This is the address given by former Canadian Government Minister, the Hon. David Kilgour, at the Forum on Human Rights in China, held in the Parliament Buildings, Ottawa, Canada on May 27, 2009.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre and 10 full years since the merciless persecution of Falun Gong began, I feel compelled to use my limited time today on these issues, despite those who say any criticism of China’s party-state should be muted during the present world economic crisis. Both issues, including the use of mostly Falun Gong prisoners of conscience in forced labour camps, are haunting testimonials against a totalitarian political system, which has over the past two decades also encouraged “anything goes” economics.
Tiananmen Square massacre
In the spring of 1989, hundreds of thousands of Beijing residents, led by university students, took their complaints against corruption by officials to the streets following the sudden death of reform-minded former Party Secretary Hu Yaobang.
Taking advantage of the presence of foreign journalists covering the visit to China’s capital by then Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, the demonstrators demanded political reforms towards democracy and the rule of law. Their raw courage inspired demonstrations across the country, unprecedented since Mao seized power in 1949. Almost 100 million Chinese participated in one way or another (according to Zhang Liang’s The Tiananmen Papers, 2001, p.xi). The protests continued, even after the Communist Party declared martial law and brought in thousands of armed soldiers.
Children of the Dragon, published in 1990 by the NGO Human Rights in China, captures many realities of the period well because most of the voices in it are survivors. For example, Cao Xinyuan, then a sculptor in Beijing, remembers: “We kept trying to tell the soldiers that no-one wanted to overthrow the government. We only wanted to get rid of corruption. We wanted political reforms.”
Deng Xiaoping characterised the events as a “counter-revolutionary riot”, but ordinary citizens offered more accurate perspectives. Wuer Kaixi, one of the protest leaders, noted, “We repeatedly communicated to senior levels of the government that if they wished the students to withdraw they had to ‘give them a ladder to stand down’, so to speak, or else they would not go.”
Literary critic Su Wei wrote: “… Li Peng and the other elders had a premeditated plan. They were plotting to oust [Party Secretary] Zhao Ziyang and undo a decade of reforms. As the government continued to provoke the students, it therefore became more and more difficult to ask the young people to behave rationally.” Zhao lost his job as martial law was declared and lived nearly 16 years under house arrest until his death in January 2005.
Hu Ping, leader of the 1980 student movement, remarked: “The spectacular pro-democracy movement in 1989 showed eloquently that the Chinese people will pursue democracy and freedom with compassion and self-sacrifice.”
A resident today of Ottawa, who witnessed the events, remembers: “We shouted, we argued, we begged, we bribed the soldiers, pleading with them not to raise their arms against the defenceless people.
“However, the government was not to be deterred from its plans for ‘restoring stability’ at any cost… Among the victims were my colleagues, students, classmates and a former boyfriend. My heart ached and raged with anger when I saw stacks of bodies, many crushed in half, in the hospitals in the days that followed.”
China’s rulers had sent in tanks and machine-guns for a bloody massacre of fellow citizens.
The two days that traumatised much of the world were consistent with a 40-year record of brutality against their own people.
The preface of Quelling The People (1992) by Timothy Brook, a Canadian academic, captures the essence of what then occurred: “On the night of June 3, 1989, tens of thousands of soldiers armed with assault rifles forced their way into the city of Beijing and drove unarmed student protesters from the central square at Tiananmen.
“When hundreds of thousands of citizens and students blocked their paths, the soldiers opened fire. On the morning of June 4, thousands lay dead and dying in the streets, the hospitals and the homes of Beijing.”
The eight “retired emperors”
According to the respected journalist, Liu Binyan, those who made the decision were “largely controlled by eight senile ‘retired emperors’, all over 80 years, who did not hold formal office in the Party or government but who prop up their rule through brute force and lies… To Deng as to Mao, people are nothing more than instruments: in wartime, they serve as soldiers; in peacetime, they are hands for production…”
Liu was twice expelled from the Communist Party, repeatedly persecuted and died in exile for speaking the truth.
To divert the ensuing international outcry and reassert its claim to legitimacy, which was effectively nullified worldwide by the massacre, the Party turned its attention towards economic growth.
In short order, China was refashioned into the world’s factory, churning out low-cost, often unsafe, consumer items made by women and men enjoying minimal work safety and virtually no social programs, pensions or environmental standards. This included prisoners of conscience who toil without any pay in forced labour camps.
The Tiananmen Massacre and forced labour camps are examples of the party-state’s oppression of one fifth of the world’s population and its continuing failure to honour basic human rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Forced labour as a consequence of human trafficking is all too common in many parts of the world today, but only the party-state of China uses it to punish and suppress its citizens for political dissent or religious beliefs.
Any Chinese national can be sent to a camp without any form of trial for up to four years upon committal by a simple police signature. No appeal is possible. Mao closely duplicated the work-camp model set up in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, which in China alone continues today.
In China, only Falun Gong inmates in the camps are used as a live-organ bank to be pillaged for sales to foreigners. Medical testing is required before organs can be matched with recipients, but only Falun Gong prisoners in the camp populations are tested medically on a regular basis.
Since the 1950s, a vast network of labour camps has existed. In the estimated 340 camps across China as of 2005, up to 300,000 “workers” toil in inhuman conditions for up to 16 hours daily without pay, producing a wide range of consumer products, mostly for export, in violation of World Trade Organisation rules.
For example, Montreal resident Ms Guizhi Chen, 62, was subject to four years of forced labour without pay in two different labour camps. Among the products she made, some for export, were purses and sweaters, worked on for an average of 12 hours daily. In the first facility she occupied, located near the outskirts of Beijing, about half of the other 700 female labourers were Falun Gong practitioners.
In the second, located far from the capital, there were about 300 women labourers, again with approximately half being Falun Gong. Only the Falun Gong practitioners in both, she says, were examined medically with blood tests and x-rays.
Such practices anticipated the Party’s intransigence against calls to improve human rights. They are fully consistent with Beijing’s rejection of the recommendations advanced by a number of governments, including Canada’s, in a recent Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Commission.
Among the recommendations rejected by the government of China are:
• ending all forms of arbitrary detention, including labour camps;
• guaranteeing freedom of belief and the right to worship in private;
• implementing the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture, which included references to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners and organ-pillaging from them; and
• ensuring that lawyers can defend their clients without fear or harassment.
Trade with China, where no media freedom exists, has been a costly proposition for many. In the words of Phelim Kine, who pinpointed the consequence of unfree media there: “The truths of corruption, public health scandals, environmental crises and abusive local authorities may be inconvenient… (but to) smother the reporting of these truths has contributed measurably to other global debacles, including recall of tainted food and toys.”
These and a host of other violations of normal international trading practices contributed to Canada’s bilateral trade deficit rising in China’s favour from $3.9 billion in 1997 to $26.8 billion in 2006, while costing many manufacturing livelihoods across Canada.
The Chinese government continues to deprive the people of China of basic human rights and the rule of law. While the world closed ranks and collectively condemned the Tiananmen killings, many in the international community today have averted their attention from the forced labour camps, which continue to operate as instruments of oppression and vehicles for illegal trade practices.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Beijing’s June 4 bloody crackdown of the student-led democratic movement, the regime has intensified its crackdown against human rights activists, according to Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Deputy Director. She says: “Most worrying is the complete disregard for national laws and the obstructions thrown in front of lawyers trying to do their jobs.”
It is clear that there has been no substantive improvement on human rights in China over the past 20 years.
As John Delury of Malaysia’s New Strait Times writes: “Sure enough, urban development, investment, and gross domestic product growth accelerated throughout the 1990s, but so did the gap between urban winners and rural losers.”
Such discrepancies and the consistent oppression of dissenting groups and ordinary citizens have led to more than 80,000 mass disturbances across the country last year, by Beijing’s own admission, a sign that the regime has not been successful in crushing the fighting spirit of the Chinese people.
As the world experiences the economic crisis and seeks China’s cooperation in dealing with its challenges, it is tempting to overlook Beijing’s human rights record. We must remind our leaders that to equivocate on China’s record is a departure from Canada’s own values of human dignity and rule of law.
We must caution them that trade with China at any price is costly both for the people of China and the peoples of the world. We must remember the sacrifices of victims of the massacre and other abuses.
We must demand that, instead of mocking the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, China should honour its provisions.