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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

A challenge to China

October 6, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

BY KAGAN McLEOD, NATIONAL POST
How China abuses human rights

China's leaders are dreaming of prosperity and good fortune by deciding
to open the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing at 8:08 p.m. on Aug. 8.

(The number eight is considered auspicious because it sounds similar to
the Mandarin word for "wealth.")

But when the Olympic torch is lit in Beijing's spectacular new National
Stadium, known as the "bird's nest" for its intricate steel beams, the
world's attention may be focused as much on China's failures as its
success.

For years, China's leaders have dreamed of turning the Olympics into a
carefully choreographed coming-out party to showcase its culture and
achievements.

They have spent decades planning and spending billions of dollars to
give Beijing a massive makeover, tearing down entire neighbourhoods to
build stadiums, roads and subways.

But while the Olympics are a source of great national pride, they will
also subject the country to greater outside scrutiny than ever before.

In the seven years since China won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics,
critics have repeatedly raised concerns over its human rights record.

Not since the 1936 Berlin Olympics has there been such a groundswell of
protest, with growing demands for a Games boycott.

Critics, inside China and out, have dismissed the Beijing Olympics as
the "Genocide Games" because of China's support of regimes in Sudan and
Myanmar, or "the handcuff Olympics" for its suppression of dissent at home.

China is regularly castigated for oppressing its citizens. This includes
limiting their freedom of expression, persecuting religions that refuse
to submit to state control and prohibiting independent trade unions.
Authorities rely on torture and capital punishment, along with
censorship, restrictions on freedom of assembly and the crushing of all
dissent.

Some observers claim Beijing is using the "war on terror" to justify
policies aimed at eradicating the "three evil forces of terrorism,
separatism and religious extremism," targeting the Uighurs,
Turkic-speaking Muslims in Xinjiang, and Tibet's Buddhists.

The new international focus on China comes just as Prime Minister
Stephen Harper has adopted a policy of publicly challenging Beijing's
human rights record.

After decades of mouthing platitudes about Canada's "close historical,
cultural and people-to-people links" with China, Ottawa has abandoned a
nine-year-old policy of meeting once a year behind closed doors to
discuss human rights concerns with Chinese diplomats.

Instead, Mr. Harper has vowed to carry out a "principled policy on human
rights" in which Canada will publicly denounce China's failings.

Since the Conservatives came to power, he has suspended the annual human
rights discussions and voiced concern over Beijing's human rights record
in two brief and distinctly cool meetings with Hu Jintao, the Chinese
President.

He has also criticized China's treatment of Huseyin Celil, a Canadian
Muslim and Uighur activist from Burlington, Ont., who was convicted and
sentenced to life in prison for "separatist activities" in China after a
15-minute trial in which his court-appointed lawyer was not allowed to
speak.

Mr. Harper further infuriated China when it was reported he will meet
the Dalai Lama when the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader visits Ottawa on
Oct. 28. China regards the Dalai Lama as "a political exile who has long
been engaged in activities aimed at splitting China under the camouflage
of religion."

Mr. Harper bluntly dismissed criticism of his new China policy, saying,
"I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values.
They don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."

But China responded, just as bluntly, by warning Ottawa not to meddle in
its internal affairs.

"For the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations in
1970, we are back to a

national debate about the fundamentals of the relationship [with
China]," said Paul Evans, chairman of the Vancouver-based think-tank,
the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. "This is a break, a decisive
break, with the way the relationship has been managed under six other
prime ministers."

Canada defends its approach to China as a natural adjunct to its
traditional diplomacy.

"As Canadians, we do carry our values and perspectives beyond Canada to
the rest of the world," David Emerson, the International Trade Minister,
told a business conference in Beijing this year.

"We talk candidly about democratic governance, about the importance of
the rule of law and about corporate social responsibility," he said.
"Open discussion and engagement in these broader issues should not
conflict with commercial interests."

Human rights advocates have long insisted Canadian values should take
precedence over Canadian commerce. They believe China, which is anxious
to fuel its growing economy, will heed Ottawa's demands.

"The lead-up to the 2008 Olympics offer a time during which the Chinese
government is likely to be more sensitive and concerned about its
international image than it has been in the past," Alex Neve, head of
Amnesty International Canada, recently told a parliamentary subcommittee.

Changes at the United Nations, with a new Human Rights Council replacing
the Commission on Human Rights, will also open new opportunities to
focus on China's human rights record, he said.

In preparing for the Olympics, China seems to have drawn even more
attention to its human rights record, through forced evictions of
residents to make way for Olympic projects, abuse of migrant workers and
police action to silence potential protesters. The New York-based group
Human Rights Watch estimates 300,000 people have been relocated.

China fears the Olympics may be disrupted by dissidents or threatened by
terrorists. It has launched pre-emptive crackdowns, targeting anyone who
supports independence or greater autonomy for Tibet, Xinjiang or Taiwan,
as well as members of dissident groups like Falun Gong, a meditative
religious sect that has staged mass protests in the past.

China has thrown up a massive security operation around the Olympics,
using technology that combines closed-circuit video surveillance with
voice and face recognition software and extensive monitoring of
telephone and Internet communications.

China already has what has been described as "the most extensive,
technologically sophisticated, and broad-reaching system of Internet
filtering in the world." Officials routinely block access to Web sites
on certain topics or when surfers type certain words. All Internet cafe
keyboards are equipped with monitoring software.

Now in the run-up to Aug. 8, human rights defenders and government
critics are being harassed, detained or placed under house arrest.

"The Chinese government has shown little substantive progress in
addressing long-standing human rights concerns," Human Rights Watch
reports.

"Instead, apparently more worried about political stability, Beijing is
tightening its grip on domestic human rights defenders, grassroots
activists and media to choke off any possible expressions of dissent
ahead of the Games."

"The image of the Olympics continues to be tarnished by ongoing reports
of the house arrest, torture or unfair trial of Chinese activists and
the extension of systems for detention without trial in Beijing as part
of the city's 'cleanup' ahead of August, 2008," warns Amnesty International.

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