Human Rights and Democracy in Southeast Asia
The rationale behind this study is two-fold.
First, the issues of human rights, especially women’s and labor rights, and democracy are growing in importance in East Asia. Human rights and democracy are often under siege as countries in the region try to gain every advantage possible in the rush to improve their economies. They also play a critical role in the formulation of bilateral trade policies between Canada and countries in this region.
In pursuing trade with countries like China and Indonesia, successive Canadian governments have been accused of soft-pedaling human rights.
Second, East Asia is one of the more notable examples of a region touched by the democracy wave that has swept across the developing world in the last two decades.
This paper sets out to provide an overview and assessment of the process and future of democratization and human rights in one key region of East Asia, an area known as Greater China, which comprises China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. This area is assuming increased importance because mainland Communist China will regain control of Hong Kong in 1997 and is reasserting its sovereignty claims on Taiwan. The paper also tries to identify key issues and policy options for trading partners and aid donors.
Grateful acknowledgment is given to the generous contribution of the Michener Foundation and to the Toronto Star and its publisher John Honderich for granting a leave of absence to undertake this project. Special thanks to the people in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan who provided invaluable insights and information and help with logistics during my field research.
Bob Hepburn is a journalist with The Toronto Star.
Since the early 1900s, most basic elements of western democratic systems, such as free elections, free speech, constitutional guarantees of human rights, legislatures to which the executive is accountable, have been totally absent in most East Asian countries. Today, democracy still seems far from reality for many people in the region, which is in the midst of an economic boom that is radically changing the shape of East Asian politics and diplomacy.
New economic, trading and political relations between East Asian states are having a major impact on human and civil rights issues, particularly those dealing with women and labor movements. Western nations, including Canada, are also struggling to find new way to respond to such local concerns at the same time as they are seeking to boost trade with these emerging economies.
Nowhere is this as true as in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan — an area commonly known as Greater China because of its historic political, cultural and commercial ties.
China has long opposed linking trade with human rights, which it regards as interference in its internal affairs. Communist leaders in Beijing have resisted virtually every attempt by western nations to tie preferential trading arrangements with improvements in China’s human rights record.
Human rights activists charge China, in its scramble to attract foreign investors and factories with promises of a super-compliant, low-wage labor force, is actually retreating on many human rights that protect workers, especially women. They also complain Beijing continues to stifle pro-democracy voices in an effort to enforce “peace” in the workforce.
Many fear that attitude could spread to Hong Kong and Taiwan as their economies become increasingly linked with China. Both Hong Kong and Taiwan — the former by legal necessity and the latter by choice for the time being — approach China warily, worried about the possible future loss of recent democratic and human rights gains.
Hong Kong is looking ahead to 1997 when it will cease being a British colony and revert to mainland Chinese sovereignty. Many residents are worried about political and social reforms, including the future of the rule of law, the free flow of information and the free flow of capital.
After Hong Kong, Chinese leaders see Taiwan as the biggest prize of all. They fear they will be condemned by future Chinese patriots if they allow Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, to become formally independent during their watch. Many Taiwanese fear the island’s government, which began a process of political democratization in 1987 with the lifting of martial law regulations, may eventually succumb to the authoritarian government of Beijing.
Human rights and democracy advocates complain that the West, including Canada, has abandoned its defence of human rights during the last several years to concentrate on expanding trade.
Developing nations have insisted that westerners are insensitive to cultural differences, fall to see that economic development is also a human right, and often try to impose western ideas of democracy on poor states. Washington in particular is under pressure inside and outside China to play down human rights. China is wooing American, as well as Canadian and European, companies with the prospect of rich contracts if their governments lower their tone on human rights.
The goal of this study is twofold.
First, it aims to explore the nature of the Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwanese political processes and its affect on meaningful democracy and human rights. An historical review of relationships between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan is undertaken, focusing on the issue of linking trade to political concessions and the level of human and political rights. It also examines the trends – and future fears – of China’s economic and political clout influencing Taiwan and Hong Kong leaders to forgo human rights and democratic gains.
A second aim is to identify key issues of democratization and explore ways and means by which the international community can support the transition of the region to a relatively stable and consolidated democracy. Issues such as building of popular institutions are examined.
The study looks at how Ottawa is responding to conflicting desires of wanting to pressure China to improve human rights records at the same time it wants a greater slice of Chinese trade.
3. HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHINA
Wei Jingsheng, one of the godfathers of China’s human rights and democracy movements, tried to make his point with a certain authority: he knew western pressure advances human rights in China — it got him out of jail.
Indeed, he claimed he was living proof that linking trade to human rights works. Wei made his comments in early 1994, soon after Chinese authorities released him from prison where he had spent the previous 15 years.
But within days of that fateful public statement, Wei was rearrested and has been held in prison ever since, charged with trying to overthrow the government.
The case of Wei Jingsheng is just one of hundreds in China, but it is the most significant because it — more than any other incident since the brutal 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square of pro-democracy idealists — seriously undermined efforts by the western governments, including Canada, to argue that Beijing is making the kind of progress on human rights needed to avoid the imposition of trade sanctions on China.
“When they’ve arrested China’s most important dissident, it is very hard for Canadian or any other officials to say China is making significant progress on human rights,” says Robin Munro, Hong Kong director for Human Rights Watch/Asia.
For many Canadians, the issue is clear: the Canadian government should refuse to deal with China until it improves its deplorable human rights record.
Human rights, especially women’s and labor rights, and democracy are of growing importance in Greater china, which comprises China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. This area is assuming increased importance because mainland Communist China will regain control of Hong Kong next year, in nearby Portuguese-controlled Macau in 1999, and is reasserting its sovereignty claims on Taiwan.
Both human rights and democracy are under siege in China and other East Asian nations as they try to gain every advantage possible in the rush to improve their economies. They also play a critical role in the formulation of bilateral trade policies between Canada and countries in this region.
China has long opposed linking trade with human rights, which it regards as interference in its internal affairs. Many fear that attitude could spread to Taiwan and Hong Kong as their economies become increasingly linked with China.
Taiwan is actively increasing its contacts with China despite the refusal of each government to recognize the other’s legitimate rights. Taiwan is making the move to bolster trade and to gain international acceptance.
Hong Kong is looking ahead to 1997 and worried about political and social reforms, including the future of the rule of law, the free flow of information and the free flow of capital.
China has repeatedly been cited for human rights abuses, including torture, illegal political arrests, gross violation of workers’ rights (many Asian countries have built their economies on cheap labor) and suppression of freedom of speech, by foreign governments, human rights organizations and international agencies.
Yet, despite years of subtle pressure from the West, China’s human rights record remains appalling. Some experts contend it’s actually growing worse.
“It’s totally depressing from a human rights viewpoint,” according to Munro.
In fact, it’s becoming an annual ritual: Foreign government or international human rights groups, especially women’s and labor organizations, denounce China for its human rights record.
And just as ritually, China ignores the reports.
Those reports cite cases of torture, illegal political arrests, suppression of freedom of speech, the use of prison labor to manufacture goods for export, gross violation of workers’ rights (many Asian countries have built their economies on cheap labor), including the use of bonded child labor in rural parts of China.
Chinese authorities have detained thousands of “prisoners of conscience;” inadequately account for those who are missing or were detained after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre; continue to crack down on journalists; routinely arrest dissidents during foreign visits; deny fair trials; reportedly force prisoners to donate their organs for transplants; and turn a blind eye to forced
abortions and sterilizations although such practices are not authorized.
The plight of women is acute because many female workers are suffering because of Beijing’s efforts to increase its economic growth. Women also face ordeals ranging from forced abortions and widespread family violence to being sold into slavery. Slavery is still practiced in Borne parts of China, with children sitting at 100mB or carrying bricks all day. Recently, Human Rights Watch released a report charging China had deliberately allowed up to 80,000 children, most of them girls, to die.
China’s leaders contend their people aren’t ready for full legal rights or a true say in their own government. A senior Chinese official was quoted recently saying the Chinese won’t be ready for democracy until 2050.
Since the turn of the century, most of the basic elements of western democratic systems, such as open elections, constitutional guarantees of rights, legislatures to which the executive is accountable, have been lacking in China and most other East Asian countries. Today democracy still seems far from reality In the region.
In rearresting Wei, China’s communist Party leaders appeared to be telling the world that they knew western nations, fearful of being shut out of the world’s largest emerging market, were more interested in pursuing their economic goals in maintaining trade with China rather than pressing its human rights concerns.
More than anyone else, Wei was an inspiration for many human rights and democracy activists. During his six months of freedom in 1993-94, he met with other activists, granted interviews to foreign journalists and wrote in western publications espousing democracy in China. In a 1994 article for the Hong Kong-based Eastern Express, he said that using “persuasion and education” to change China’s attitude toward human rights was like a lamb trying to reason with a wolf. “It’s not that the wolf doesn’t understand reason, but rather that he isn’t interested in discussing reason,” he wrote.
Human Rights Watch/Asia said China felt confident about arresting Wei and handing out harsh punishments to other human rights activists because of huge foreign business interest in China
“The scramble in Europe, Canada, Japan and the United states to buy into the Chinese economic boom has convinced authorities in Beijing that they have nothing to loge by flaunting their contempt for human rights,” Human Rights Watch/Asia Executive Director Sidney Jones said. “Countries engaging in ‘commercial diplomacy’ with China should express outrage over these sentences,” she said. “But statements, unless backed by other actions, will have no impact on China especially if the rush to conclude business deals continues.”
Pressure on Ottawa to play down human rights is strong. China is wooing Canadian companies with the prospect of rich contracts. In the last two years, Canadian firms have won billions of dollars business in the booming Chinese economy.
World leaders are walking a tightrope throughout Asia, but especially in China, on pressing for human rights while seeking more business. Chretien ran into the same issue during a 12-day tour to India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia in January, 1996. In India, he suggested Ottawa may impose import restrictions on goods made by child labor.
During such trade missions, human rights and internal political issues are soft-pedaled. The oft-repeated claim is that the best way to improve the lot for the average Chinese is through trade.
Ottawa insists it has been pressuring China to relax its restrictions on human rights, but at the same time it’s also targeting China as one of the big emerging economies in Asia and it wants to sell its goods there.
Canada would join other multilateral sanctions, but acting alone “in the case of trade, may hurt Canada more than it will change the behavior of offending governments,” Foreign Affairs Minister Andre Ouellet said in 1995. “Our ultimate aim is not punish countries and innocent populations whose governments abuse human rights, but rather to change behavior and to induce governments to respect their people’s rights.”
The way to do that is through trade, he argued.
The lineup of companies winning contracts in China reads like a Who’s Who of Canadian business: Northern Telecom, which is the largest Canadian player in China with a track record dating back more than two decades; Seagrams; Babcock & Wilcox, the Cambridge-based value company; Mississauga’s Spar Aerospace Ltd., famous for its Canadarm; SNC-Lavalin Inc, the Quebec engineering giant, and GE Canada.
Recently, Ottawa began the first official dialogue with Beijing on human rights since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.
During a 1994 visit to China, Chretien told Chinese Premier Li Peng Canada wanted to maintain a dialogue with China on human rights.
He promised Canada would not link trade to human rights. But he offered to assist Beijing create a more democratic society by training judges, assisting in the development of a modern legal system and bringing Chinese legislators to Canada to see how parliament works.
Li’s reply was a stony silence.
Amnesty International has sharply criticized Chretien’s handling of Chinese human rights, saying there is a stampede to improve trade while ignoring abuses and a “willful public neglect of Canada’s commitment to the protection of international human rights.”
Since the early 1900s, most basic elements of western democratic systems, such as free elections, free speech, constitutional guarantees of human rights, legislatures to which the executive is accountable, have been totally absent in China and most other East Asian countries. Today, democracy still seems far from reality for many people in the region, which is in the midst of an economic boom that is radically changing the shape of East Asian politics and diplomacy.
New economic, trading and political relations between East Asian states are having a major impact on human and civil rights issues, particularly those dealing with women and labor movements. Western nations, including Canada, are also struggling to find new way to respond to such local concerns at the same time they are seeking to boost trade with these emerging economies.
Nowhere is this as true as in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan an area commonly known as Greater China because of its historic political, cultural and commercial ties.
China has long opposed linking trade with human rights, which it regards as interference in its internal affairs. Communist leaders in Beijing have resisted virtually every attempt by western nations to tie preferential trading arrangements with improvements in China’s human rights record.
Human rights activists charge China, in its scramble to attract foreign investors and factories with promises of a super compliant, low-wage labor force, is actually retreating on many human rights that protect workers, especially women. They also complain Beijing continues to stifle pro-democracy voices in an effort to enforce “peace” in the workforce.
Most international human rights organizations conclude that China has made no progress in any major human rights are a in recent years.
China has tortured political prisoners and jailed some on trumped-up charges in the years since U.S. president Bill Clinton delinked human rights from preferential trade status in 1993, according to Human Rights Watch/Asia.
The U.S. State Department, in its 1995 report on human rights, said “widespread and well-documented human rights abuses continue in China, in violation of internationally accepted norms, stemming bath from the authorities’ intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for freedom of speech, association and religion. Abuses include arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, torture and mistreatment of prisoners.
Worker rights are one of the major issues for China, leading to more than 10,000 strikes and work stoppages in China in 1993 by the government’s own admission. Wages and working conditions are usually key issues, but so is the freedom to organize and to present demand for improvements. China is creating a pressure cocker by keeping tight controls on freedom of association and allowing worker grievances to build up.
Independent labor union activity is outlawed. Labor leaders are frequently rounded up and put in jail.
Officially sanctioned unions are being encouraged to build their presence in factories. But critics accuse them of being too much under the thumb of the authorities.
Aware of the western criticism over its human rights record, China has tried to make some moves to improve conditions.
Robin Munro, considered one of the most knowledgeable human rights experts dealing with China, concedes some betterment in Chinese workers freedom to migrate within China, to travel abroad and to some easing of government intrusion into private affairs.
Also, China has pledged to improve women’s rights, to build modern and civilized prisons, and revise laws dealing with a person’s right to a fair trial.
Some observers are hopeful conditions will change after aging Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping dies. Realistically, though, the status quo will likely be maintained, at least for the short term.
Chinese leaders, who interpret human rights as “survival rights,” are convinced that western-style democracy is wrong for China, which operates on an ageless system of consultation and consensus in which the leaders make the major decisions for the people.
They see democracy as a prescription for anarchy, factionalism and revolts. Repeatedly, they point to the former soviet Union, arguing that liberalization and increased democracy has led to the economic collapse, wars and mass killings in the former soviet republics.
Never stated, though, is the leaders’ fears that democratization would surely mean the loss of their privileged positions.
Ultimately, what should Canada and other states do?
The most important step must be adoption of coordinated multinational pressure, including by other Asian states, says Munro of Human Rights Watch/Asia.
Many Chinese dissidents oppose the imposition of trade sanctions because they fear the loss of foreign markets would cost hundreds of thousands of factory workers their jobs. They say Canada and other western nations should be willing to enforce limited trade sanctions if China falls to make any concessions on human rights, such as providing information about jailed dissidents, allowing Red Cross visits to them, halting exports of prison-made goods and relaxing repression in Tibet.
Says Munro: “What we ask is that it be consistent, sustained and multinational.”
4. WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Speaking softly to calm the frantic caller, Zhang Yanling tells a woman on the telephone her husband is breaking the law by beating her and gives the secret location of a shelter for battered spouses if she fears for her life.
For Zhang, it’s a typical night at the Women’s Hotline — the first and only crisis line in China.
Most callers seek advice on marriage, childcare, sex, how to get a boyfriend or how to lure husbands back from their mistresses.
But a rapidly growing number of calls deal with more serious issues of rape, wife-beating, sexual harassment by bosses, unfair firings from jobs, pay discrimination, sweatshop working conditions, poor access to higher education, forced prostitution, female slavery.
“It’s like this every night,” says Zhang, a radio reporter who works as a volunteer at the hotline, which operates out of a non-descript building near the center of Beijing.
Despite Mao’s famous remark about women holding up half the sky, Chinese women remain second-class citizens with their legal and human rights violated almost dally.
Activists complain that the state of women’s rights is worsening — not improving — in the 1990s as freewheeling capitalism combines with a society that clings to feudal traditions for many of China’s 600 million women.
The counselling hotline, set up in 1992, is a gauge for Chinese women’s concerns as they struggle to keep pace with the economic changes sweeping China and the resulting increase in job competition which threatens their marriages, mental health, social and legal rights.
“It’s clear there’s been a great reversal with the reform era. Things are going backward” says Wang Xiagjuan, founder of the non-governmental Women’s Research Institute in Beijing, which runs the popular hotline. “Chinese women still have little understanding of their legal rights” Wang says. “In rural China, women are still sold to husbands they never met. One in three wives tell us she was beaten by her husband at one stage of their marriage. Nothing will change here until women rise up and do something for their own cause”.
Chinese women from all walks of life have suffered serious human rights violations in recent years, an Amnesty International report said in June. Many have been detained, tortured, restricted or harassed for exercising fundamental rights such as freedom of expression or association.
Amnesty International charged that Chinese women are locked up for years for joining pro-democracy movements; forced into prison labor; tortured, raped and sexually abused while in custody; and are generally harassed and persecuted for promoting human rights.
Zhang and other activists hoped that Beijing’s hosting of the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in September, 1995, would awaken women, men and the government to an unraveling of the advances women made during China’s first three decades of socialism, particularly universal daycare, compulsory education for all girls, and guaranteed jobs for female university graduates.
Most media attention focused on China’s refusal to grant visas to many women who wanted to attend the NGO Forum in Huairou, a dusty farm town an hour’s drive from the capital. Many of those denied visas represented Taiwanese and Tibetan independence movements, lesbian groups, or opposed China’s policy on abortion.
Gertrude Mongella, secretary-general of the U.N. conference, said the main issues facing delegates were violence against women, women’s illiteracy poverty, equal pay and greater participation in politics. While women around the globe have made progress over the last 20 years toward legal equality, equal pay and abolition of illiteracy, progress has been too slow and must be speeded up, she added.
China’s emerging independent women’s groups tried to use the conference to raise sensitive issues, notably violence against women, illiteracy and employment as well as growing cases of trafficking of women and children in rural areas.
“We need to change social attitudes toward women in a society where men are still trying to dominate them”, Zhang says.
In the workplace, Chinese women are paid less and are more likely than men to be fired when jobs are cut. Some 180 million Chinese women are illiterate and few women attain high political office.
Amnesty International said in its recent report that the Chinese government concedes the decade-old modernization drive “has produced few women political leaders, that women are still disadvantaged in access to employment and education, and that the ‘social evils’ of trafficking in women, pornography and prostitution have all re-emerged. In marriage, the personal rights of
women have been infringed upon, domestic violence is on the increase, and sexual harassment is escalating”.
Women have long suffered in China. Their legal, social and familial rights were minimal.
For centuries, Chinese women had little say over their lives, from whom they married to where they worked to how many children they had. many of those attitudes linger today. For example, fewer than half of China’s women have complete say in who they marry. Parents and matchmakers still select husbands for many girls.
Until the 1940s, many girls’ feet were tightly bound to keep them short. The arch usually was broken. Women wobbled on their heels because tiny feet were considered erotic.
Small and young girls were often sold and traded between families.
When the Communists came to power in 1949, Mao Tse-tung banned the binding of women’s feet and the trafficking in female. He also announced that women had equal rights in the new China, stating that “Women hold up half the sky.”
But the reality is a far cry from Mao’s vision.
Even Chinese authorities realize they have to improve their record on women’s rights — or face more global condemnation.
Beijing had launched a high-profile campaign in the weeks leading up to the U.N. conference to punish crimes against women. Battered wives suddenly became a nationwide scandal. Several husbands were sentenced to long prison terms for raping their wives. The Women’s Research Institute which receives help from the Canada-China Cooperation Support Unit, a CIDA-backed group, conducted one survey indicating domestic violence in 21 per cent of all homes in Beijing.
The government says the real figures are less than 5 per cent. Those numbers are low compared to rates cited in Canada.
Last year, China unveiled a 5-year plan to bolster the status of women by giving them top government jobs, protecting them from kidnapping and sale and halting female infanticide.
The government’s own survey’s show 32 per cent of government officials are women, but only 10 per cent hold posts above the county level.
Under the plant officials must combat the abduction and buying and selling of women as well as the ill-treatment persecution and humiliation of women. Kidnapping and trading in women has revived in recent years with women garnering high prices as prostitutes or as brides for farmers who cannot find wives. A kidnapped bride can be bought for as little as $150 Canadian.
Eleven leaders of a kidnapping gang were recently sentenced to death for seizing more than 100 women and selling them to farmers. Police in Inner Mongolia rescued nearly 500 women last year who had been abducted from around China and sold as wives.
Amnesty International said women and children are sold by their families or deceived with phony job offers. They are sold as wives, slaves or prostitutes. “Villagers often protect the purchasers and violently resist any attempt to rescue the victims”, it said.
Reports in the official China Legal Dally indicate that more than 33,000 women were abducted and sold between mid-1993 and early this year.
Female infanticide, or the killing of baby girls, has risen sharply in recent years as parents eager for a son and limited to only one child under China’s strict family planning policy get rid of baby girls to ensure a second chance that could give them a son.
In defence of its one-child policy, China issued a report arguing that its policy gives women more opportunities and is crucial for China’s future. Women’s leaders say the policy violates a woman’s right to control her own reproduction. Couples in major cities can have only one child; those in rural areas can have two if the first is female. Ethnic groups are exempt.
The government has banned sex-screening of fetuses, except when needed on medical grounds.
Because millions of couples prefer a boy over a girl such tests had become popular. Many parents were choosing to abort a fetus rather than give birth to a baby that tests indicate would be a girl.
It is the “new economy” though, that is causing Chinese women the most immediate problems. Capitalism is proving a boom to thousands of well-educated, English-speaking university graduates, but a truly tough road for most poor Chinese women, one-third of whom are illiterate.
Nearly three of every four women work, on assembly lines, in offices, driving buses and trucks, sweeping streets and collecting garbage, tilling farmland.
Increasingly, though, they are finding themselves the first to be fired by struggling state firms and the last to be hired by foreign-owned industries in joint ventures with Chinese partner.
“It is hard for women to get hired,” says Zhao Hong, a women’s activist in Beijing. “Foreign companies think women aren’t as efficient and often pay much lower wages than they do men.”
With declining government supervision, Zhao says many employers are reverting to old-fashioned notions that women should stay at home and those who do work will quit to marry or cost them money for maternity and child care.
Studies by the Women’s Research Center concluded that 70 per cent of the 20 million workers laid off in the 1990s by dying Chinese state enterprises were women. Many private employers are recruiting only men except for low-paid factory work.
Millions of women earn barely $100 a month, then see 50 per cent or more taking away in “fines” for production mistakes or for living inside the actual factories where they work.
“The big issues are how the laws are being eroded”, Wang Xianjuan says. Laws require employers to pay women salaries equal to those paid men, to provide fully paid leaves-of-absence for pregnancies, breast-feeding and menstruation, to provide equal retirement policies.
Many employers are now ordering women not to marry or get pregnant.
And last year, the All-China Women’s Federation, run by the ruling Communist Party, issued an unusual report complaining that women were being paid less than half the wages of males for the same job.
Joanna Kerr of the Ottawa-based North-South Institute says that the primary material need for women in China is to land and loans. A key psycho-social need is an adequate legal framework for redress against male violence and the abuse of reproductive rights.
China is far from being alone among Asian states in treating women as second-class citizens.
“Asian women suffer numerous problems, especially long work hours, poor housing, low pay and subhuman working conditions,” says Nelia Sancho, a director of the Asian Women’s Human Rights Council based in Manila, Philippines. Countries that can offer the cheapest labor often wins in the rush to win contracts from multinational companies, she said. “Women are seen as less militant in labor unions, will accept lower wages and are more easily hired and fired.”
Examples abound of how Asian men try to prevent women from obtaining full rights.
In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, the man credited with founding the modern city-state, said last year he regretted giving equal education rights to women. He said highly educated women in Singapore find it harder to get husbands because of the traditional opposition among Asian men to marrying women with higher qualifications than they have.
The values are outdated, yet still run deeply in Singapore’s society, Lee said. “But you can’t unscramble the egg. So, all you have got to do is re-educate the male. ‘1
In Hong Kong, many of the 400,000 women living in villages in the New Territories have no rights. Despite recent laws, they are forced by social pressures to give up their inheritance rights to rural land. Women were not allowed to vote for village heads earlier this year. Some husbands voted for their wives or cast votes for their widows.
It wasn’t until last year that the Hong Kong legislature voted to ban the practice of preventing women in the New Territories from inheriting property after the death of male family heads. Male village elders refused to go along with the law.
In Taiwan, women cannot divorce men, even if she has been abandoned and has lived alone for 10 years. If a woman leaves her husband, he can file a suit and force her to return to what is her only legal abode. If a woman wants to divorce a violent husband, she needs a hospital certificate attesting she has been injured by him three times within three months.
Many Taiwan employers ruthlessly exploit women. Women’s rights activists in Taipei say women are poorly paid, forced to work long hours or illegal night shifts, sign 5-year contracts forbidding them to marry, and are refused paid maternity leave despite for legal requirements.
The fledgling women’s movement in Taiwan achieved a small victory in 1994 when a woman won custody of her child after losing three earlier divorce hearing. The case made legal history because previously the man was almost always awarded custody automatically.
Behind Taiwan’s proud image as one for the fast developing modern economies in the world lies the painful status of women, who seem to have ended up with the worst of two worlds. They are stuck in the traditional second-rate status of women in Chinese society, while around them a modern industrial economy depends on millions of them in low-paying jobs.
The wages were low, the job security minimal, accidents frequent and the hours long. Women are not supposed to work at night, yet 70 per cent of factories have illegal night shifts for women workers. Factories have to give eight weeks of paid maternity leave, but only 12 per cent are believed to comply; many get out of the legal requirement by employing women on rolling one-year contracts. Women get 60 per cent of what men are paid.
In the service sector, many companies make prospective women employees sign a five-year contract which forbids them to marry. A government survey of all banks on the island found 99 per cent of women employees were single.
Also, women can earn more through prostitution. The United Nations estimates there are 100,000 prostitutes under 18 in Taiwan.
At the first hint of stricter enforcement, employers move their business to China, where they can find cheaper and unregulated labor.
At the Beijing Women’s Hotline, it’s approaching 8 p.m., closing time, and the phones are still busy. The volunteers, all doctors, lawyers, nurses, professionals, are tired.
“We try to concentrate on small issues, but we find women with lots of problems who have no one to turn to,” says Zhang Yanling, who acts as an Interpreter for foreign visitors.
Hotline workers are seeking money to establish a women’s AIDS center, to conduct a study on prostitution, and open a “women’s salon” where women of all ages can drop in at any time just to talk or to find like-minded friends.
“We are always facing new problems,” Zhang says with a sigh. “We just hope we can adapt fast enough and provide some help In our own small way.”
5. CHINA, HONG KONG, TAIWAN — “ONE COUNTRY, TWO SYSTEMS”
At midnight on June 30, 1997, the thriving trade port and international finance center of Hong Kong off China’s southern coast will see the end of more than 150 years of British colonial rule.
Hong Kong will revert back to Chinese administration the next morning under a joint declaration signed by the Chinese and British governments. The agreement formalized the concept of “one country, two systems,” whereby Hong Kong will be part of Communist China, but will be permitted to keep its free-wheeling capitalism for at least 50 years.
It will be one of the most crucial events in the East Asia in the last 50 years because a crisis concerning Hong Kong might destabilize the entire regional economy, destabilize international trade and finance, and cripple diplomatic relations between Beijing and the rest of the world for years to come.
Already, as China’s economic and national pride grow, its neighbors have become increasingly nervous that a strong China will try to dominate the region. A fast-changing China could well try to flex its muscles in Asia as it strengthens political, military and economic ties with former enemies on its borders.
Chinese leaders are thrilled at the prospect of regaining control of one of its long-lost properties, but the 6 million residents of Hong Kong are deeply worried their entire way of life under a capitalist economy could be in jeopardy.
In their worst nightmares, they fear the Communist Chinese leaders will strip them of every freedom they have known — free speech, a fair legal system, the right to criticize the regime, to join labor unions, and now the right to vote.
They also suspect that even if Beijing does live up to its promise to provide some legal protections for their rights, private business will ignore many legal safeguards such as equal pay for women, guaranteed minimum wages, the right to form labor unions in factories, in their scramble to ward off low-cost competition from mainland Chinese industries.
“A free society will be handed over against the will of the great majority to a country with one of the world’s worst human rights records,” says Martin Lee, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.
Indeed, Hong Kong’s future may rely on better protection of human rights by Beijing. In 1989, one million Hong Kong residents marched in support of the 1989 Beijing pro-democracy demonstrations — a fact Chinese leaders are only too aware.
And on Taiwan, the 21 million residents of what Beijing calls the “renegade province” are watching carefully every move in the Hong Kong handover because Chinese — as well as many Taiwanese — leaders say they want to reunite. Many Taiwanese believe the island will simply become an integral part of “Greater China” because of the almost irresistible attraction of the mainland market, its 1.2 billion consumers and its cheap labor.
Importantly, if recent trade and economic growth continues, the combined economies of mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong will be larger than that of the united states within a decade, according to the International Monetary Fund.
China has one of the world’s biggest economies and is a major force in world trade, being the engine of growth in the Asia-Pacific region, the world’s most dynamic economic zone.
That’s why Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and other western leaders have travelled to China in recent months to pursue expanded trade while downplaying criticism of China’s human rights abuses.
Under the 1984 treaty between Beijing and London ceding Hong Kong, China has promised that Hong Kong will continue to enjoy “a high degree of autonomy” over its traditional lifestyle and society and to keep its capitalist society for at least 50 years after China resumes sovereignty.
The political system of the colony has never been democratic in the sense of its politics being decided by freely elected representatives. But Hong Kong’s politics have benefited from a light touch of colonial rule, some representation at lower levels of politics, a free press and an independent judiciary.
But Beijing’s hardening determination to govern Hong Kong on its own terms and its threats to disband Hong Kong’s elected institutions after 1997 is causing jitters in the colony.
They look at Beijing and see its autocratic rule and its disdain for human rights and democracy at home continuing.
Beijing’s plan is to operate under “One Country, Two Systems” sovereign power over Hong Kong and use a carrot-and-stick strategy toward Taiwan, says Byron Weng, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Beijing is expected to do all it can to ensure “undesirable” developments, such as democratization, internationalization and anti-communist activities are kept to a minimum in Hong Kong.
At the same time, “two systems” means socialism in the mainland and capitalism in Taiwan, but does not mean equal status for the two systems or regions. Rather, Beijing sees itself as the central government while Taipei, like Hong Kong, can only be a local government.
Beijing has considered Taiwan a renegade province since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.
Taipei would like to see China reunited into a country of democracy, freedom and equitable prosperity some day. In the meantime, Taipei is pursuing an expensive flexible diplomacy and is striving for dual recognition by other countries and dual membership with mainland China in international organizations, notably the United Nations.
Unlike Taiwan, Hong Kong does not claim to be sovereign and does not in any way compete with Beijing for recognition. It will change from a British colony to a Chinese SAR (self-administered area). No other realistic option is open to it.
Hong Kong is resigned to assuming a dependent and subordinate status toward the mainland. The best it can hope for is to have the autonomy as stipulated in the basic Law realized after 1997. (The Basic Law is Beijing’s version of a Constitution for Hong Kong setting out how the colony will be run after it reverts to Chinese control.) To secure that, many in Hong Kong are trying to make the territory as international and as democratic as possible before June 30, 1997.
After more than 140 years of colonial rule, Britain has finally tried to introduce a limited form of representative government. In 1991, the first partial Legislative Council elections occurred in which democratic groups critical of Beijing won 16 of the 18 seats open for direct elections.
Most Hong Kong residents are uncertain about their future and many have shifted their domicile beyond the reach of Beijing. Tens of thousands have emigrated to Canada, making Hong Kong the largest source of new Canadian citizens in the last decade.
Some 48 per cent of Hong Kong residents, according to a poll conducted by the colony’s Baptist College and the University of Science and Technology, said they had no confidence at all that Beijing would consider the interests of the people of Hong Kong in implementing the Basic Law, the post-1997 constitution.
Meanwhile, economic and trade links are mushrooming between China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hong Kong ranked first in investment in China in 1994 with $20 billion. Taiwan was second and the united states third.
In Shanghai alone, there are 3,000 joint ventures between the Chinese government and foreign firms, with another 3,000 at varying stages of approval.
Canada’s exports about $1.8 billion annually to China while importing more than $3 billion in goods, led by clothing and textiles. Canada ranks 12 in bilateral trade with China. It ranks 13th in bilateral trade with Taiwan, where it runs a trade deficit total about $2 billion. It stands 8th in Hong Kong in terms of exports from the colony and 19th in line for imports.
Canada’s share of overall trade in any of the three regimes, though, is less than 1.5 per cent of the total.
The economic nexus of Taiwan, Hong Kong and China was made possible by policy changes in China and Taiwan, according to Tzong-biau Lin, associate professor at the Department of Political Science at Taiwan’s Soochow University.
He says its tremendous development has been based on the economic principle of comparative advantage, which exists in the three economies. China is endowed with cheap labor, raw materials and low land prices. Hong Kong and Taiwan have technological expertise, international trade experience and abundant capital.
Hong Kong and Taiwan have lost their comparative advantages in sunset industries due to labor shortages, rising wage rates, soaring land prices and ecological awareness. In order to prolong their life span, these industries have been moved offshore and China has become their most popular destination.
But it is an illusion to think that the finely tuned, modern service economy of Hong Kong will become the model for mainland China after 1997. China’s economy works, after a fashion, without the rule of law, an independent judiciary or a free press.
The economic revolution of the last decade has had profound impact of Chinese society, widening the income gap between city and countryside, uprooting millions of rural folk and sparking 10,000 labor disputes last year ranging from slowdowns to worker petitions against management to strikes, which are not strictly legal, but aren’t illegal either.
In 1948, the Communists under Mao Tse-tung took power in China in the name of China’s working class and declared it “the mast of the nation.” Today, guaranteed lifetime employment is vanishing, layoffs are increasing and millions of peasants, especially women, who migrated to the cities toil in sweatshops, wages often are below minimum levels, working hours far exceed the legal maximum, there is no health care or compensation for work injuries, a lack of proper ventilation or safety features.
Chinese emigrants control money and business networks in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Hong Kong manufacturers and other entrepreneurs have invested more than $20 billion in China, setting up 25,000 factories alone in Guangdong province adjacent to Hong Kong, employing 3 million people in the production of clothing, toys, electronics and other export goods. The number represents nearly four times the manufacturing workers in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Taiwan is actively increasing its trade contacts with China despite both governments’ refusal to recognize the other’s legitimate rights.
Lien Chan, Taiwan prime minister, said in June 1995 that “by 2000, the mainland will probably become our biggest trade partner and the most important region for investment, the major source of foreign exchange surplus and the heartland for economic development.”
Taiwan’s government may still be on Beijing’s official enemies list, but that has not kept Taiwan residents from making 1.6 million trips to China annually or the island’s entrepreneurs from making about 20,000 investments, estimated to be worth nearly $20 billion on the mainland. Burdened in the late 1980s by rapidly rising wages and a soaring currency value that undercut their international competitiveness, many factory owners dismantled unprofitable light-industrial assembly lines and re-established them across the Taiwan strait in Fujian province, where most of their ancestors had lives — and where labor was cheaper.
There are also heightened concerns among Taiwanese and Hong Kong officials about whether China intends to change its stance on Taiwan’s role in Hong Kong. Growing Taiwanese-Chinese trade and investment still largely flow through Hong Kong because the two enemies have yet to open direct economic or transport links.
At the same time, the resultant interdependence leaves officials on both sides of the Taiwan strait uncomfortable, however the costs of disengagement, political as well as economic, appear unacceptably high.
Over the years, Taiwan’s increasing wealth and its pragmatic emphasis on building bilateral trade relationships have put it back on the world stage.
It sits on nearly $90 billion in hard-currency reserves — by far the largest cash pot In the world.
Chinese president Jiang Zemin offered Taiwan in early 1995 an olive branch, suggesting the two sides hold talks on formally ending the state of hostility as a prelude to reunification. But he said China remained opposed to the growing independence movement in Taiwan and warned that it reserved the right to use force to prevent Taiwanese independence.
China also was enraged when US president Bill Clinton granted a visa to Taiwanese president Lee Teng-hui to pay a private visit, to the U.S. in June to attend an alumni reunion at Cornell University.
Beijing fears that if Taiwan loosens the shackles of its diplomatic isolation, it could be much less likely to agree to reunify on China’s terms. Currently, Taiwan is recognized fully by only 29 nations and has no major diplomatic ties in Asia.
In Hong Kong, it is clear that China does no want a Local government that by 1997 has the confidence of the people and can try to stand up to Beijing in any dispute over policies adopted by the new rulers.
China accepted the notion of democracy, but defined it as the principles as “specified by the Basic Law” and not the sort of truly representative democracy as understood in Canada.
Western notions of freedom include the right to criticize one’s own and other countries, but from Beijing’s view China is not just another country, it is the sovereign owner of Hong Kong.
Nihal Jayawickramya, law lecturer at Hong Kong University and chairman of Justice, the Hong Kong section of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, blames Hong Kong businessmen’s cool response to provide financial backing for human rights causes on the fact that China strongly objects to overseas countries’ interference in its human rights record.
Justice’s bid last year to set up a human rights monitoring centre faltered due to lack of financial backing. At the same time, the Hong Kong Human Rights commission, a coalition of 12 social service groups, relies on funding from overseas churches and concerned groups. So does the Hong Kong-based labour rights group, Asia Monitor.
Further, Hong Kong people remain apathetic about politics and suspicious of all government. Voter registration and turnout for elections is remarkably low by most democratic standards.
In the end, democracy is not on offer to the Hong Kong people and it seem most Hong Kong people understood that reality.
6. DEMOCRACY IN TAIWAN
Tsai I-Chung minces few word as he talks about the future of his homeland.
“Taiwan should be independent. Period. We are not part of China not at all,” the prominent local dentist says firmly, proudly over dinner-with family and friends. “We are Taiwanese. We deserve to be our own separate country.”
Tsai, a soft-spoken man who has lived all his life in this bustling southern city, is one of a growing legion of outspoken Taiwanese – young and old – who dream of a Free Taiwan, are fed up with the status quo and want Taiwan to move swiftly to sever all real and sentimental thoughts of reuniting with mainland China.
Taiwan, with 21 million residents, is the largest officially unrecognized state in the world. It is Beijing — not politicians in the capital of Taipei — which represents China in world forums such as the united Nations.
For many other Taiwanese, however, the idea of an independent Taiwan is truly frightening. They are deeply worried that mainland China would invade their island and brutally quash the independence movement, ruining the free-wheeling freedoms that have turned Taiwan into an economic powerhouse in Asia.
Slowly, the day of Taiwan independence is moving closer to reality.
In the next few months, Taiwan will hold a key election that could determine the island’s fate for years to come. It will conduct the island’s first direct presidential vote. The vote are considered true democratic tests on the strength of those supporting Taiwanese independence.
Many Taiwanese Canadians are concerned the new generation of Taiwanese politicians. such as president Lee Ten-hui, may anger Beijing with their independence-leaning actions. Polls consistently show between 50-60 per cent of Taiwanese oppose independence at this time.
Last year, China temporarily severed relations with the U.S. after Washington granted president Lee a visa to speak at Cornell University, where he earned his doctoral degree. It also staged high-profile military games, complete with missile launches, in the waters just off Taiwan’s shores.
The gulf between China and Taiwan remains one of the few outstanding issues of the 1940s and the ensuing Cold War. It also is a constant thorn in the side of those who dream of peace and stability throughout the Far East.
Asian experts say the question of Taiwan’s ultimate status — separate state or province of China — is nearing a long-awaited conclusion.
Taiwan was formally only a province of China between 1886 and 1895, although the Chinese Manchu dynasty dominated the island for the previous 200 years. It was ceded to Japan in 1895 and remained so until 1949 when the routed Nationalist Chinese army of Chiang Kai-Shek fled to the island and slaughtered tens of thousands of Taiwanese. Chiang’s Kuomintang Party ruled under a martial law that ruthlessly suppressed democracy and all opposition, and favored mainland Chinese over native Taiwanese.
Since then, Taiwan has existed in limbo — neither a country nor a province. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province and has threatened to take diplomatic and military action against the island if it declares independence.
Lee has been pushing for Taiwan to be readmitted to the united Nations, from which it was ousted when China replaced Taiwan in the “China seat” on the U.N. Security Council.
Canada severed formal diplomatic links with Taiwan in 1971. That’s when the government of then prime minister Pierre Trudeau, along with most other countries, recognized the People’s Republic of China. Washington transferred ties to Beijing from Taipei in 1979.
Today, only 29 countries formally recognize Taiwan. Most of these are poor Latin American and African states that receive massive doses of Taiwanese foreign aide
Emotionally, though, Taiwan is cutting its ties with China.
“Mainlanders” who fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist armies in 1949 are rapidly losing their political clout. As their members die, they become an increasingly impotent minority with declining memories of the mainland. Some 80 per cent of Taiwan’s 21 million residents were born on the island. Few of them back the idea of reuniting with Communist China.
Since martial law was lifted in 1987, Taiwan has undergone a stunning transformation. It has become one of the stronger economies in the world and a thriving democracy has taken hold.
Many Taiwanese political dissidents were suppressed and jailed in the 1960s for criticizing the government and deriding the late Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo. Several prisoners of conscience are still believed to be held in prison.
As recently as 1987, freedom of the press was virtually non-existent, the media exuded anti-communist propaganda, dissidents risked 20-year prison sentences for sedition or faced exile in the U.S. or Japan.
After 1987, the authorities allowed the release of most political prisoners, free elections, a liberated press and most popular of all, a lifting of the ban on travel to mainland China. Taiwan formally lifted a 40-year ban on the formation of political parties in 1989.
“Taiwan has economic clout and is now trying to gain political clout,” says Annette Lu, head of the foreign affairs committee in Taiwan’s Parliament. “It is in both China’s and Taiwan’s interest to get along.”
In the last six years, Taiwan has developed into a true democracy. It has seen the creation of more than 40 political parties, dramatically eased press restrictions, released all political prisoners, and lifted the ban on travel to mainland China.
Taiwan realizes it is walking a tightrope in its efforts to balance its growing desire for independence and fear of an invasion by China if it goes too far, according to Lu Ya-li, a political scientist at the National Taiwan University.
In recent years, the ruling Kuomintang Party has let fall by the wayside its outdated tenet that it was the sole legitimate government of China. president Lee, the current Kuomintang leader and its first Taiwanese-born leader, has actively pushed in recent years for Taiwanese membership in such international bodies as the united Nations and the new World Trade Organization. In 1991, he dropped Taiwan’s claim to sovereignty over mainland China.
But Lee knows he can go only so far for now. He is careful to say that Taiwan is a province of China that wants to reunify with mainland China. Many Taiwanese, who hold Lee as a national hero after last summer’s historic visit to the U.S., believe Lee is skillfully steering the island toward his ultimate goal of an independent state.
The opposition Democratic Progressive Party is the main challenge to Lee. It favors immediate independence for Taiwan and promises a nationwide referendum on the issue. Its support is growing rapidly and now stands at more than 40 per cent, according to recent public opinion surveys.
Beijing turns a blind eye to Taiwan’s de facto independence. Analysts predict, however, that once Hong Kong rejoins China in 1997, the Taiwan issue will become mainland China’s top foreign policy question. ,
Beijing has never budged from its claim that Taiwan must be reunified with the mainland. China wants to create a “Taiwan Autonomous Region,” similar to a post-1997 Hong Kong, that would allow all the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong along with the right to retain a separate army.
Cheng Lin-cheng, an economics professor at National Taiwan University, says despite an official “no contact, no negotiation, no compromise” ideology by Taiwan toward the mainland, the reality is that the two sides have moved rapidly toward closer cultural, social and economic links since the relaxation of tensions a decade ago.
Taiwanese entrepreneurs have made 6,000 investments, estimated to be worth $4 billion on the mainland. And in the last six years, Taiwanese have made more than 5 million visits to the mainland. Most visitors travel to China via Hong Kong because direct travel links are banned.
For Tsai I-Chung, the Tainan dentist, all these moves are too little to satisfy his dream of a fully independent Taiwan.
“I was born in Taiwan,” he says. “My children were born here. l will die here. I’m Taiwanese, not Chinese. l want to live in my own independent state — Taiwan. It’s as simple as that.”
The reality of modern Taiwan is a mixture of two emotions — a Taiwan increasingly integrated economically with China, but also growing less likely to accept its own political integration with the communist rulers of the mainland.
Ultimately, Taiwan probably will end up with a system of government pattered on that of America, or perhaps France, headed by a strong president.
Freedom-loving Taiwanese probably favor full independence because that is realistically the only chance for Taiwanese to live under a democracy. But the Taiwanese may lose this option inadvertently because they are not farsighted enough and could gamble their democratic future for short-term material and economic gains.
7. LABOR RIGHTS
Workers rights should be seen and identified in terms of a set of commonly accepted values and principles, including freedom of association, abolition of forced labor and protection of human life, says Bimal Ghosh, a former bureau director in the International Labor Organization.
Worker rights continued to be one of the major issue for Asia, leading to more than 10,000 strikes and work stoppages in China in 1993 by the government’s own admission. Wages and working conditions were usually key issues, but so was the freedom to organize to present demands for
improvements. Many Asian governments were creating a pressure cooker by keeping tight controls on freedom of association and allowing worker grievances to build up.
China outlaws all independent labor union activity, rounds up their leaders and puts them in jail. Officially sanctioned unions are being encouraged to build their presence in factories. But critics accuse such unions of being too much under the thumb of the authorities.
Many western governments have been pressuring China to relax its control over workers, but at the same time it’s also targeting China as one of the big emerging economies in Asia. Threats to impose trade sanctions against Beijing have fizzled and in offices of the independent union, reality has set in. Activists know that improving workers rights is only part of the West’s agenda.
Today, China is seeking membership in the World Trade organization, the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
Despite promises by the government, laws that severely limit the rights of workers to negotiate for better working conditions have not been repealed to date. Southeast Asian nations are working as a group to oppose attempts by the West a “social clause” linking trade and labor standards in future international trading rules.
Asian countries were concerned that western states wanted to use any social clause as a device to force developing nations either to raise their labor costs to agreed minimum levels or face special tariffs on their goods to compensate for the fact that they are produced with much lower wages.
They said industrialized nations were pushing developing countries on such issues as raising the minimum wage because they faced internal economic problems and declining competitiveness.
Such measures could lead to rising unemployment and discontent in Asia, they claimed, because it would remove of the region’s major competitive advantages — lower labor costs — and force factories to close.
What poorer countries fear is that “human rights” is a Trojan horse, and that the West’s ultimate goal is to rob developing countries of comparative advantages In labor costs.
8. LINKING RIGHTS AND BUSINESS
Most international human rights organizations conclude that China has made no progress in any major human rights area in recent years.
This comes at the same time that governments around the world have been trying to nudge china into improving its human rights performance despite the unconditional extension of special trade privileges and increased commercial and ministerial contacts.
Many leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and U.S. president Bill Clinton have argued that China’s economic and strategic importance is so great that it would be unwise to impose any sanctions.
In its 1995 annual report, Human Rights Watch said that governments “allowed a growing mercantilism to dominate their foreign policy and undermine the vigorous protection of human rights. Increasingly, the duty to ensure respect for the most basic human values gave way to a vision that equated economic self-interest with the common good.
Washington abandoned trade linkages in favor of “commercial diplomacy,” it said. “other governments joined Washington in emphasizing trade over human rights. Germany, France, Canada and Australia all vied for Chinese commercial contracts, with waning interest in Chinese repression.”
A good example of how a country overlooked China’s human rights record is the U.S.
In May, 1994, president Clinton renewed Beijing’s special trade status and abandoned an agonizing annual ritual of linking renewal of trade benefits to improvements in Beijing’s human-rights performance.
A year earlier, Clinton had linked trade to human rights improvements, but China wasn’t moving on them. American business mobilized and sent Clinton papers and letters.
Some Clinton advisers argued that China relations worsening and urged the U.S. leader to introduce a new strategy with Beijing in which incentives substituted for threats. These advisers felt the U.S. needed China for national security reasons — to deal with North Korea, the united Nations Security Council and the spread of nuclear weapons.
Also Clinton, like Chretien, felt that when the U.S. acts on its own to impose sanctions against China because of human rights abuses, it has the worst of all worlds: The policy is not effective, and markets are lost.
Sanctions must be imposed by allies or not at all, according to the U.S. advisers.
At the same time, foreign companies have traditionally resisted the role of policeman on Chinese human rights.
Maybe surprisingly, Human Rights Watch/Asia opposes the use of trade sanctions, arguing that they do more harm by hurting poor workers than they do by helping foster human rights.
But the group feels private companies do have a role to play on the issue of human rights. It asks companies dealing with China to adhere to the following principles:
-Prevent the sale and use of goods made in prisons or forced labor camps in their production process.
-Forbid mandatory political indoctrination sessions on company premises.
-Adopt employment policies that bar discrimination based on political beliefs and prevent termination of employees who express those beliefs on or off the job.
-Make local political authorities aware of human rights concerns.
9 . CANADIAN GOVERNMENT
Is Ottawa really willing to end the link between human rights and trade in its desperate hunt for more markets for Canadian products?
Ultimately, what should Canada’s policy be toward such emerging countries, where even local human rights activists warn against restricting trade because it hurts the poor, women and children — just the people such measures aim to help?
These questions have plagued successive Canadian governments over the decades. None have answered the questions to everyone’s satisfaction.
In the last few years, human rights organizations have blasted Canada’s position on human rights in China. For example, Roger Clark, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, says Canada is in a “stampede” to win business in China while turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. He claims that only public condemnation forces governments to improve their human rights records.
“Canada’s public silence about human rights violations is interpreted by Chinese government officials as recognition that they were justified in crushing the democratic opposition in 1989,” Clark says.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has made two high-profile tours of Asia since 1994. Canadian companies have wrapped up deals worth $20 billion during the tours.
At end of a 1994 trip to China, Chretien said he was confident he had contributed to the push for political freedom in Asia. “You can make big speeches and have no result. We say: ‘Open up, do trade, let people come here, come to visit us.’ That’s the way that eventually the walls fall and the freedoms come in…We do not come to China to impose ourselves or our institutions. It has been our experience that economic rights, prosperity and pluralism all go together.”
Canadian critics charge the government has cynically paid lip service to human rights questions in the pursuit of new export markets.
Ed Broadbent, head of the Montreal-based International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, says rights advocates don’t expect Ottawa to cut off trade with any country. But they do expect public statements and more aggressive support for multinational efforts to encourage reform.
Canada’s approach to human rights was spelled out in a foreign policy blueprint released Feb. 7, 1995.
“It makes little sense for Canada to go it along and refuse trade with countries that abuse human rights,” the policy paper said. “Canada would join other countries in multilateral sanctions, but acting alone, in the case of trade, may hurt Canada more than it will change the behavior of offending governments…Our ultimate aim is not to punish countries and innocent populations whose governments abuse human rights, but rather to change behavior and to induce governments to respect their people’s rights.”
Basically, Ottawa’s policy toward China is based on four pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law, and economic partnership. It claims it will not favor one at the expense of the other.
Ottawa is funding new programs to assist China reform its legal and judicial structure and to engage China in a constructive dialogue on human rights.
But in promoting democracy throughout the world, Canada will not cut off political and economic ties with countries that do not respect democracy and human rights. It believes that if Canada isolates China, it will never be able to influence them.
One of Ottawa’s biggest supporters of the current federal policy toward China is Raymond Chan, Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific relations. Born in Hong Kong in 1951, Chan’s parents came from Enping, four hours southwest of Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province.
As head of the Vancouver society in Support of the Democracy Movement, Chan was detained and expelled by Chinese authorities in Beijing for protesting on behalf of dissidents imprisoned after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Chan claims he has not allowed his democratic convictions to slip in favor of pursuing stronger economic relations with China. He insists that in recent years the human rights situation in China has actually improved, pointing to the treatment of human rights activists and of ordinary citizens.
In a June 4, 1994 speech to the House of Commons marking the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chan said:
“Our relationship with China cannot be reduced or simplified to trade versus human rights arguments. We believe systematic and wide-ranging contact will lead to calls within Chinese society for greater openness and freedom. Surely there is evidence that increased political flexibility is a byproduct of economic liberalization, and governments that have opened their markets to international trade are more sensitive to the views and reactions of other countries.
An inwardly looking society that depends little on trade and international investment is less likely to respond to concerns raised by foreigners. Trade reduces isolationism. Trade also expands the scope of international law and generates the economic growth required to sustain social change and development. Economic liberalization also leads to the pluralization and the empowering of interest groups in society.”
Regarding China’s future role in Hong Kong, Chan says it is important for Hong Kong to maintain its viability, stability and prosperity.
Most people seeking refuge from Hong Kong now go to Canada. Canada has been a major player in the Hong Kong story after 1984 because of its liberal immigration policies. Some Asian experts charge these policies have played a crucial party in draining the lifeblood from the colony.
However unlike the united states, Canada lacks any power to affect policies in Beijing. Its main stake in the Hong Kong problem is its trade with China and Hong Kong and its desire to continue taking high-quality immigrants from Hong Kong.
Gerald Segal in his book, The Fate of Hong Kong, writes: “As long as Canada can count on keeping most of the people who have taken Canadian passports and with them their money, then Canadian interest will be mainly satisfied.”
10. CONCLUSION AND FUTURE PROSPECTS
Many people worry about what will happen once Chinese Chairman Deng Xiaoping, 91, dies.
The future courses are numerous.
China could disintegrate, much like the soviet Union, split by the seemingly impossible task of promoting radical economic reform without corresponding political change. The might destabilize all of Asia.
Or it might emerge as an international superpower if it stays united.
If more liberal elements in China assume a central role in the next decade, then progress may mean more protection of human rights and a higher standard of living for all Chinese.
Pessimists believes that after Deng, except for some minor concessions, reform will still be limited to the economic field. They contend most Chinese are democratically illiterate, that they are not ready to act responsibly as they would need to in a democracy. In fact, these skeptics claim, too much liberalization would produce only chaos in China.
Also, it is hard to believe that in absorbing Hong Kong and Taiwan, Beijing would want to destroy their formulas for success.
It is more, not less, human rights and democracy in mainland China that will provide a solid foundation for peaceful and meaningful exchanges between China and Taiwan.
Still, many Asians are content to watch Hong Kong slowly integrate into south China. A successful transfer of Hong Kong to the mainland will add pressure on Taiwan to travel the same route because Taiwan is the main target of China’s “one country, two systems” strategy.
Ultimately, Canada should aggressively pursue several options for promoting human rights and democracies in China and elsewhere in East Asia. These include:
-support democratic institutions created by the poor themselves. priorities include trade unions, the media, land reform movements grassroots or “pre-cooperatives,” human rights monitors, environmental advocacy groups, women’s movements, legal aid groups and popular urban movements.
-Increase funds to promote human rights and democratic civil societies.
If Canada is to become a credible player in democratic development, the federal government must expand the volume of aid available for democratic institution building.
Overriding any consideration of future policies must be the reality that political order in China is based on deep-seated values of hierarchy and deference to authority.
The Chinese understanding of democracy is a strong’ state for national development, not individual liberties and limited government, which is the western liberal idea.