Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Interview with David Kilgour on China-Tibet War

SSBS Dateline AU: Wednesday, 19 March, 2008
David Kilgour

Tonight, George Negus interviews Candian human rights lawyer and former member of parliament David Kilgour about the unrest in Tibet.

Have Your Say: How should the world respond to China's crackdown on protestors in Tibet?


David Kilgour is a former Canadian MP with an international name on the issue of human rights abuse, including by the Chinese Government. Interestingly, he had contact with Australian PM Kevin Rudd in his old Opposition role as shadow foreign minister. In an email to Kilgour, he vowed to "rigorously address human rights abuses in China." This week, David Kilgour urged the Mandarin-speaking Mr Rudd to get a lot tougher with the Chinese. George Negus talked with him earlier today from Ottawa.

GEORGE NEGUS: David Kilgour, thanks very much for your time. Could I begin by talking to you about a letter or an email that Kevin Rudd, our current PM, sent you as a result of meeting you, as I understand it, expressing his commitment, vowing vigorously to address human rights in China. Can you tell us how that came about that an Australian would-be PM found himself talking to you, a human rights lawyer, about this issue?

DAVID KILGOUR, FORMER CANADIAN MP AND HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER: Well, actually, Edward McMillan-Scott, a member of the European Parliament, in fact a vice-president and I met with him when he was actually wasn't even the Leader of the Opposition at that point, but he showed great interest in this matter, Falun Gong, and he sent an email after that and then there was a subsequent letter that he sent to me expressing great concern about human rights in China and I was very encouraged by that.

GEORGE NEGUS: You actually said when the trouble broke out in Tibet earlier this week that you thought he should act on his commitment to address human rights abuses in China. Could I read to you what he's said, for your reaction? He said, "These most recent developments in Tibet are disturbing. I would call upon the Chinese authorities to exercise restraint." Which is a bit like hitting them with a feather, if you ask me, is that good enough? Do you think that's enough for an Australian Prime Minister who is a Mandarin speaker, by the way, in his reaction to Chinese behaviour in Tibet at the moment?

DAVID KILGOUR: Well, he also understands the human rights record of the party in China, he knows what has gone on since 1949 and I am sure that he knows that the Olympic Committee made a colossal mistake in giving the Olympic Games to China. The question is what does he do? I would hope, I know that Australians are crazy about sports like Canadians and I would hope that at the very least your Prime Minister would publicly and privately, in Mandarin if you like, tell the Government of China they must stop killing people on the streets of Lhasa, they must stop saying things that are absolutely untrue about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. He is a highly respected person, he is an honorary citizen of Canada and your Prime Minister knows as well as anybody that the Dalai Lama did not instigate these protests. The protests were brought on, as most people know, by the constant oppression by the Chinese Government since '59. where, George, by the way, about half the men in Tibet were literally worked to death during the '60s by the government of China. It's a terrible record there.

GEORGE NEGUS: Sticking with Kevin Rudd's potential role in this, as a Mandarin speaker, I think it's absolutely reasonable to suggest he is the only Western leader who speaks Mandarin, gives him, I would have thought, a remarkable and unique opportunity to play a specific role in this.

DAVID KILGOUR: Of course, and he also wrote his paper in his honours degree about Wei Jingsheng the democrat, and he studied Mandarin in Taiwan, he knows about the problems of Taiwan faced with, what is it the 1,700 missiles across the strait from China. He knows all about the nuances of this issue and I think he also knows that if you stand up to the Government of China, certainly in the experience of Canada and I think many other countries, they will back down. And all we are asking them to do is to fulfil the pledges they made when they got the Olympic Games, to improve human rights in their country and that includes not killing protesters on the streets of the capital of Tibet.

GEORGE NEGUS: Kevin Rudd is actually visiting Beijing on 10 April, I think it is, for four days. If you were in his shoes in that situation, what would you be telling them right now, with the outrage that the rest of the world is expressing?

DAVID KILGOUR: Exactly I would be telling them about the outrage that the rest of the world is feeling. But it is not just Tibet, it is Burma, it is Darfur in Sudan, it's the human rights workers in China, is the Falun Gong community, which is, my report found, literally being killed by the Government of China, having their organs being taken from them and sold to foreigners. There is a whole range of human rights abuses that I would hope your Prime Minister would say to Mr Hu Jintao that the West and all of the human rights-respecting world is not prepared to put up with. And you probably noticed today that the Europeans are talking about boycotting the opening ceremony of the Games. I would hope that your Prime Minister would suggest that this could go beyond the opening and it might become a wider kind of boycott.

GEORGE NEGUS: Yep, you mention the word 'boycott', a lot of other people are in the world at the moment. Are you pro- or anti-boycott, because the IOC are adamant that they don't believe a boycott will do anything to assist the human rights cause, in fact it could be detrimental. What is your position?

DAVID KILGOUR: Well, I think the IOC is naive with a capital 'N'. The Games are primarily a political expression in terms of what China is trying to do in its coming-out party. I feel, my heart goes out to the athletes. They have worked, many of them for eight years, and I think, I hope there's a way that Government of China can be persuaded by people like your Prime Minister to enforce its promises that they have to do a lot better between now and August than they are doing right now in Tibet and other places in the world.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is it the case that the Chinese really couldn't care less? I mean, they're going to snub anything that is attempted by anybody, including Kevin Rudd, that they are, if you like, so politically and economically arrogant at the moment that they really don't care what the rest of the world thinks, regardless of the Olympics?

DAVID KILGOUR: Well, they do and I can give you an example of that, George. About three months ago the Chinese Medical Association agreed with the World Medical Association that no more foreigners would be allowed to go over and take organs from Falun Gong and others in China. And one of their spokespersons admitted that they were afraid of a boycott of the Games and that is basically why they were doing this. So in fact they are extremely nervous at this point, all despite what's happening in Tibet, that the rest of the world will put their foot down and boycott the Games. I hope does not come to that, but this cannot continue, the Government of China cannot continue to behave the way it's behaving now in Tibet and elsewhere.

GEORGE NEGUS: So it looks like we have got a fairly torrid five or six months ahead of us?

DAVID KILGOUR: Yeah, indeed they do, yes.

GEORGE NEGUS: China of course will argue that they have made progress on human rights generally internally and externally for instance in Darfur, they would argue that they are actually on the right path.

DAVID KILGOUR: All of the independent observers that have looked at human rights say that human rights have been getting worse in China, certainly as the Olympic Games get closer. They have not been getting better. I think it is absolutely clear that human rights have been getting worse in China and I might say in Darfur, Sudan and Burma. Well, you know all the places where they have their foot in the door where they behave with terrible responsibility.

GEORGE NEGUS: David Kilgour, thanks very much, and this issue is not going to go away so I wouldn't be surprised if we talk to you again in the next six months.

DAVID KILGOUR: Good to be here.

GEORGE NEGUS: International human rights lawyer David Kilgour. A reminder that two weeks ago, we requested an interview with the Chinese Ambassador to Australia, but were told that he was out of the country. Hopefully, we'll be granted that interview when he returns to Australia.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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