Friday, August 29, 2008

Closed eyes to Beijing's brutality

By Paul Schratz

BC Catholic Paper: Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan will have an extraordinary opportunity later this week to put the rights of the disabled in full public view.

But don't hold your breath.

The disabled mayor has been named a torch-bearer at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing Sept. 6-17, so expect Sullivan to get lots of attention cruising around in his wheelchair, brandishing the torch with some gizmo like the one that helped him wave the Olympic flag at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.

Sullivan, who went to Beijing for the Summer Olympics and is staying on for the Paralympics, will probably continue to find some lapses in accessibility in Beijing, such as the bus stops, or the oversight that left him without access to Canada Olympic House until organizers constructed a last-minute ramp.

Yet Sullivan is an unlikely campaigner for full rights for the disabled in a country whose communist ideology stresses the demand for a healthy populace.

China's brutal one-child policy, forced sterilizations, bans on disabled people marrying, and the routine abortion of fetuses with disabilities, makes the country an odd choice for host of the Paralympics.

Of course the country was an odd choice for the Olympics to begin with. There's no point listing the brutal human rights violations the country is known for. The Games took place, everyone held their noses, and all the talk in the aftermath is about whether London and Vancouver can ever hope to compete with the spectacle that was Beijing.

There's something more than a little disturbing, however, about hearing such gushing from people who should know better.

Sullivan was on radio last week, being interviewed about the Games and his reaction. "Everything impressed me," he said from Beijing.

The citizens were "engaged and so welcoming," he said, and on this, his third visit to the country, Beijing looks more cosmopolitan than ever.

The "culture of service" he found among the people was beyond what anyone expected, he said. "This really has been their coming out to the modern world."

Sullivan's accolades might sound naive, but what to make of his thoughts on the oppressive nature of the government?

"It doesn't feel like a dictatorship," he told a reporter. "I turned on the TV and I saw all the Western channels that were criticizing China, and I thought this doesn't really square with the feeling that people in the West have about what's going on in China. There is a lot of openness."

Whether these are the words of gullibility or wilful ignorance, it really does give one pause. The very day Sullivan arrived in Beijing, former Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour and David Matas, a human rights lawyer, released new evidence about the continued murder of Falun Gong practitioners in China for their organs, which are harvested for sale to Western countries.

On the day the Olympics ended, before the visitors had even returned home, the crackdown on human rights was back in full swing. Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo was arrested at his cathedral in Zhengding.

The 73-year-old bishop, who refuses to register with the Chinese government and has been arrested 12 times since 2004, was hauled away by police after he offered the Mass at the cathedral.

More than 1,000 Catholics attended, even though public security officers had warned Catholics in the diocese to stay away from the Mass.

Now here's the ultimate irony. Bishop Jia runs an orphanage that cares for disabled children, and there's speculation that his arrest might have something to do with the upcoming Paralympic Games.

Dear Mayor Sullivan, while you're in Beijing appreciating its cosmopolitan nature, would you please put in a word for Bishop Jia. He isn't finding the culture of service up to standard lately.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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