Who says newspapers are dying?
With only 100 days until the Beijing Games, human rights activists are continuing to pressure the Chinese regime and authorities may be starting to feel the pressure, writes Antony Loewenstein.
After months of criticism of its human rights record, a conference in Beijing in late April attempted to challenge the Western perception. Luo Haocai, director of the China Society for Human Rights, said that, “China believes human rights like other rights are not ‘absolute’ and the rights enjoyed should conform to obligations fulfilled”.
After 30 years of rapid growth, he said, the Chinese people enjoyed religious freedom, political and social rights. Wang Chen, director of the Information Office at the State Council, agreed. “China is a developing country with a population of 1.3 billion and China’s human rights development still faces many problems and difficulties.” It’s a view unlikely to be shared by many in the West.
The Beijing Olympics continue to be a rallying cry for human rights activists. Advocacy group Dream for Darfur is now targeting corporate sponsors of the Games, including Coca Cola and McDonalds. BHP Billiton is accused of not speaking out on the ongoing genocide in Darfur. BHP was one of only eight companies to receive an “F” grade for its “moral failings” over Sudan.
Even the Germany Foreign Ministry, in a confidential report leaked to Spiegel, found “significant” failings over human rights, including excessive use of the death penalty, holding dissidents for no apparent reason, censoring the media and an inability to handle criticism. Torture was rampant.
None of these concerns seem to concern most Western companies, however. At a recent China International Exhibition of Police Equipment, countless multinationals displayed goods specifically designed to repress Chinese citizens. The New York Times questioned whether the export of such items might have breached a law passed in Congress after the 1989 Tiananmen Square killings. Like for many internet companies, China is a booming market, seemingly difficult to resist.
There are growing signs, however, that some companies are learning from past mistakes. Yahoo, after launching a Human Rights Funds last year to provide legal and humanitarian assistance for political dissidents, appears to be at least trying to mitigate its previous collusion with the Chinese regime. Yahoo boss Jerry Yang said last week: “I think that I’m a big believer in the American values (but) as we operate around the world, we don’t walk around having a very heavy-handed American point of view.”
The Chinese people themselves remain defiant and hurt by the international criticism of their government’s human rights record (though there is some dissent online). Chinese students in the US are battling what they see as biased media coverage and in China itself citizens recently said they trusted state media more than Western outlets to accurately report the Olympic torch relay.
With 100 days until the beginning of the Beijing Games, now is the time to increase pressure on the weak spots of the Chinese regime (though a recent report suggests the US government is currently trying to scuttle a human rights lawsuit against a senior Chinese leader fearing a chill in trade relations).
Perhaps China watcher John Pomfret, writing in the Washington Post, gets it right. He argues that although the current protests in China are against the foreign media and Tibet, it wouldn’t take much to switch anger towards the Communist Party. In other words, Chinese nationalism is a constantly evolving entity.
Many Chinese are critical of their government; they simply have nowhere to vent their frustrations. This doesn’t mean they want to embrace Western-style capitalism.
I sent the following (unpublished) letter to the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday:
Israel’s 60th birthday is being celebrated by Jews the world over but a growing number of global citizens share the view of South African liberation hero Desmond Tutu who said after returning from the Holy Land: “It reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa”. In other words, apartheid.
Peter Manning’s sensitive retelling of history (Opinion, 29/4) is a rare occasion to hear a Palestinian narrative. By explaining the roots of the conflict, Manning articulates the reasons why peace is so unobtainable in the Middle East. Two, often conflicting narratives must be heard.
Zionist head Colin Rubenstein takes the path of empty platitudes. By talking of “two states for two peoples”, he conveniently ignores Israel’s ever-expanding settlements in the West Bank in violation of international law. The unspoken truth about the Jewish state, increasingly articulated by historians the world over, is that Israel has never wanted a resolution of the impasse and simply stalls for time to make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. This is today’s reality.
As a Jew, I can never celebrate a nation that deliberately discriminates against Arabs within its borders.
The recent launch of new Israel lobby in the US, J Street, is an encouraging sign. Its message is fairly conventional – two states for two peoples – but it’s far more moderate than the current loudest voices in the room, the hardline Zionist extremists (the situation in Australia is little different, hence the success of the initiative I co-founded, Independent Australian Jewish Voices.) A growing number of Jews around the world are sick and tired of being defined by policies that only speak of invasion, occupation and violence.
Co-founder of J Street, Jeremy Ben-Ami, explains why his group is to important:
“Some of the loudest voices that are beating the war drums are those of either neocons who happen to be Jewish, or established Jewish community leaders who happen to be neocons. This is very disturbing. And it applies not only to Israel but to the whole Middle East — whether it’s American policy towards Iran, or maybe it had some role in the leadup to the war in Iraq. And I think this has made people say, ‘Wait a minute, I may never have been interested in Israel, I may never have been interested in the Jewish community, but these folks are speaking in my name and driving us towards wars and policies that I don’t want to be responsible for.'”
Until the Jewish community accepts that a small group of unrepresentative band of Zionists led the US (and Australia and Britain) into a criminal and futile war against Iraq (and Muslims in general), nothing will change. Jewish blogger Phil Weiss writes:
This is yet another sign that some day soon, or not so soon, the Jewish community will search its soul on the responsibility of Jewish neocons for the greatest foreign-policy debacle of the new century, the responsibility of non-neocon Jewish intellectuals and journalists in giving the neocons cover, and the role of Zionism in Jewish ideas about American power.
My latest New Matilda column is about the Bin Laden family and its influence in the world:
The Western world still understands little about the motivations behind the September 11, 2001 attacks nearly seven years after the fact. American journalist Steve Coll, a Pulitzer Prize winner, foreign correspondent, Washington Post managing editor and contributor to the New Yorker, details in his acclaimed 2004 book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet invasion to September 10, 2001, that the events of that fateful September day were both predictable and would probably not have happened without the former assistance of the CIA.
“As the years passed”, he argues, “these radical Islamic networks adopted some of the secret deception-laden tradecraft of the formal intelligence services [Western and Pakistani], methods they sometimes acquired through direct training.”
In his new book, The Bin Ladens: The Story of a Family and its Fortune, Coll continues his thesis about the expansive Bin Laden family and its intimate relationships with the highest echelons of the American political elite. Osama Bin Laden is only one small part of the puzzle, his influence greatly exaggerated by a Western media keen to find a bogeyman for the rise in Islamic fundamentalism.
Australia’s a remarkable country. Cambodian, Yugoslav and Vietnamese Australians who once shot at each other now live in the same city, sometimes the same suburb. The same goes for Arab and Jewish Australians. There are Jewish fighters from 1948 who successfully established the state of Israel and there are Palestinian refugees living in Sydney who were driven from their homes.
But you should have heard the groans of disapproval when Kevin Rudd’s paean of praise for Israel’s 60 years of democracy in Federal Parliament on March 12 was mentioned two weekends ago at the Arab Film Festival in Parramatta. In this swinging federal seat, the largely Arab-Australian audience was not impressed.
I suspect it wasn’t disapproval of Rudd’s perceived romance with Israel (they’re used to that with John Howard and Bob Hawke). It was the seeming insensitivity of a new Prime Minister so intent on collecting brownie points.
My following article appears in today’s ABC Unleashed:
The recent rigged election in Zimbabwe has highlighted the impotence of the international community. Bloggers and activists continue to emphasise the need for President Robert Mugabe to relinquish his hold on power, a position shared by Washington.
But not unlike the Burmese uprising in 2007 that saw China maintain a close relationship with the military junta, Mugabe enjoys the patronage of the Chinese regime. It is the kind of bond that increasingly defines global affairs.
Although a Chinese ship laden with weapons is headed for Zimbabwe and faces difficulties in unloading its cargo, Mugabe knows that, along with numerous other dictators, the rising superpower views its natural resources as a boon to be mutually shared.
The International Herald Tribune explained in 2005:
“While the talk is of democracy sweeping the [African] continent, some experts believe that China’s rising influence in Africa may power its blend of free-market dictatorship, particularly among African leaders already reluctant to turn over power democratically.
“‘We might see the Chinese political system appealing to a lot of states whose elites and regimes are more in line with that sort of thinking,’ said Chris Maroleng, a Zimbabwe expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. ‘It’s really a conflict of two systems, one based on regime security and the other, almost Western, which talks of human security – good governance and human rights.'”
Although China’s standards for trading are undoubtedly different to the West’s, it’s a delusion to presume that Washington, London, Australia and Europe solely engage on the basis of ensuring admirable human rights. America’s unyielding backing of Saudi Arabia – one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East – is but one example of greed coming before women’s equality.
The Independent recently reported that Chinese troops were seen on the streets of Zimbabwe in a clear sign of unity with the Mugabe regime. The paper articulated that the world should get used to this new kind of colonialism:
“As for Mr Mugabe, he marked Zimbabwean Independence Day yesterday by complaining of neo-colonialism and how Britain wants to retake control of Zimbabwe. He and other African leaders should think more carefully. There is a danger of their countries becoming a victim of a re-colonisation. But the threat is not from the West. It comes from the East.”
The inherent fear in the current debate revolves around the declining influence of America during the Bush years, something that I welcome. Although the country remains capable of shaping events far better than any other, the calamitous Iraq war proves that resistance to America’s imperial designs is growing. Countless books are being written that discount Washington’s power in the world, a premature stance. Mark Leonard, author of What Does China Think?, argues that the “China Model” is attractive because America’s policies have becoming annoyingly intrusive:
“Where American policy-makers champion the Washington Consensus, the Chinese talk about the success of gradualism and the ‘Harmonious Society’. Where the USA is bellicose, Chinese policy-makers talk about peace. Whereas American diplomats talk about regime change, their Chinese counterparts talk about respect for sovereignty and the diversity of civilizations.”
Although this is an overly simplistic explanation, a vast number of dictators find its message highly appealing. Author Ian Buruma writes that, “a dogmatic insistence on isolating dictators, such as the Burmese junta, does little to oust them, and actually diminishes America’s influence.”
Intriguingly, many Western commentators who insist on challenging China’s global rise are strong supporters of Washington-led military projection. It’s as if they wish citizens of repressive nations would look at the last eight years of American foreign policy and see nothing other than benign invasions and occupation. Recent polling in the Middle East finds public opinions towards the superpower has fallen since 2006.
This is neither an argument to ignore the plight of the Zimbabwean people nor simply calls to acquiesce in the rise of a values-free foreign policy. It is vital, however, to critically analyse our own global worldview, and improve it, before passing harsh judgement on China’s undoubted appetite for natural resources.
How else can we explain our kow-towing to Saudi King Abdullah? “The sad, awful truth,” wrote Robert Fisk in 2007, “is that we fete these people, we fawn on them, we supply them with fighter jets, whisky and whores.”
The face of Iraq in 2008, an explosion of honour killings:
In the latest such case, it was reported yesterday that a 17-year-old girl, Rand Abdel-Qader, was stabbed to death last month by her father for becoming infatuated with a British soldier serving in southern Iraq.
In Basra alone, police acknowledge that 15 women a month are murdered for breaching Islamic dress codes. Campaigners insist it is a conservative figure.
Violence against women is rampant, rising every day with the power of the militias. Beheadings, rapes, beatings, suicides through self-immolation, genital mutilation, trafficking and child abuse masquerading as marriage of girls as young as nine are all on the increase.
Reconciliation is the word on many lips, but a fundamentalist brand of Islam has been unleashed in the occupied nation.