LONDON — At the end of his visit to India last week, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao made a strong political attack on Japan. With respect to Japan’s bid for a seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council (UNSC) Wen opined that “Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history and wins over the trust of the people in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community.”
These strong words refer to the record of Japan’s army and police forces in carrying out atrocities during the Japanese occupation of parts of China from 1931 until 1945, during its annexation of Korea from 1905 until 1945 and in other Asian countries during World War II. They also refer to the continued failure of the Japanese government to make a satisfactory (to Chinese ears) apology for these atrocities and its approval of history books that ignore them for Japanese schools. Mention is also made of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted war criminals are honored.
There is, however, a whiff of hypocrisy about Wen’s outburst. He is a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP ran the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution from 1965 until 1976. Experts claim the CCP’s policies led to the starvation of more than 30,000,000 people. Some communities were reduced to cannibalism. Tens of millions of families had their lives disrupted by forced migrations and millions were thrown in prison, many of them tortured and summarily executed.
The CCP has not yet “faced up to history,” to use Wen’s words, and apologized to the Chinese people for the atrocities it committed against them. The fear that the Cultural Revolution inculcated in the Chinese people is still tangible today.
Wen was a member of the CCP Central Committee and director of its powerful General Office in 1989. He is therefore among those responsible for sending in Chinese troops to kill hundreds of unarmed Chinese students and civilians in or near Tiananmen Square.
Neither he nor the CCP has apologized to the Chinese people for that atrocity. And you will not find any reference to these events in Chinese textbooks (or newspapers). The CCP still honors and respects the memory of Mao Zedong, the man who set off the Cultural Revolution.
It would be hard to argue that China is a country that “takes responsibility for history” or has won the trust of its own people, let alone “the people of Asia and the world at large.”
Wen’s attack on Japan refers to the past; his preoccupation is with history. But while I am critical of the Japanese government for its failure to halt certain abuses of human rights, for example the treatment of minorities in Hokkaido and Okinawa, the treatment of North Koreans who were abducted to Japan, and the trafficking in women, these abuses are nothing compared with the abuses of human rights that civil-rights groups claim go on in China today, in the name of the CCP.
Just last week I chaired a meeting at Chatham House in which the civil-rights groups Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China presented their new report, “Devastating Blows,” on the current religious repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, China’s oil-rich colony in Central Asia. Using CCP, local and central government documents and regulations, and newspaper reports and interviews, the report argues that, by equating religious activities with terrorism, the CCP and its state and local government machines have suppressed a wide range of human rights in Xinjiang.
The report makes a well-documented claim, based on extensive research, that “religious activity among Uighurs is presumptively illegitimate unless approved by the CCP apparatus.” It alleges, again with supporting documentation, that almost half of all detainees in the re-education camps in Xinjiang have been sent there for engaging in illegal religious activities. Illegal activities include children (under 18) participating in, or allowing children to participate in, religious activities.
Repression of human rights in China today is not restricted to far-flung Xinjiang. Even such fundamental rights as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are rigorously curtailed throughout China.
The current (March 2005) issue of China Rights Forum, the journal of Human Rights in China, documents the case of scores of people who have been imprisoned for periods of up to 20 years for criticizing China’s leaders and their policies on the Internet, in newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. Even sending e-mail in support of these “criminals” or publicly suggesting that democracy might be a good thing will land you in prison.
Although it does have a history it should face up to, be ashamed of and apologize for, Japan is, for most people who live there, a free and democratic country today. China is not. It has not been since the military dictatorship of the CCP was established in 1949.
The Japanese government and most of its older people know that its armed forces and police committed atrocities when they occupied other Asian countries in the first half of the last century. Many school children are aware of them, to some degree. It is not illegal to tell people about them.
As the Chinese media and textbook content is strictly controlled, most people in China are not aware of the extent of the atrocities that the CCP has carried out to maintain its power over them, although they are painfully aware of how they and their families have been and continue to be affected (but they must not talk about it).
No, China is not “facing up to history” or even facing up to the present.
Maybe I have got it wrong. Perhaps Wen is about to submit China’s resignation from the Security Council. Maybe he is about to call for the resignation of the other members on the grounds of their failure to face up to history: the United States (massacres of native Americans, Vietnam), Russia (Josef Stalin’s massacres and forced migrations), Britain (India, Kenya, Ireland — the list is just too long) and France (Algeria and anywhere else it enforced its rule in Africa).
While in India, Wen did approve the candidacy of Brazil, Germany and India for the UNSC. If you cannot find reasons why those countries are not facing up to history and need to apologize, let me know. It will not be difficult for me to explain why, on Wen’s criteria, they too are not qualified for membership.
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