A lesson China should learn

A lesson was given by the Nobel Peace Prize committee of Norway. Liu Xiaobo, arrested and given a sentence of 11 years in prison by the Chinese government, was awarded this year’s prize. The Chinese Communist government, as usual, protested strongly, saying that it was a desecration to the prize. However, to be a real leader of the world, China should have learned to respect human rights, the truth and the sovereignties of other nations, as well as the independence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Human rights in China are legally — but unfortunately not practically — protected by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. Democratic western countries have been urging China to improve their human rights status for decades in various ways. However, the progress seems very slow. Liu was arrested for co-writing Charter 08 and collecting signatures on the Internet. His arrest is a severe violation of the constitution and, more importantly, human rights in general.

According to the Constitution of China, Articles 35 and 41 states that freedom of speech and press, together with the right to petition the state, are inviolable. Except demanding further democratization of China through amending the constitution, the main idea of Charter 08 was simply requesting reinforcement of freedom, human rights, equality, democracy and rule by law, which are all included in the constitution, yet ignored often by the government. Such a passive and non-radical demand, nevertheless, landed a Chinese citizen in jail. This is ridiculous. This is a complete repudiation of human rights, which has already been recognized by the Chinese government in 1997 when China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is hard to imagine one could be sent to prison just because he or she says something the government does not like, especially in a country with a complete constitution. This must be corrected.

China has always been proud of 5,000 year long history and civilization, but the Chinese government today appears to be a fiction teller whenever embarrassing things happen. After Liu was awarded the prize, the Chinese government was criticized for preventing her people from knowing it. Press censorship is not a new story in China. The main newspapers and television channels are all under the government’s monitoring. The Tiananmen Square incident of 1989 is still a taboo subject in mainland China, and even 21 years later, the government has never admitted the responsibility for the murder of students by the army. This is a disgrace of Chinese history, not only because people who participated in a patriotic movement were killed by their own government, but also because of the denial of the truth by the Chinese authorities. Denial of the truth is even worse than trampling lives. Regardless of the reasonable and just demand of Liu, and the appreciation given by the west, China simply shuts the mouth of the press, leaving her people in darkness.

The leading officials in the Chinese government have been telling the world that China is rising peacefully and learning how to be one of the leading countries of the globe. There would be few who disagree that leaders of the world should understand the relations among countries, governments and their people, including non-governmental organizations. In terms of this, China is not prepared to be a world leader. The Foreign Ministry of China’s reaction towards the awarding of the Peace Prize reveals this. The Ministry’s spokesman, apart from emphasizing it was a blasphemy to present the prize to Liu, protested against the Norwegian government instead of the prize committee. What an international joke!

Obviously, the Chinese government mistakenly thought that the Norwegian government could “adjust” the results of the prize, as the Chinese government has been doing in China. China even tried to stop representatives from other countries from attending the prize presentation, claiming that appreciation towards a criminal under Chinese law would be an interference in Chinese domestic affairs and would cause damage to international relationships. These tiny details matter. If China wishes to be a real leading state, her one-party dictatorship must be given up. It does not make any sense that one party could lead the world, treating each country equally and respecting their sovereignty, and at the same time governing her own country in an almost totalitarian style. It is always hard to give up power, but as Article 2 of China’s constitution says, “Power belongs to the people.” By returning the power to her people, China would literally be the People’s Republic — not the Communist Party’s.

No one would doubt China’s achievement in economic development and modernization, especially in her main cities, but by respecting human rights, the truth, the independence of NGOs and the sovereignty of other countries, China could one day become a real and respected world leader.

Ng Cheuk Ting Daniel wishes to see the day when China is a free and democratic country.

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