Friday, March 28, 2008

Swifter, higher, stronger … democratic?

The Independent. NFDLD - By IVAN MORGAN
Saturday, March 29, 2008
The minute I heard China had been successful in getting the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, I thought about human rights. That was natural enough. At the time I worked for a human rights organization; but I remember thinking “Here it comes …”

And here it comes.

I’m no sports fan, and don’t fully appreciate the Olympics or the fuss that goes with it. I know it’s a big deal to a lot of people. Freedom, democracy and respect for human rights used to be pretty damn popular too.

Yet approximately one fifth of the world’s population have no chance of enjoying anything like even the most basic human rights, and we don’t seem to care.

In the 20 years since the people who control the People’s Republic of China (I ain’t calling them a government if they ain’t elected) threw away all but the most perfunctory pretense of communism, the country has become an economic powerhouse. An emerging superpower, they say.

But its people remain under the thumb of a brutal and repressive regime. Not as bad as their Maoist predecessors perhaps — this bunch slaughters their citizens in the hundreds, not the millions — but they are still a pretty nasty bunch.

China is run by a group of old men who maintain their authority through sheer force. We aren’t supposed to like that.

This group of old men recently invaded the country of Tibet, and are now systematically destroying the Tibetan people. We aren’t supposed to like that either.

What are we supposed to do about it?

Treat Tibet’s Dalai Lama like a rock star, and ignore the plight of his people?

I know many people roll their eyes and sigh when they hear the term human rights. For many, the words conjure up the image of angry people on TV squawking and bawling about what they think they deserve. And more often than not it involves them demanding the government — that’s you and I — pay them money. It can all be a bit much.

Chinese human rights issues aren’t like that.

In China it’s more about people quietly hoping they have the right not to be killed by the government for speaking their mind.

In China, most of us at The Independent would be dead or in jail. In China you could face prison for possessing, let alone reading, this paper.

You and I need to help promote freedom in China.


Some say we should ban Chinese products — which we depend on, more and more — until they clean up their act.

I’m not so sure. I wonder if punishing Chinese workers is the right thing to do.

Our ancestors worked like modern Chinese do — long hours at low wages — to build better lives for themselves. If we admire the sacrifices our ancestors made way back when, shouldn’t we admire hard-working Chinese now?

I have heard another argument that says the best way to coax China towards democracy is through more trade and contact. The more regular Chinese learn about the West, and its democracy and freedoms, so the thinking goes, the more they’ll want it.

I agree. It’s human nature to want to be free.

But trade will only go so far. We need a way to show the average Chinese citizen that we have no taste for the Communist regime, no taste for their outlook, tactics or policies. How can we display our displeasure while at the same time not really hurting the average Chinese worker in the pocketbook?

Who cares?

I think the answer is to threaten to boycott the Olympics.

The men who control China understand only force. They’ve proved that time and time again — in Tiananmen Square, when they slaughtered their own university students, with their treatment of the Falun Gong religious cult and in Tibet.

The Olympics are the best opportunity we will have in a while to stare down these bullies.

I suggest we put it to them short and to the point. If they don’t shape up, we won’t come. And mean it. Show them we cannot be pushed around.

You want to know something? It won’t happen. You know why? Not enough of us care.

We live in the post 9/11 age, where the United States, with some level of complicity from our country and other “allies,” torture, or condone the torture, of prisoners. The “war on terror” has gnawed away at the basic rights of many. No one seems to care.

The Olympics will go ahead, and a lot of lofty words about the dignity of sports, and the glory of coming together in world peace will be spoken between the TV ads. They will mean nothing, except to Chinese political prisoners and Tibetans, who will think it is some kind of sick joke.

China’s brutal dictators will see our participation in the Olympics in Beijing as an endorsement of how they do business. And they will see it that way because that is what it will be.

Who cares about a bunch of murdered Chinese or Tibetan protesters? What people really want to see is how far someone can throw a pointy stick. ivan.morgan@theindependent.caOLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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