the cover story was on the 30th anniversary of the Tangshan earthquake, in which more than 200,000 died.

In directives issued early last year the propaganda department demanded that media refrain from playing up such topics. It also asked media to limit coverage of such topics to Xinhua's official versions. (more)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

International China Conference

Rough trade or Change through trade...time will tell. Meanwhile more of this type of forum is needed. Three cheers to the initiators.

Excerpts from Epoch Times: The theme of this year's IGFM conference held in Bad Koenigstein, Germany (in cooperation with The Epoch Times Europe) was Human Rights and Economic Interests. The program covered such topics as China's economic progress, foreign investments and capital, the Chinese legal system, and new opportunities from the 2008 Olympic Games.

Mr. Lessenthin considered the conference to be a "milestone for human rights efforts." So far, the motto "Change through Trade" has not impacted China's abysmal human rights record at all.

The conference pointed to clear differences in economic interests versus. human rights interests, where the parameters are set, and how one could positively influence human rights concerns through economic endeavors.

The world will focus its attention on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Mr. Lessenthin concluded, "We want to make use of this event to improve human rights [in China]."

Mr. Gen Kula, a representative of an Albanian human rights organization, commented on the excellence of the conference. He pointed out that human rights were the priority, and economics were secondary. He lived and suffered under Communism for ten years. He would have liked to hear more examples of the population's suffering under Communism in China.

"I found this conference quite informative and will recommend it to others," commented Mr. Bernhard Wilden, former financial advisor to Lufthansa German Airlines. He stated that topics of China's human rights violations are a controversial subject during discussions in economic circles, and that economics are closely tied to human rights. He would have liked the conference sponsors to invite current China investors, "to make the conference more lively." (more)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

China human rights abuse rife amid Olympics preparation: Amnesty

Stay tune for a report card from Amnesty International highlighting China's broken promises before the Games.

PM Reporter: Stephen McDonell - Thursday, 26 April , 2007 18:30:00

MARK COLVIN: Amnesty International has accused China of abusing human rights as it gets ready for the Olympic Games.

In a damning report on China's Olympic preparations, the human rights organisation says China's been rounding up people who would threaten the stability of Beijing during the Games, and detaining them without trial.

Amnesty has identified compulsory drug rehabilitation, the increased repression of Chinese journalists and the continued use of so-called "re-education through labour" as part of Beijing's Olympic preparation.

The report looks certain to embarrass the International Olympic Committee.

China Correspondent Stephen McDonell reports.

STEPHEN MCDONELL: For Beijing to secure the Olympics, China promised unprecedented freedom and openness would accompany the Games.

And indeed there have been some significant changes.

A new law has been passed to give the Supreme Court the last say in all death penalty cases. Amnesty International welcomed this, because it took the power to execute away from corrupt local courts.

Then there are the new rules covering the behaviour of foreign journalists. Correspondents are now allowed officially to interview just about anybody as long as that person agrees to be interviewed. And we no longer have to ask permission from regional branches of the Foreign Ministry to travel throughout China.

But, according to Amnesty International, that's pretty much where China's newfound freedom stops.

In a report which is due to be released next week, the international human rights group says the Olympic Games are actually responsible for a deterioration in China's human rights record.

That's because the Government supposedly has "an overriding pre-occupation with stability" and the need for "a good social environment" during the Olympic Games.

With that in mind, it's trying to clear the streets of anyone who might upset Olympic stability.

The report quotes Fu Zhenghua, Deputy Director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, as saying: "We do not rule out the possibility of compelling all drug users in the capital to give up their addictions before the Olympics."

Amnesty's analysis of Beijing's Olympic preparation is one of a police state at its worst.

"Amnesty International continues to receive regular reports of individuals being assigned to 'Re-education through Labour' and other forms of administrative detention imposed without charge, trial or judicial review. The organisation fears that these abusive systems are being used to detain petty criminals, vagrants, drug addicts and others to 'clean up' Beijing ahead of the Olympics."

Amnesty acknowledges that there've been examples of growing tolerance towards some individual activists.

But Amnesty says that any examples of growing tolerance are outweighed by the continuing harassment of others who try to report or campaign more widely on human rights violations.

It mentions Ye Guozhu, who's serving a four-year prison sentence after organising a demonstration against forced home evictions in Beijing. His torture in detention, including beating with electric shock batons, is said to have caused major health problems. Amnesty is calling for his "immediate and unconditional release".

Of course, local journalists are prevented from reporting any of this. The freedom enjoyed by foreign correspondents here is not only denied to Chinese journalists, but new regulations have been introduced to crack down on their reporting.

Local journalists now have to get permission before reporting on "sensitive" historical events, and are banned from reporting news on 20 specific issues. They include judicial corruption and campaigns to promote human rights.

Amnesty has sent copies of its report to both the Chinese Government and also the International Olympic Committee, who are yet to respond.

According to Amnesty's Asia Pacific Director, Catherine Baber:

"The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses, whether families forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for sports arenas, or growing numbers of peaceful activists held under 'house arrest' to stop them drawing attention to human rights issues."

The IOC will have an interesting time spinning itself out of this one.

This is Stephen McDonell in Beijing for PM.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Olympic Torch Route Ignites Dispute

They can take their torch and snuff it-is basically what Taiwan is saying. Meanwhile the IOC reaffirms that they don't care--it's OK for China's human rights to decline before the Games and for the killing to go on. Of course, labeling human rights as political, gets them off the hook, so they think--engaging in political activities is not part of their mandate.

And this is what Yao is saying:
"That looked like the Olympic spirit: People come together and share good experiences and look forward to the future," Yao said in an interview ahead of the unveiling.

I can certainly think of a couple of experiences I'd like to share with Yao.

Update: Some excerpts from the SF Gate AP : But Tsai Chen-wei, chairman of Taiwan's Olympic Committee, said less than two hours after the Beijing meeting that the island would not participate in the torch relay.

"This route is a domestic route that constitutes an attempt to downgrade our sovereignty," Tsai said. "It is something that the government and people cannot accept."

The International Olympic Committee, which shies away from controversy, was drawn into torch-relay politics after the three Americans and a Tibetan-American were detained on Everest. They waved a banner reading: "One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008." Another one in English and Chinese read: "Free Tibet."

"We are certainly going to have more of this (protests)," Hein Verbruggen, head of the IOC body that coordinates with Beijing organizers, told reporters in Beijing. "We know that."

"We don't want to be, as the IOC, involved in any political issues." (MORE)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What David of Ottawa believes about Sun Tzu and China's military

Lev Navrozov raises some good points here about China's deviated internet policy and many others.


World Tribune: Monday, April 23, 2007 - Yet published on the Chinese Internet, (2/15/05), (4/23/05), and finally in “The Epoch Times,” a periodical of Chinese dissidents in the USA (Aug. 08, 2005) was an article entitled “War Is Not Far from Us and Is the Midwife of the Chinese Century.” The article was passed for a transcript of a speech given by Chi Haotian, Minister of Defense and vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. But The Epoch Times says: “Independently verifying the authorship of the speech is not possible.”

The Chinese author who passes himself for Chi Haotian first of all describes how’s branch, Sina Military, asked in its public opinion poll: “If you are a soldier, and under the orders of your commanding officers, will you shoot at women, children, and prisoners of war? About 80% answered that they would shoot, and “only 3.8% of the respondents said that they would not shoot under any circumstances.”

The author’s moral is that whether he is the Defense Minister or just an unknown Chinese, appropriating the Defense Minister’s name, the majority of the Chinese are as ruthless as he is.

Then the author says (p. 3): “Hitler’s Germany had once bragged that the German race was the most superior race on Earth, but the fact [!] is, our nation is far [!] superior to the Germans.”

Hitler’s Germany fell, instead of the Nazis becoming “the lords of the earth.” Why? Here the author says (p. 4) what I have been saying in my columns. Instead of waiting for “the technology of nuclear weapons” and launching “surprise attacks against the United States and the Soviet Union using them,” Hitler started war without them. The Chinese, “far superior” to the Germans, will not repeat their mistake, but are waiting for post-nuclear super weapons, able to annihilate the USA without the latter’s retaliation or to make it surrender unconditionally.

Apart from world domination, China needs “living space” even more than did Hitler’s Germany. “Only countries like the United States, Canada, and Australia have the vast land to serve our needs for mass colonization” (p. 7).

But what if China’s “first strike” will make the USA surrender, but will not kill all Americans? No problem (p. 8):

There has been rapid development of modern biological technology, and new bio weapons have been invented one after another. Of course, we have not been idle; in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind. We are capable of achieving our purpose of “cleaning up” America all of a sudden.

But what about “several million Chinese living in the United States”? Well, “in recent years we have been conducting research on genetic weapons.” So those Chinese in the former USA, now a colony of China, can be spared?

However, several years are to pass before these technologies are ready (p. 9):

Of course, from another perspective the majority of those Chinese living in the United States have become our burden, because they have been corrupted by the bourgeois liberal values for a long time, and it would be difficult for them to accept our Party’s leadership.

So, they will have to be killed as well.

The author ends his article with Marxism (p. 11):

Marxism pointed out that violence is the midwife of the birth of the new society. Therefore, war is the midwife for the birth of China’s country. As war approaches, I am full of hope for our next generation.

Indeed, the Chinese author combines Hitlerism and Marxism. An American, not a Chinese? Kill him! He is a Chinese, living in the former USA? He is corrupted by bourgeois values! Kill him all the same! In the first case he is killed as genetically inferior, and in the second as a class enemy.

The dictatorship of China persecutes those who do traditional Chinese gymnastics (Falun Gong) that are not endorsed by the dictators. But here a Chinese publishes in the Internet his program to exterminate all non-Chinese as well as Chinese living abroad and hence corrupted by bourgeois values. Nay, he passes his super-Nazi-Marxist program for the speech of China’s Minister of Defense. But no one tried to prevent his publication of his article of February 2005 in April of that year. So super-Nazism-Marxism calling for the annihilation of mankind except for Chinese having lived in China is not so dangerous as physical exercises (Falun Gong) that are not endorsed by the dictatorship. (more)

Lev Navrozov can be reached by e-mail at

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Triple anniversaries in related causes

John Kusumi has another excellent piece on the big 3s that are bothering Communist China today.

CV: April 25, 2007 (CSN)--The CSN is now marking simultaneous anniversaries in causes including the Chinese democracy cause, the Tibetan cause, and the Falun Gong cause.

The Falun Gong Cause

In the Falun Gong cause, April 25 was the date in 1999 when over 10,000 Falun Gong adherents appeared in Beijing, staging the "Zhongnanhai appeal." (Zhongnanhai refers to the compound where the government leaders reside.) While the appeal was for the government to allow Falun Gong, this was taken by then-President Jiang Zemin to be a jarring occasion, which became the catalyst for the full-blown crackdown of persecution which ramped up in July, 1999.

Hence, the Zhongnanhai appeal of April 25, 1999 was the key event precipitating a vicious crackdown of historic proportions. To date, 3,013 people are confirmed dead, and the killing goes on to this day. In 2006, it was revealed that the Chinese government practices the wanton (and carefully timed) killing of Falun Gong practitioners for their organs, which become harvested and used in transplant surgery, for which desperate patients are charged large amounts of money. As a human rights abuse, this ranks right up there with Nazi medical experiments, performed on prisoners during World War II.

While Falun Gong faces its holocaust, U.S. news anchors apply a happy face, in essence echoing the song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," and preparations continue for the 2008 Olympics, as awarded to Beijing China. The Chinese regime has been, and continues to be, rewarded for bad behavior. And, anchormen continue to accept paychecks for corporate cheerleading to the exclusion of the public interest. While they have turned their backs to the sea of humanity including the Chinese people, others have shown more bravery.

In the past week, a doctor and professor emeritus at New York Medical College wrote an open letter urging that China be expelled from the World Medical Association. Abraham L. Halpern, MD said -- "Reports are rampant throughout the world that the organ harvesting program in China continues without interruption, notwithstanding the denials of the Chinese government and the enactment of a law that went into effect last July to regulate organ transplants in hospitals." He termed China's to be "blatantly pernicious violations of the codes of medical ethics of all the countries of the world," and noted that "Waiting until protests can be organized at the 2008 Olympics or until efforts by diplomats come to fruition will not save the lives of many innocent people during the coming months." Hence, he is urging the World Medical Association to action immediately.

The China Support Network calls upon the Chinese government to cease persecution of Falun Gong. When all Falun Gong practitioners are free, then they will not be subject to become the source of organs for transplant. CSN also calls for the cessation of the Falun Gong organ harvesting practice; but as noted, that is included in the cessation of Falun Gong persecution.

The Tibetan Cause

In the Tibetan cause, April 25 is the birthday of the Panchen Lama, the second highest figure in the Tibetan Buddhist religion. He was kidnapped in 1995 at the age of six, and became known as the world's youngest political prisoner. He has been kept hidden away by the Chinese government, and is still not free today. On Wednesday, his birthday this year will be his 18th.

The nation of Tibet was invaded by Communist China in 1950, remains under occupation like a colony, and has had 20% of its population killed off by the Communists, as well as wholesale destruction and looting of Tibetan Buddhist temples, population transfer from Chinese settlers, and the banning of all references to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet (which used to be a theocracy). In 2006, Communist China opened a new railway to Tibet -- the better to transfer Chinese settlers in the course of its cultural genocide and rape of Tibet.

The China Support Network calls upon the Chinese government to release the Panchen Lama, Tenzin Delek, and other Tibetan prisoners of conscience, and to free Tibet.

The Chinese Democracy Cause

In the Chinese Democracy cause, April 26 will mark five years of captivity for Chinese dissident Yang Jianli. With U.S. permanent residency and two Ph.Ds (from Berkeley and Harvard), Yang belongs in the Boston area, but was captured on a return visit to China. After a kangaroo trial on trumped up charges, he was sentenced to five years in prison by the Chinese government. --The five years is up; this year's April 26 should be his release date, as it is the end of his sentence.

The case of Yang Jianli has been closely watched and much contested by protestors and campaigners in the Chinese democracy and human rights causes. For many years, Yang was one of the highest profile prisoner cases maintained by this cause. It received Congressional resolutions calling for Yang's freedom, and high level attention from Condoleeza Rice, now the U.S. Secretary of State.

The China Support Network demands the immediate release of Yang Jianli and the immediate recognition of the legitimacy and rights of alternative political parties -- those which now exist, and those which may be formed in the future.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


To complement Gerard Jackson's great piece, I have an excerpt from a scholarly paper entitled "Ancient Wisdom for Modern Predicaments: The Truth, Deceit, and Issues Surrounding Falun Gong" by Frank Tian Xie, Ph.D. This will certainly shed some light on some facets of Chinese history that seem pretty nebulous to us Westerners.


2. The Rahn articles (Rahn 2000 & 2002)
Rahn's (2002) paradigm approach in her article is a plausible one, but there seems to be a "shift in paradigm" that went too far to becoming a "paradigm gone astray,"Rahn’s comparison between historical groups cited indicates a gross misunderstanding of Chinese history. From the Table 1 below, a comparison of the Yellow Turban, the White Lotus, the Taiping, and the Boxers shows that they do possess many similarities. However those similarities closely resemble another, modern, entity in China: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), rather than a non-entity but a spiritual practice of Falun Gong. As it is seen in the table, from the form of organization, use of force, the existence of a charismatic leader, the guiding doctrine, and the ultimate objectives of the entities, the Yellow Turban, the White Lotus, the Taiping, the Boxers, and the CCP share astounding similarities to each other. In fact, in Chinese textbooks from elementary schools through colleges, these villainous groups have been glorified, worshiped, and valued as predecessors of the CCP. In contrast to these groups, Falun Gong does not have a formal organization, is always open to the public, denounces the use of force and killing, has no “leader” of any kind, charismatic or not; is not interested in politics or political power, and has only the individual objective of self actualization. The fact that CCP called itself the “scoundrel proletariat” when it first started and followed these villainous groups in their brutal pursuit of power in China, and continues to worship these villainous groups may be of interest to Rahn (read more)

Free Market: Tuesday, April 24, 2007 - The upcoming 2008 Olympics has helped draw attention to religious persecution in China. This is not the kind of development the regime welcomes. I spent last February in Shanghai. The odd thing is that though there is a crackdown on certain religious groups no one apparently felt the need to hide their religious affiliations. And of course it needs to be stressed that the regime is not in itself anti-religious. The abundance of statuettes of ancient gods and Buddha is testimony to that fact.

Marxism is dead and that “old time religion" is back again.

So why does the regime come down on, for example, certain Christian groups while leaving others alone? From the point of view of the regime it is not religion that matters but politics. The Falun Gong sect is persecuted because it is thought of as posing a challenge to Beijing's authority. The same goes for some evangelist groups. It would appear that the success of these Christian groups in gaining converts has alarmed some government officials.

It seems that the regime is being motivated by the very thing that the Roman emperors discovered: those with strong religious beliefs are less inclined to be intimidated by the state, appealing to a higher law to justify their doctrines. Judging by my own - albeit limited - experience I believe the basic problem is that the authorities are ignorant of Christian teachings and history.

To a Westerner used to religious tolerance and weird sects and cults springing up almost daily, the regime's actions appear as something of a mystery. There is no question that the regime has an authoritarian mindset that sees organised activities that appear to require allegiance to another authority, even a spiritual one, as a threat to its power. However, there is another angle to this. It also fears that the emergence of religious movements could lead to civil conflict and chaos. The revolt of the White Lotus cult in the 1770s is still remembered.

It was a syncretic mixture, a bit like Falun Gong in that respect, of various faiths. Though its forces were small relative to the imperial army, it waged an effective guerrilla campaign for sometime, using heavily fortified villages as bases and sources of supply. It took about 10 years of vicious fighting to break the cult. Even so, it reappeared in the 1800s and again in the 1830s as its legacy of secret societies and lawless elements occasionally irrupted into violence, its most dangerous offspring being the Boxers, which the Dowager Empress encouraged to attack westerners.

In 1852 the empire was shaken by the largest rebellion in Chinese history. Led by Hung Hsiu-ch'uan who believed he was the Messiah. What became known as the Taiping Rebellion captured Nanjing in 1853 and made it the rebels' capital. While this was happening other revolts were taking place: the Niens in the northwest and the Moslems in the southwest. Had the rebels been able to join forces China would likely as not have been destroyed. The Taipings were successfully suppressed in 1864, the Niens in 1868 and the Moslem rebels by 1873, all with the help of Western weapons and leadership.

Evidently, part of the regime's fear is that the political weakness, loss of faith in the state and the large-scale bureaucratic corruption that fuelled these revolts might once again reappear. I don't think so. There are no self-anointed Messiahs in China threatening lawlessness and anarchy, nor do the Chinese people want them. Peace and prosperity is what the people want. To the Western eye the Falun Gong appear harmless enough, consisting of people in need of faith, not rebellion. Although their beliefs appear infantile to some of us they certainly don't appear to be the kind that would drive people into manning the barricades.

My experience in Shanghai has persuaded me that China's unfortunate experience of religious rebellions and cults is the principal driving force behind religious persecution. This, however, in no way excuses the regime's brutal persecution of any law-abiding religious group.

(I think I should point out that the intensity of religious persecution varies from area to area. This phenomenon suggest that local authorities are largely responsible for attacks on Christians. At least this is the impression I was given).

Authoritarian regimes, including pre-war Japan, have never really had much trouble in accommodating most religions. Beijing should learn to do likewise. It could start by releasing those imprisoned for their faith, insisting only that they “give to Caesar that which is Caesar's", no more and no less. It would pay the regime dividends to do this. If only it could understand that simple fact.
OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008