Commentary / World

Beijing's actions speak louder than its words

by Frank Ching

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s scolding of a Canadian reporter for daring to ask a question about human rights in China has made headlines around the world. The unexpected rant reflects China’s attempt to export its own values, especially censorship, to the West.

Instead of a spontaneous display of anger, the performance was clearly staged. Chinese officials are asked about human rights everywhere they go, and so the question itself should not have been surprising. What was odd was that while the question was directed at Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Stephane Dion, the Chinese minister stepped in to respond.

Despite its loudly proclaimed principle of opposing interference in other countries’ internal affairs, in practice, it seems, China practices such interference, preventing a Canadian reporter from asking a Canadian official about Canada’s policy on China. If this type of behavior is accepted, it is tantamount to giving China the right to censor what is said and written about China around the world

It is notable that Wang told the Canadian reporter, Amanda Connolly, that she has “no right to speak” on human rights in China. Only the Chinese people, Wang said, have such a right.

But, of course, Chinese who speak up on human rights end up in prison. But if Wang had his way, people outside of China wouldn’t know that Chinese citizens don’t enjoy freedom of expression, and such “undiplomatic” questions would never get asked.

It is understandable that Chinese people are proud of their economic achievements over the last few decades. But Wang is over the top when he asks, “Do you know that China has come from a poor and backward state and lifted more than 600 million people from poverty?”

Why, one might ask, were there 600 million people living in poverty more than 30 years after the “Great, Glorious and Correct Communist Party of China” had created a socialist paradise? How many millions of people died of starvation in the Great Leap Forward campaign of the late 1950s and early 1960s because of the party’s policies? How many millions of people were killed, exiled or imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution? Why did the Communist Party through its actions condemn millions of people to a lifetime of poverty?

Until Wang answers these questions, he has no right to boast about lifting people out of poverty.

China’s new assertiveness was reflected in Wang’s tirade as he asked the Canadian reporter a series of questions, which included, “Do you understand China? Have you been to China? Do you know that China is now the world’s second-biggest economy with $8,000 per capita?”

This display of arrogance is frightening. If that is the way China behaves when it is the world’s second-biggest economy, what is one to expect when it becomes No. 1?

Clearly, Wang — and the Communist Party — is sensitive to questions about human rights. The media’s response should be to keep peppering him with questions everywhere he travels about China’s treatment of human rights advocates, the Hong Kong booksellers, the imprisonment of the Canadian missionary Kevin Garratt and the South China Sea. Since these are the questions Wang doesn’t like to hear, these are the questions that should be asked. Over and over again until they get a proper airing.

In the meantime, Wang’s words and actions should be drawn to the attention of the International Olympic Committee. China is applying to host the 2022 Winter Games and, according to the Olympic Evaluation Commission, the Chinese government has provided “written assurances” of its commitment to press freedom, the right to demonstrate, labor rights and environmental protection in the context of the games.

Before the 2008 Summer Games, China promised that they would further the cause of human rights in China. Instead, China cracked down on Chinese people who, according to Wang, “have the right to speak” on human rights.

Thus, Hu Jia, who co-signed an open letter, “One World, One Dream: Universal Human Rights,” was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced to 3½ years in prison; Yang Chunlin, who petitioned against illegal land seizures, was sentenced to five years; Teng Biao, who offered to defend Tibetan suspects arrested after the Lhasa riots just months before the Olympics opened, lost his license to practice law.

With Wang’s public attempt to stifle the Canadian press, how credible is China’s latest pledge to protect human rights?

Journalist Frank Ching was one of the first U.S. newspaper reporters to be based in China following the establishment of Sino-American ties when he opened The Wall Street Journal’s bureau in Beijing in 1979. He focuses on China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. His email address is Frank.ching@gmail.com. Twitter: @FrankChing1