Google withdraws from China

On the 22nd March, Google announced that it had stopped filtering results on Google.cn based in China. The withdrawal followed two months of tense negotiations following Google’s reaction to coordinated cyber attacks on the gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents. In its negotiations, Google had sought to persuade Chinese authorities to allow it to operate an unfiltered search engine. But Chinese officials had made it “crystal clear … that self-censorship is non-negotiable”. Since its withdrawal Google has re-directed mainland users to its search engine based in Hong Kong. But so far it seems this attempt to avoid Chinese cenorship has been unsuccessful.

Google is to be congratulated.What it has done gives rise to a general issue of corporate responsibility to observe international human rights where to do so might jeopardise shareholder profitablity. Traditionally, subject to its founding documents, the function of a corporation was to make a profit and the directors were not authorised  to direct its business activities to anything else. As a 19th century Judge once put it “a company has neither a soul to be damned, nor a body to be kicked.”  More recently,  ‘corporate social responsiblity’ has become topical. This, however, has been mostly in reference to environmental considerations and perhaps labour standards rather than observing international human rights obligations not reflected in local law.

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Published in: on April 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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China — Human Rights — Western criticism

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, 29th Jan 2010, Ian Buruma makes some observations about Chinese attitudes to human rights which are not in themselves themselves original but are pungently put and present the dilemma. Criticism of China’s appalling human rights record collides with Chinese nationalism and thus  only exacerbates an antagonism to human rights, which, as a concept, does not belong to the Chinese  tradition.

Thought control, in terms of imposing an official orthodoxy, is a very old tradition. The official glue that has long been applied to hold Chinese authority together is a kind of state dogma, loosely known as Confucianism, which is moral as well as political, stessing obedience to authority. … instilling the belief that obedience to authority is not just a way to keep order, but an essential part of being Chinese….the most common ideology since the 1990’s is a defensive nationalism, disseminated through museums, entertainment and school textbooks.

All Chinese school children are indoctrinated with the idea that China was humiliated for centuries and that support of the Chinese state is the only way for China to regain its greatness and never be humiliated again. That is why foreign criticism of Chinese politics, or Chinese infringements of human rights, is denounced by government officials as an attack on Chinese culture, as an attempt to ‘denigrate China’. And Chinese who agree with these foreign criticisms are treated not as dissidents but as traitors.

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 10:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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SMH Report: Revolution brewing in China

John Garnaut reports the interesting comments of China’s ‘top expert on social unrest’, Professor Yu Jianrong. The comments are interesting, both in themselves and in having been made public. Professor Yu warned [December 2009] that hardline security policies are taking the country to the brink of ‘revolutionary turmoil’. Deepening social fractures were caused by the Communist Party’s obsession with preserving its monopoly of power through ‘state violence’ and ‘ideology’, rather than justice – Professor Yu said.

Garnaut comments that “it is unusual for someone with Professor Yu’s official standing to make such direct and detailed criticisms of core Communist Party policies”

Yu is Director of Social issues at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of Rural Affairs and conducts surveys on social unrest on which he reports to the leaders.

Professor Yu noted that the recorded incidents of ‘mass unrest’ grew from 8709 in 1993 to more than 90,000 in each of the past 3 years. “For seeking ‘buzheteng’ we sacrifice reform and people’s rights endowed by law … Such stability will inevitably bring social disaster”, Professor Yu said. ‘Buzheteng’ means ‘stability’.

Interesting! Is this a ‘straw in the wind’? Or is it perhaps part of an internal Party struggle between Hu, President, and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, on the one hand, and former President, Jiang Zemin and current Vice President, Xi Jinping, on the other?

As to the forecast of ‘unrest’, I had come to assume China’s extraordinary economic growth, the existence of a wealthy middle class and the cultivation of intense nationalism, would enable the Communist Party to maintain repression of dissent indefinitely. But an annual rate of major incidents in the vicinity of 100,000, even in a country with China’s population, is very high. The toll of gross inequality, the decline in the social welfare system, the absence of recourse to an independent legal system and endemic corruption, may lead to some form of eruption sooner than I have expected. The extremely hard-line approach towards dissent taken during 2009 suggests the Chinese Communist Party leadership may have similar concerns.

At all events, it would seem more than coincidental that Professor Hu’s address was delivered on the 26th December 2009, the day after Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

Liu Xiaobo sentenced to 11 years imprisonment

It was reported [12/2] that Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years presumably for subversion.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany and Canada have denounced the verdict imposed on account of his role in compiling Charter 08. Liu’s supporters are reported not to have been surprised by the sentence; nor would Liu have been.

Perry Link, Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, worked on the translation of Charter 08.

He described the document and Liu’s part in it. It “is addressed to fellow citizens in China from a group that you’d call intellectuals in general although they made an effort to reach out to workers and even leaders of farmers movements so that they wouldn’t be viewed as a purely dissident document.”

“It was not a Petition” — a matter of some misunderstanding outside China. “It was a statement of ideals, a blueprint for what China might ideally look like if it had democracy and constitutionalism and the rule of law and all the other things that the charter listed. And it was addressed to fellow citizens. It did not ask the Chinese Communist Party to do anything.”

“Liu Xiaobo was not one of the main drafters of Charter 08. It is generally believed tht the chief drafter was his friend, Zhang Zuhua, whose home was raided after the charter came out, but was not arrested. Others contributed.”It was a real collective effort with more than a 100 people contributing.

“Liu played a very significant role near the end in helping to find people to sign it. ”

The question then is why was Liu specifically targeted. It appears that “the reason …. is that he has been over the last 20 years… since the Tianmen demonstrations and the Beijing massacre,one of the most obdurate dissidents … He was in the United States when the Tiananmen movement happened and voluntarily came back to China and participated in the movement and was arrested shortly thereafter. And then, later in the 90’s for other things that he wrote about democracy and human rights , and remembering the Tiananmen massacre, was arrested again… he is the best known dissident … I don’t think that Liu Xiaobo had any hope at all that the court would act differently”

Why then did he do it? “Well, one of his good friends Zhang Tse-tung has written an essay addressing that question and says that what Liu Xiaobo wants to do is record for history exactly what happens when an independent intellectual stands up to an authoritarian state from start to finish as it were..”

Published in: on February 14, 2010 at 10:09 am  Comments (1)  

A Note on the History of China and Taiwan

* Chiang fled to Taiwan in 1949 with 2 million of his followers following their defeat by Communist forces who had achieved effective control of mainland China. The Peoples Republic of China was proclaimed in October 1949

* Chiang established or, more precisely, relocated the government of the Republic of China in Taiwan in 1949. The Republic had been formed following the successful revolution against the Qing in 1911. It was the government of the Republic, under Chiang, which had assumed China’s seat at the United Nations and at the Security Council upon the foundation of the UN in 1945.

* This  situation continued until 1971, when, as a result of the Nixon/ Mao rapprochement, the PRC government replaced the Republic as China’s representative at the United Nations.

* In 1979 Congress passed the  Taiwanese Relations Act which authorised quasi-diplomatic relations with the ” governing authorities on Taiwan”. The Act did not recognise the terminology ‘Republic of China’ after the 1st Jan 1979 but stipulated that the United States would ‘consider any effort to determine the future of Tawan by other than peaceful means, including boycotts or embargoes, a threat to peace and ecurity… and of grave concern to the United States.”

*The Act also authorised the United States “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force …”The Administration proposal for an Arms sale  presently before Congress is pursuant to these provisions.

* Taiwan became a functioning democracy, recognizing human rights and holding genuine elections, in the early 1980’s

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm  Comments (2)  

China and the US arms deal with Taiwan – some background comments

China has objected strongly to the 6.4 billion arms sale which the Obama Administration as presented to Congress[Telegraph London 1/2/2010]. Announcing retaliation,Vice Foreign Minister, He Yafei, said that China was ‘strongly indignant’ and that the US plan ‘will definitely undermine China-US relations’; and Admiral Yang Yi, author of China’s Defence White Papers, has said that if Congress ‘does not make a U Turn …. sanctions will follow. We are clear this action will harm ourselves. We are going to give a lesson to the US Government that harming others will harm yourself. This will not only affect Boeing but all companies involved in this.’ Boeing is supplying the anti-ship missiles which form a significant part of the sale.It also accounts for 53% of the planes in China’s commercial fleet, with an estimated market worth $400 billion dollars over the next two decades.

Arms sales by the US to Taiwan have been made regularly under the Taiwan Relations Act since 1979. There is nothing exceptional in the current proposed sale. One obvious explanation of the current more vigorous complaint is China’s financial leverage over the US, especially apparent since the GFC.

It has never been suggested – nor does China suggest – that the Arms Sales have any aggressive purpose against the mainland. They are clearly designed to enable Taiwan to protect itself against an attack from the PRC. China’s objection is that it implies the US rejection of the PRC claim to re-unite Taiwan, (which it views as a renegade Province) and perhaps (although the US has never committed itself)  also implies US support of Taiwan by force.

It is unlikely that the present friction will result in serious conflict, although the situation is obviously open to  unforeseen escalation. Congress may well call China’s ‘bluff’  and hope that diplomacy will repair the relationship before sanctions are implemented or, if implemented, not do too much economic harm. But another possibility is that the US and China will come to an understanding,China agreeing to refrain from use of force and the US agreeing not to supply arms  pending the outcome of tripartite talks about the future relationship of Taiwan to Mainland China. This development would be opposed by Taiwan. Moreover, given Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, such talks would be inconceivable unless predicated upon the ‘one country-two systems’ autonomy allowed to Hong Kong.

The latter outcome would be retrograde. Taiwanese democracy would not long survive the takeover of sovereignty. Re-unification would not be acceptable to the very substantial and vehement opponents to it in Taiwan. Re-unification, resulting from any such ‘autonomy agreement’ would be followed – or is likely to be followed – by repression. Hong Kong is very different but even there it is likely China is only biding its time to exercise a more repressive influence. Thus, whilst the Security Anti-subversion Law under Article 23 of the Basic Law which the Chinese pressed upon the then Chief Minister(and would have severely curtailed human rights otherwise allowed under the Basic Law), was withdrawn following an outburst of popular opposition, it is likely to be re-introduced at a more opportune time. A law in the same terms was introduced into Macau in 2009. It is reasonable to conclude that a re-unification of Taiwan with Communist China could only be maintained by continuing repression.

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 9:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

China’s response to Clinton and Gates weighs in on Google

In an editorial in the People’s Daily, Beijing, Wang Xiaoyang criticised the Clinton speech on internet freedom:-

(a) He said the unrest in Iran occurred because of on-line warfare launched by America via Youtube video nd Twitter microblogging; and

(b) questioned whether the Clinton view meant “obscenity and activities promoting terrorism would be allowed on the Net in the United States”.

It has been  reported that US diplomats had sought to reach out to the Chinese public by briefing bloggers in China. Nevertheless, the way ‘the wind is blowing’ may have been indicated in the State Department statement that whilst it recognized that China had a different position with repect to restricting information but the United States believed that the Chinese position was “inconsistent with the information environment and prerequisites of the 21st century”. No mention was made to the right to freedom of expression nor to the universality of that right.

(more…)

Published in: on January 30, 2010 at 4:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Google and internet control in China

Jason Wilson (‘Google No Champion of Human Rights’, New Matilda 14 Jan 2010) suggests that we should treat with scepticism the view that freedom of expression and human rights were major factors in Google’s recent announcement. Maybe: although it should should be noted that Google, recognizing the ethical wrong of censorship, did insist upon advising users when their search engine terms were being filtered; and, to avoid having to hand over emails to police, it did not set up a gmail service in China. Probably, Google’s motives were a mix of commercial and ‘freedom of expression’ concerns.Four years ago it did say it would ” carefully monitor conditions in China”.

The present point is that Google’s motives are of limited importance to the material issue which has arisen.What now matters is the outcome of the challenge to China’s massive internet censorship. For almost the first time since the Tiananmen massacre the ‘Human Rights World’ has, to use a phrase of Mao Tse-tung’s, ‘stood up’, although to, rather than by, China and on a human rights issue. The hitherto prevailing policy, based upon hope rather than realistic appraisal, of engagement with China rather than criticism(at least of a public character) has failed. But whether failed or not, the Google threat constitutes a challenge which cannot be disregarded or side-stepped. To the credit of the United States Administration, Secretary of State Clinton, in a firm but measured speech  has called for the universal freedom of the internet. What is crucial is that this be followed up with the Chinese government and publicly in international fora by all governments and that the issue be not relegated to ‘silent diplomacy’.Likewise, it is important that Google does not enter into a ‘weak’ compromise. It is that prospect which alone makes the ‘commercial’ character of Google’s motives relevant.

For a comprehensive description of Chinese users’ attitude towards the  internet, see Kathrin Hille’s interesting article.

Published in: on January 23, 2010 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

China Internet Control: Has the great firewall been breached?

The still unanswered question is whether Google’s threatened withdrawal from China represents an unanticipated victory for human rights in China.

China’s internet control constitutes the apogee of attempts by totalitarian states to control thought and forbid expression and communication. Except for the few brave dissentients, the Chinese government has achieved the outcome foreshadowed and feared by Orwell:” The terrifying thing about modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. In the past every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown because of human nature which, as a matter of course, desired liberty, but we cannot be all that certain that human nature is constant — it may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty …The Inquisition failed, but then the Inquisition had not the resources of the modern State. The radio, press censorship, standardised education and the secret police have altered everything; mass suggestion is a science …and we do not know how successful it will be.”

George Orwell, “Review of Russia under Soviet Rule by N. de Basily”, Essays, (Knopf, 2002).
Dan Edwards has described how the Tiananmen massacre has been erased from Chinese history within China:

“I’ve lived in China for two years now, and have never encountered a country so obsessed with history, while at the same time so completely in denial about its recent past. …At times it feels like the China we read about in western history books, that is recalled in the memoirs of Chinese people living outside the PRC, the China that we saw on television in 1989 — existed in some parallel universe. It seems impossible that a country of 1.3 billion could be made to forget so successfully. Then an older man you are drinking with begins recalling his time as a Red Guard, or you find out people were beaten to death in your place of work in the late 1960’s, or you interview a protester who saw the army march on to Tiananmen Square, and you realise it is all true — the history and the amnesia.”Forgetting Tank Man costs China Dearly,Dan Edwards, New Matilda, 4th June 2009.

Published in: on January 19, 2010 at 5:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Why was Liu singled out?

Liu Di

Liu Di, "the stainless steel mouse."

Liu Xiaobo is the only Charter 08 signatory who has been prosecuted up to the present time. He was arrested in December 2008 on publication of Charter 2008. It is known that given the measure of support for the Charter, the Chinese authorities were uneasy about what to do — they could not refrain from action and allow the Charter, which had 10,000 signatures, gather momentum through inaction but on the other hand to ‘crackdown’ generally on the 300 initial authors could have inspired active dissent. And so they took the course of  arresting the most prominent author which was thought sufficiently ‘threatening’, holding him for 12 months without trial so that the movement would peter out. But there are some brave Chinese. Some of Liu’s co-authors have signified that they are standing by him. One is Liu Di, “the stainless steel mouse” whom I was aware of as one of the internet prisoners of a few years ago.”For the dignity of the Constitution and the law, and for no more imprisonment of people for their independent opinions, I would prefer to share ith Mr Liu Xiaobo the same case with the same penalty”, she wrote recently.

Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment