Agreeing with Greg Sheridan!

I think it would be an understatement to say that over many years I haven’t often agreed with most of what Greg Sheridan, a foreign affairs commentator with The Australian, has written. (I wouldn’t be surprised if the feeling is mutual.) However, I have to say I agree very much with his recent comments on human rights in Tibet and the rest of China, including his support for a boycott of the Olympic opening ceremony and praise for Kevin Rudd’s laudable raising of concerns on this matters.

OK, he ruins it a bit by doing a bit of culture warrior posturing part way through, asserting that “teh (centre-)Right” has been better than “teh (centre-) Left” on human rights, which to me treats human rights as just another piece of cannon fodder conscripted for the ideological battles which some people seem determined to fight over every issue.  But overall, it’s reasonably good and balanced stuff, including the concerns he adds at the end about Chinese government entities investmenting in our resources industry – concerns which I believe are well founded, not just thinly cloaked xenophobia, nationalism or protectionism which lies behind a lot (although certainly not all) of the complaints regarding foreign ownership.

Rudd made a well-considered speech, which displayed his love of Chinese culture. However, in remarks the Chinese Government must have hated, Rudd said: “Australia, like most other countries, recognises China’s sovereignty over Tibet.
“But we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet. The current situation in Tibet is of concern to Australians. We recognise the need for all parties to avoid violence and find a solution through dialogue.”

The call for dialogue echoes Rudd’s earlier remarks at the Brookings Institution, calling on Beijing to engage the Dalai Lama in formal dialogue. Altogether these are splendid remarks from Rudd because they are true, they needed to be said and they are the minimum that an Australian leader who cares about human rights could say while retaining his self-respect. That minimum has not often been met in the past.

Rudd should also stay away from the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, just as he plans to stay away from the Olympic torch when it’s in Australia later this month. The Chinese were wrong to complain about Rudd’s remarks, just as they are wrong to complain about the demonstrations against the torch.

For Australian Olympic Committee board member Kevan Gosper to describe pro-Tibet demonstrators as “professional spoilers … filled with resentment and hate” is grotesque. One could hardly imagine a movement less filled with hate than the Dalai Lama’s movement for Tibetan autonomy. The problem is not Rudd or the Dalai Lama or the demonstrators. The problem is China’s treatment of Tibet and its woeful record on human and political rights. It is not being anti-Chinese to demand that Chinese people, including Tibetan Chinese, have their human rights recognised. In fact, the Chinese owe a great debt to the Dalai Lama. Virtually no one is calling for an outright boycott of the Beijing Olympics. And the reason for this is simple: the Dalai Lama has rejected a boycott. Quite a few people are calling for a boycott of the opening ceremony, which is much milder. This would be an effective protest against human rights abuses in China. It would impose no cost on the Chinese people, or even on the athletes. It would impose a political cost on the Chinese Government, and if China is ever to be a responsible stakeholder in the international system, it needs to understand that bad actions have costs just as good actions have benefits.

The contribution of Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson has been pathetic. Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb has made some useful contributions, but for Nelson to criticise Rudd for giving a friendly wave to Bush is ridiculous.
To then demand that Rudd attend the Beijing Olympics merely suggests that the Nelson Liberals will under no circumstances take human rights seriously.

I think public debate on human rights in China would be more balanced if it wasn’t focused almost exclusively on Tibet, and also highlighted some of the many other serious human rights abuses inflicted on so many of the Chinese people by their government. However, a heavy focus on the problems in Tibet cloaking some of the other problems is far preferable to no public and political attention being paid to human rights in China at all, which is pretty much where things have been in the preceding few years.

There is an enormous amount about the Chinese culture, history and people which is laudable, and as I’ve noted before, Chinese people have many strong links and contributions to Australia going back many years, including prior to European colonisation. It is unfortunate that necessary criticism of the terrible human rights record of the Chinese government can be seen as ‘China bashing’ and create a negative perception about the Chinese people, rather than just their totalitarian government. However, I can’t see much way around this, beyond trying to emphasise that many Chinese people are amongst the victims of the abuses of their government.  But it was certainly appropriate for Kevin Rudd to spend much of his speech highlighting the positives about China and connections with Australia, whilst still openly spotlighting the human rights problem.

Please like & share:

17 Comments

  1. Although I think Greg Sheridan has a great knowledge and understanding of international affairs, I also don’t often agree with him about what sould be done regarding them.

    This is one exception.

  2. Yes, let’s highlight on other major human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The news of Christian persecution really disturbs me. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3993857.stm

    China carries out the death penalty for being a Christian and many are killed by torture during detention.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/2308461.stm
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1786233.stm
    http://www.peacehall.com/news/gb/china/2004/12/200412130343.shtml

    Even Roman Catholics, backed by Vatican, are severly persecuted and there have been no major improvement in Sino-Vatican relations despite Olympics.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/5289336.stm

    There are estimated 80 million underground Chrisitans in China, more than UK’s population, and these people will certainly come to power when the communist regime collapses. Criticism to the current government will be appreciated by the democratically elected government in the future.

  3. Wait and see!? Its all very fine to think Rudd is brave,etcetera,whilst selling a newspaper,its another matter all together,wether any opinion,will effect the continuation of a policy of Human Rights violation.Seen in the comparisons that China could make about the U.S.A. and its violations of international law,oppurtunistic reluctance of accepting much that is U.N.O. unless the U.S.A. is determining the outcome,and the residence and defender of Dictators here and there,if generalities and vagueness and memory loss were the international standards of these debates when surfacing…is China that bad!?Certainly if you are Tibetan and other groupings,but life is pretty cheap in the country of the National Riflemens Assoc.So the democratic protestors of the U.S.A. have only eyes for the Tibetans now!?And Sheridan who has been a journalist for a long time evades details like they have no distinct value.And not every thing is clear cut about Winston Churchhill if you like finding more details.And look at the jump in time of players Left and Right in his article,like the Murdochs themselves ,everyday of the week recite some quote of Churchhill’s as a exercise in their own acumen.What was today’s Sheridan!?

  4. I actually think Kevin Rudd might have a good idea on this one, where he’s suggested non-violent protests by everyone turning their backs.

    It was a very strong message against the Coalition in our little parliament and in some of the 500 person halls Howard visited during his prime, but, can you imagine the impact such a simple protest would have during the opening speech of the Olympic Games by the Chinese head of state?

    It makes my skin tingle just thinking about it.

  5. More hypocritical bleating. I am all for advocating for human rights and do it loud and long but here we are forgetting our own abuse of human rights on a pretty grand scale and self-righteously lecturing others.

    Rudd is trying to repair the mess that Howard made and is to be applauded for that but let’s get real.

    Ms Zu Qing Ping was 36 weeks pregnant back in 1997 when she was dragged from the Port Hedland concentration camp and sent back to China where she was forcibly aborted at 38 weeks. One small baby sacrificed in this way is enough to prove our human rights blah is just blah, blah.

    The longest stay person in Villawood at this point is a Chinese lady who has been locked up for over 6 years for not committing a crime. The largest numbers of people locked in these concentration camps have been Chinese by the way so we are doing their dirty work for them.

    It is all racist crap. The west are the worst human rights abusers on earth and always have been because that is all we do.

  6. It is patently clear Marilyn, that the West is incredibly far from the worst human rights abusers in the world.

    For example, in how many countries would you be harrassed, tortured or killed for writing this kind of thing on a blog. All you get in Australia is someone argusing with you and maybe calling you names.

    There are many aspects about Australia that could and should be better, and I think we will be eternally striving to an unreachable goal. But I reckon we’re much further along this path than many other countries and I consider myself very fortunate indeed to have been born here.

    Honestly, how many countries can you name that you would really prefer to live in?

  7. muzzmonster @7: I’m a bit over the “it might not be perfect, but, Australia’s the best place in the world” schtick personally. Down that path lies sticking tacky plastic flags on your car bonnet.

    Canada (whose housing is apparently the most affordable in the Western world) and most of the Scandanavian countries (with their humanistic economic policies) beat Australia in my personal preference stakes. Add NZ to the list if they get a move on and reverse a bit more of their Rogernomics legacy ;-). There are better places to live who have solved problems we’re currently facing. It’s high time we opened our eyes and learned from them.

  8. muzzmonster”For example, in how many countries would you be harrassed, tortured or killed for writing this kind of thing on a blog. All you get in Australia is someone arguing with you and maybe calling you names.” May I suggest you watch Unconstitutional-The war on Civil Liberties(it’s on the net)plus John Pilgers “War on Democracy” also on the ‘net!What about Chile,El Salvador,Nicaragua,Guatemala,Bolivia,Bosnia to name just a few!What about Britain & Diego Garcia?The US is ‘interfering’ in Venezuela as we speak- a democratically elected govt,where Hugo Chavez & his party have been democratically elected about 11 times in 9 yrs?
    Under the PATRIOR Act,people were rounded up for speaking out,wearing a PEACE T-shirt,making an innocent comment in a public library initiated a ‘visit’ by 4 FBI operatives.People originally from middle eastern countries, were rounded up & either deported in the middle of the night,or locked up for 6 mnths or more. Renditions to Egypt,Europe Afghanistan,Pakistan etc of innocents on streets in Italy,Canada etc.Italian MP’s sacked & charged along with 13 CIA operatives who of course didn’t turn up!Guantanamo Bay,Abu Graib & other prisons in Iraq?Our complicity in all of these,even if it’s only our SILENCE!If our ‘friends’ commit atrocities,we ignore them!If we’re complicit we ‘shoot the messenger’as Howard govt did over Abu Graib.I can still hear Downer’s pitiful whining ‘what a terrible thing to say’.Remember giving Saddam $300 million?
    Invading a sovereign nation without cause or UN sanction etc,resulting in over 1 million deaths.The pregnant woman from China-this when then Minister for Health? gave us pontificating rubbish about RU-486,sanctity of life,blah blah!I’m with Marilyn 100%-the hypocrisy is breathtaking!We put the homeless in motels/hostels etc in 2000,& put them back on the streets when all the visiting cameras left the country.Aboriginal people in NT? 8 yrs later,WHAT’S CHANGED?

  9. I wasn’t actually suggesting that Australia is the best place in the world to live. (Though I enjoy living here for a variety of reasons, not least because I was born here.)

    I’m not suggesting there isn’t things we need to improve, but on any objective judgement with regard to human rights, Australia surely is one of the better places in the world to live.

    We don’t execute homosexuals (or anyone for that matter). We have rules against discrimination on a variety of criteria. We may not have a Bill of Rights, but the High Court has declared that we have an implied right of free speech. Our government is stable. Our rule of law is fairly consistent.

    The Haneef case showed that you cannot lock someone up indefinitely without charge (unless they’re a refugee of course). Our life expectancy and quality of life is above many other countries.

    Naomi, I obviously did not refer to the US, but I think it is also much better than other countries for many of the same reasons. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticise them (and ourselves) for not upholding some high standards, but it’s a long journey.

  10. muzzmonster, how many of those evil nations have invaded us and blown up our people, our cities and our towns? NOt one.

  11. I do see your point Marilyn, that human rights are not just for those who live within the borders of a country.

    But I still maintain that Australia has overall (and I’m not forgetting our many lapses) done more for human rights around the world than many other countries.

  12. muzzmonster-“But I still maintain that Australia has overall (and I’m not forgetting our many lapses) done more for human rights around the world than many other countries.” I disagree! We have remained silent during the years that the US was invading,interfering in other countries,Latin America for example.How many times during the reign of Saddam Hussein did you read a speech,a media release,a motion in Federal Parlt about this dictator?Why did we remain silent when other countries tried to raise this in the UN?What did the US do?Either tried to prevent the motion,voted against it,or vetoed it?Have you ever sat & listened to the bone chilling history of a woman from Chile,who escaped Pinnochet?Or the man whose wife & 5 daughters were separated from him in El Salvador,& for over 12 hours didn’t know how they were-they escaped thanks to the Red Cross with 1 suitcase each to aust before Howard,thank god.The US trained those who organised the death squads!What about Diego Garcia & Britain?We still remain quiet over anything the US does,including Abu Graib,Guantanamo Bay?How about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians?No,being silent does not mean non-involvement or an honourable state.Asylum seekers & the wonderful people who quietly support them,when our gutless god fearing govt locked them up until they went medically mad-including children!Yes,you don’t see people shot in the streets!But there’s been some pretty revolting situations,where innocents have suffered greatly!Let’s not congratulate ourselves-yet!We allowed Indonesia to murder East Timorese, and if the people hadn’t taken to the streets,Howard/Downer wouldn’t have stepped in the last time!Every day on our TV’s we listen to the newsreaders chant the White House bullshit over Iraq,and we’re so far away that we don’t have to think of it five minutes later!It’s only distance that insulates us from our complicity that’s all!Convenient distance & widespread ignorance and?

  13. OK enough self flegellating, lets address the issue from this absolutist position

    “I still maintain that Australia (despite its many good points) has done nothing for Human Righst compared to any other counrty in the world”

    So lets try to work upwards – there’s 200 (give or take) nations in the world lets see where we sit.

  14. Died hanging from wrists and gagged, with over 25 rib fractures:

    This is my first of a series of diaries about prisoners murdered by US forces. It will tell the story of an Iraqi man who died hanging by his cuffed wrists from a door frame, gagged, and beaten to death by his US interrogators. As the Final Autopsy Report noted:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/4/12/151937/351/893/494404
    US seeks direct access to Pakistan’s N-arsenal:

    The United States has sought direct access to the body controlling the country’s nuclear assets for an American official to be posted at its embassy in Islamabad.
    http://ia.rediff.com/news/2008/apr/14pak.htm

    (14th April-Information Clearing House articles)

    The US/Britain/Aust didn’t stop Musharef when his second in charge was found to have sold nuclear materials & info(probably to Iran)because Bush wanted Pakistan’s air space for Iraq & Afghanistan.Now it’s come back to bite them,as did Saddam,Osama bl & others.We quietly comply!A recent nauseating speech in Parlt re Israel was not an action promoting human rights-anywhere!certainly not in Palestine!Injustice is what it was& continued support for murder,cruelty,racism,torture,stealth of land & horrific abuse of 60yrs.Not much to take pride in there!Our sucking up to US is a disgrace!Silence or support for the aggressors is just as bad as actual complicity!Distance allows us,once again to make flowery speeches & boast of ‘good things’?Labor govt has got its ‘orders’ from US too(Howard)it appears!If you only read Aust press,or watch US sanctioned news (including on ABC & SBS-sad)& how it’s delivered,you’d think that we’re just ‘peachy’?Not so!

Comments are closed.