“He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny”

- March 3rd, 2012

Liu XiaoboAs with any Canadian prime minister visiting China, one of the overarching themes that many in Canada were concerned about was how the PM would press China for progress on human rights. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though, went to China amid particularly difficult circumstances on the human rights file: Last year, Liu Xiaobo (left) became the first person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize while jailed by his own government for doing nothing more than expressing his opinion. The Chinese government were furious with this award because they knew that it had shown them up to be the tyrants they are. When I was in China and connected to the Internet via servers controlled by the Chinese government, I would get nothing but “404 error – not found” if type “Liu Xiaobo” into my browser’s search engine.

But — and here’s the dilemma for a Canadian PM — we buy a lot of stuff from China. We sell them a lot of stuff, too, which creates Canadian jobs, and we want to sell them more. So: Given our self-interest, how hard would PM Harper be on human rights? Well, here’s an indication: though the Canadian journalists (including me) travelling with Harper on that trip tried to press him on Liu’s case (and the case of others), Harper wouldn’t even refer to Liu by name, lest he offend his Chinese hosts.

For more background on Liu: Check out this essay by Simon Leys, published ahead of Harper’s visit. Here’s Leys, quoting Liu:

At home, [the Chinese Communists] defend their dictatorial system any way they can, [whereas abroad] they have become a blood-transfusion machine for a host of other dictatorships…. When the “rise” of a large dictatorial state that commands rapidly increasing economic strength meets with no effective deterrence from outside, but only an attitude of appeasement from the international mainstream, and if the Communists succeed in once again leading China down a disastrously mistaken historical road, the results will not only be another catastrophe for the Chinese people, but likely also a disaster for the spread of liberal democracy in the world. If the international community hopes to avoid these costs, free countries must do what they can to help the world’s largest dictatorship transform itself as quickly as possible into a free and democratic country.

And if you don’t think the power of Liu’s ideas — or the ideas, more generally, of the pluralistic, democratic West — scare China’s communists, Leys has this argument:

Foreign experts in various intelligence organizations are trying to assess the growing strength of China, politically, economically, and militarily. The Chinese leaders are most likely to have a clear view of their own power. If so, why are they so scared of [Liu],  a frail and powerless poet and essayist, locked away in jail, cut off from all human contacts? Why did the mere sight of his empty chair [at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony] at the other end of the Eurasian continent plunge them into such a panic?

Read the rest here: He Told the Truth About China’s Tyranny by Simon Leys | The New York Review of Books.

(Photo information: Photo of Liu Xiaobo is a file handout picture distributed by Agence France-Presse. AFP says it was received from the family and was taken on March 14, 2005.)

Categories: Foreign Affairs, Politics

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