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.