16/09/2010 - 00:00

Freedom of speech calls out from China

16/09/2010 - 00:00


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Despite the publication of a number of democratic articles, China’s liberty still faces an uphill battle.

State Scene intermittently highlights little-publicised developments in China, largely because of the beneficial impact upon Western Australia of expanded demand from China’s steel mills for iron ore since 2003.

But it would be callous to only view China’s citizenry from an economic perspective, as some do.

They too desire liberty and human rights which they lack, though not as extremely as during the regimented Mao Zedong era.

After Mao’s death the pressure for economic growth meant emulating Taiwan and Hong Kong, which forced his successors to significantly loosen some controls.

Notwithstanding that, the Chinese are still denied liberties Australians take for granted.

This cannot be justified, and the demand for an end to the controlled post-Maoist order continues.

Chinese calls for liberty didn’t suddenly vanish when hundreds of advocates were killed in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

State Scene was reminded of this when reading a report by Beijing-based Fairfax correspondent, John Garnaut.

Headlined ‘China Must Reform or Die’, Mr Garnaut highlighted two-star lieutenant general Liu Yazhou, who had publicly told his Communist superiors to “either embrace US-style democracy or accept Soviet-style collapse”.

Interestingly, General Liu’s call came as some of his brother generals ranted against American naval exercises in the Yellow and South China Seas.

General Liu had an article published in the Hong Kong magazine Phoenix Weekly, which is available in China and is easily accessed on the Internet.

“If a system fails to let its citizens breathe freely and release their creativity to the maximum extent, and fails to place those who best represent the system and its people into leadership positions, it is certain to perish,’’ he wrote.

“The secret of US success is neither Wall Street nor Silicon Valley, but its long-surviving rule of law and the system behind it.

“The American system is said to be ‘designed by genius and for the operation of the stupid’.

“A bad system makes a good person behave badly while a good system makes a bad person behave well.

“Democracy is the most urgent thing, without it there can be no sustainable rise.

“A nation that is mindful only of the power of money is a backward and stupid nation.

“What we could believe in is the power of the truth.

“The truth is knowledge and knowledge is power.

“In the coming 10 years, a transformation from power politics to democracy will inevitably take place.”

Mr Garnaut commented: “Last year Hong Kong’s Open magazine published a leaked report of one of General Liu’s internal speeches which raised the taboo topic of how some generals refused to lead troops into Tiananmen Square in 1989.

“General Liu returned to the subject of Tiananmen in his Phoenix article, saying ‘a nationwide riot was caused by the incompatibility of traditional power structures with reform’.”

Interestingly another Liu, Professor Liu Xioabo, who had said much the same, was jailed last December for 11 years with two years deprivation of political rights.

Professor Liu was one of more than 300 human rights activists who signed Charter 08, a manifesto inspired by Czechoslovakia’s famous Charter 77 calling for freedom of expressions, multi-party elections, and respect for human rights.

Two-year-old Charter 08 was released on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. State Scene urges readers to Google and read it since it’s a truly moving document.

Since then, none other than China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has said: “Without political reform, China may lose what it has already achieved through economic restructuring and the targets of its modernisation drive might not be reached.

“[We must] resolve the issue of the excessive concentration of unrestrained power [and] create conditions for the people to criticise and supervise the government.”

What’s puzzling is why a general was so fearless so soon after a professor was jailed for advocating the same thing.

I therefore contacted retired New Zealand professor, Dong Li, who I was fortunate to meet at a 2007 politics conference in Blenheim where we’d spoken.

Professor Li has a noble record of working for instituting human rights across China even though no longer living there.

He firstly cautioned against over-optimism and added that the situation required careful assessment.

“Behind their arrogance and gloating, the Communist leaders are undergoing a gnawing anxiety at China’s weak soft power, lacklustre international image, and sustainability of their model,” said Professor Li.

“Now more and more people worldwide have come to realise that China’s breakneck economic development has been achieved at the cost of political stagnation, social injustice and environmental degradation.

“Even in purely economic terms, China’s development is fuelled by massive investments – increasing loans from government banks, much of which is sure to be dead debts – and wasteful energy consumption.

“The more liberal faction within the Communist leadership is having growing doubts on whether the corrupt, repressive and polluting regime can survive much longer.

“Zhu Houze, the party’s propaganda chief in the liberal 1980s, who died in May, openly asked if China’s rise would bring fortune or disaster to the rest of the world.

“General Liu, a well-established writer of several books before joining the People’s Liberation Army, is a powerful spokesman of like-minded leaders.”

Professor Li said General Liu’s article should certainly be viewed as a wake-up call for his more complacent colleagues.

He said Liu’s claim that “a great nation must not have blind faith in the transient power of money” suggested he sought adoption of liberal policies to fully civilise Chinese society.

“Liu probably sees political democratisation as the only way to make China a really great country,” he continued.

“Why has he had such comments publish now? The answer is because the all-important 18th Party Congress is due in 2012.

“That congress will see a new generation of party leaders emerge, and with it, possibly, a new policy orientation.

“Different factions within the leadership have been jockeying for position.

“But – and it’s a very big but – liberals like General Liu are fighting an up-hill battle.

“Their opponents are formidable, as most party officials don’t wish to share power with the common people and give up their privileges.

“Even though they are uncertain about what the future holds they’re fearful of the consequences of their own actions.

Overseas Chinese are consequently cautious about General Liu’s declarations.

If they become over-optimistic of the Communist Party opting for democracy there was a danger of being “too accommodating” to Beijing.

“This may, in fact, be why Liu’s article has been allowed to be published,” Professor Li said.

“Propaganda officials are learning fast.

“From time to time they attempt to create a false impression of the freedom of speech by letting so that radically hawkish or nicely-worded liberal comments are allowed to be published.

“Publication of General Liu’s nice words certainly makes China appear to outsiders to be nicely promising, thereby defusing international tension and slackening the vigilance of China’s adversaries.

“Let’s hope the Liu dream comes true. Meanwhile let’s keep a cool head.”

If General Liu, Tiananmen martyrs, Professor Li and Charter 08’s authors prevail, then both the Chinese and Western Australians would greatly benefit.



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