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The two Chinas

Posted by Author on December 4, 2009

Lorne Gunter, National Post, Canada, Friday, December 04, 2009 –

A friend who does a lot of business in mainland China describes the political climate there this way: “You are welcome to say whatever you want against the government, so long as no one pays attention.”

Chinese may pin up anti-government posters, post anti-government messages on websites or stand on street corners and preach venom against the central committee of the Chinese Communist party. But if more than a handful of others gather around to listen, they could quickly find themselves spirited off to a political prison.

The Chinese government is all in favour of free speech, it’s the listening that scares them. The ruling cadre worries that if citizens begin getting together, begin using their new economic clout to demand influence over politics and public policy, there will be no stopping them from toppling the regime.

Instead, go out, make money, lots of money. There are fewer regulations on business creation in many provinces in China than there are in Canada (and lower taxes, too). Buy fancy cars, hire a private legion to protect your assets, whoop it up in a high-tech nightclub, accumulate capital, just don’t do anything that makes the Communist party antsy. Let them run the government. You concentrate on running your business. So long as everyone adheres to their roles, everything will be fine.

This is the dichotomy of modern China, a country that is both banker to the world and the world’s leading executioner; the country with the planet’s most rapidly growing manufacturing sector and one of the most repressive systems for dealing with dissidents.

Case in point: Falun Gong, a spiritual movement with millions of adherents in China and worldwide. No other organization seems to rankle the central committee as much as Falun Gong. Members claim all the time that they are harassed, beaten, disappeared, tortured, even executed for their esoteric beliefs.

Last January, a grandmother was handing out Falun Gong pamphlets on the streets of a small industrial city in central China. Police surrounded her, threw her in the back of van and took her to jail. Within days, she was sentenced by a Chinese court to spend nearly a year and half in a re-education camp where she is at risk of torture, or being worked to death, or starved.

In August, the Falun Gong Clearing House claims, a member arrested in a northern China coal-mining town was prodded to death with electric police batons. Within two weeks of his arrest, he was dead without access to a lawyer or formal charges being laid.

Last week, a young lawyer who had made a habit of defending practitioners of Falun Gong in court was sentenced to seven years in prison for his efforts. There is a strong possibility he will not make it to the end of the sentence alive; many prisoners of conscience do not in China.

Falun Gong adherents also claim the Chinese government harvests the organs of those they kill for sale on the international black market.

Just last week, China executed two milk-company executives whose company sold tainted milk that last year killed six infants and made 300,000 sick. They did so with a speed and efficiency that would make a Westerner blanch.

Contrast that with the gleaming skyscrapers of Southeast China, which, outside of the Persian Gulf, are now seldom rivalled for their height, beauty and technological impressiveness.

Modern China is a glitzy facade behind which hides a still brutal way of governing.

Should Prime Minister Stephen Harper raise human rights while he is in China? What’s Mandarin for “D’uh!?”

I cannot see how he could, in good conscience, avoid raising China’s appalling record. But should he do so in a way that embarrasses his hosts? No.

Engaging the Chinese is the only way to get them — over time — to change.

National Post

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