JIN-463 -- China rights spotlight

J@pan Inc Newsletter
The 'JIN' J@pan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 462 Wednesday April 30, 2008, Tokyo

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China rights spotlight

The season for anti-China activity and reporting is upon us.
Groups such as 'Reporters Without Borders' have visited Japan
to protest at the Olympic torch carrying in Nagano and are
making moody noises about China's recent treatment of Tibetans.
Interestingly, the Secretary General of the latter activist
group was actually arrested for his efforts to disrupt the
lighting of the Olympic flame in Greece. Whether we sympathize
or not with the plight of the Tibetans, clearly there are good
grounds for seeing such Western activists as troublemakers.
Raising awareness is one thing but activists, particularly ones
from thousands of miles away, run the risk of delegitimizing
domestic resistance groups, uniting xenophobic anarchists and
of sparking reactionary crackdowns by their actions.

Another feature of these protests is the way that they use the
language and rhetoric of human rights. However, the vast
majority of issues relate to the territorial integrity of the
Chinese state. There are many injustices for which the Chinese
government is responsible, but how valid or useful are these
claims in light of the objectives of the campaigners? When it
comes to the Tibetans, the Uighurs, and the Taiwanese, many
local activists know that there are plenty of countries where
a few gory stories of mistreatment at the hands of the Beijing
authorities are enough to whip up an outcry from a range of
civil rights groups. And yet, many prefer not to go down this
route because in doing so, they leave themselves open to being
rolled into the general anti-China din that is hard to take
seriously due to the level of hyperbole and range of political
forces at play. From governments to arms companies, there are
many who gain by portraying China as a monster.

Additionally, so far as the territorial question goes, if one
group of independence activists gets associated with another,
it makes it much harder for the Chinese Communist Party to make
any concession. To do so in one instance would obviously
compromise its stance in another. In the same way, Japan is
unlikely to be able to make a concession on any one of its
territorial disputes with China, Russia and Korea, without
coming under increased pressure to do a deal on another.

The human rights issue also accuses the Chinese authorities of
excessive violence and suppression of the press – Menard of
Reports Without Borders willfully conflates these two by taking
a 'reporter's stance.' Again, there is a degree of validity in
these accusations but China seems to be singled out for its
misdemeanors much more than many other countries with equally
poor track records. Writing in a paper for the Cornell
International Law Journal, Randall Peerenboom argues that China
is subject to a 'human rights double standard' and that China
critics tend to put an unhelpful bias on political and civil
rights. The massive leaps forward in terms of social and
economic rights, including rapid and significant increases in
the quality of life for millions of ordinary Chinese citizens,
are ignored because they either serve no higher political
purpose or simply because economic statistics make less
interesting reading than a tortured political dissident. Tiny
groups/cults such as the Falun Gong seem to attract massive
international media attention and yet their number, taken as a
percentage of the Chinese population, is miniscule. As
Pereenboom, observes, 'when placed in a comparative
perspective, China outperforms the average country in its income
class on all major human rights indicators except civil and
political rights.'

For all its xenophobia towards China, evident in such episodes
as the recent gyoza scandal (http://www.japaninc.com/node/2891),
Japan has actually been one of the few industrial nations to be
extremely moderate in its criticism of China's human rights
issues, particularly at the official level. Perhaps being closer
in terms of proximity, Japan is more aware of the improvements
that have been made in Chinese society since the Mao era and,
aware of its own abusive treatment of Chinese people during the
war. In fact, Japan is more silent on rights issues with various
regional government that come in for criticism including Myanmar
and Indonesia. While it is often criticized for this by
activists, there is a good case to be made that this actually
gives Japan more credibility when it comes to engagement and
shows a humble self-consciousness of Japan's imperial history.
Ultimately, it would most likely weaken Japan's influence on
Beijing if it were to start preaching about Tibet or the
freedom of the Chinese press.

Peter Harris

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I don't think China (or more accurately the Chinese Communist Party) needs to be protected from criticism or protest, legitimate or otherwise. It would be better for those that rule China to dazzle us all with the power and legitimacy of their ideas and values. Now just what were those again?

" . . . China seems to be singled out for its misdemeanors much more than many other countries with equally poor track records."

Misdemeanors? When did routine head-cracking of demonstrators and imprisonment of political critics become misdemeanors? When a government abuses human rights on such a grand scale as China, not only at home but around the world as they prop up heinous regimes from Burma to Sudan to Zimbabwe, wouldn't it seem natural that they would get a bit more attention? More breathtaking still, they carry on like this while pretending worthiness to host the Olympics.

Instead of making lame excuses for China's systemic amorality, why don't you write up some of these other governments that you feel are getting off so lightly by comparison? There certainly are plenty of deserving candidates, and some of them are pretty close by. However, none can beat China for scale and global sweep.

"Burma to Sudan.."

Burma isn't Burma anymore, it's been Myanmar for almost twenty years now.

"Burma isn't Burma anymore, it's been Myanmar for almost twenty years now."

True, but many object to using the name Myanmar and refuse to do it. One could debate that, but using the name Burma does not imply any ignorance. See: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7013943.stm

Regarding the Burma/Myanmar comments, many object to the name Burma as this was the name used when under colonial (and military) occupation by the UK. Hence, Myanmar is the name given for an "independent" country. Note how the BBC article fails to mention the colonial issue. Also, Japan has had close ties with Myanmar in the past, probably why they accepted the name change from Burma to Myanmar. Hence the reason for using Myanmar in the Japanese press but Burma in the UK.