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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The delicate issue of China's internal affairs

September 17, 2009

newstraitstimes - 2009/09/17
by Frank Ching

EVER since the 1950s, China has subscribed to the principle of
non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, which was first
written into a treaty that it signed with India in 1954. Since then, China
has continued to loudly uphold this principle and to criticise those whom,
in Beijing's view, interfere in its internal affairs, including comments on
its human rights record.

During this period, however, China has by no means lived up to its own
standards. In the Maoist era, for example, Beijing supported world
revolution and called constantly called for the downfall of "American
imperialism" and its "running dogs".

In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported insurgent movements in Southeast
Asia. Even as the Chinese government was pledging eternal friendship to
governments with which it had forged diplomatic relations, the Chinese
Communist Party was covertly supporting underground movements intent upon
overthrowing those same governments.

It was not until the 1980s that such blatant interference in other
countries' internal affairs finally ceased.

With the recent rise of Chinese economic power, Beijing appears to have
widened its definition of what constitutes its internal affairs. Indeed, its
definition of Chinese internal affairs increasingly seems to overlap with
other countries' definitions of their internal affairs.

For example, Beijing calls on leaders of other countries not to meet with
the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of being a splittist, intent on separating
Tibet from China. Last year, it cancelled a summit meeting with the European
Union because President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who then held the
rotating presidency of the EU, insisted on meeting with the Nobel laureate.

Sarkozy insisted on his right to meet whomever he wanted, saying: "It's not
for China to fix my agenda, or to dictate my meetings."

The Chinese position seems to be that any government that accords any
recognition to the exiled Tibetan leader is interfering in China's internal
affairs.

This Chinese position extends beyond visits with government leaders. Beijing
wants foreign governments not to issue visas to the Dalai Lama, even though
the right to issue visas is intrinsic to a country's sovereignty.

Governments ordinarily issue or withhold visas on the basis of their own
interests, not those of others.

But incurring China's displeasure carries with it certain costs. Last month,
for example, China rejected a requested port call in Hong Kong by Japan's
navy. The official China Daily cited visits to Japan by the Dalai Lama and
the Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer as reasons for turning down the request.

The number of individuals whom the Chinese government wishes other countries
to boycott has also increased. Traditionally, Beijing has focused on Taiwan,
warning all countries with which it has diplomatic relations not to receive
senior officials from Taiwan.

Visas for China's critics have also come under Beijing's scrutiny. A few
days ago, China tried to prevent the environmental activist Dai Qing and the
writer Bei Ling from visiting Germany to take part in a symposium leading up
to the Frankfurt Book Fair.

When the two showed up for the forum on Saturday, the entire Chinese
delegation walked out in protest. China is this year's guest of honour at
the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The United States, of course, has been a major Chinese target. Former
president George W. Bush met repeatedly with the Dalai Lama and, in 2007,
was present when the Tibetan received the Congressional Gold Medal.

In recent months, Australia has borne the brunt of Chinese ire, largely
because it allowed Rebiya Kadeer to visit while the Melbourne film festival
screened a documentary about the exiled Uighur leader. The screening went
ahead even though a Chinese diplomat telephoned the festival's director
demanding that the film be dropped. Some Australians saw this as
interference in their country's domestic affairs.

Canada was told recently that it was back in China's good graces. Foreign
Minister Yang Jiechi said in June that the key to success was "not to
interfere in other countries' internal affairs", which was taken to mean an
end to criticism of China's human rights practices.

The Dalai Lama is visiting the US next month and President Barack Obama sent
representatives to Dharamsala to discuss this issue. It was decided that he
will not meet the Tibetan leader this time, apparently because Washington
wants to ensure the success of his visit to China in November.

In the end, just as China decides what constitutes its internal affairs,
other countries will have to decide where China's domestic affairs end and
their own internal affairs begin.
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