Human rights conference and more elections in Taiwan

Last month I spent a few days in Taiwan, participating in a conference examining the human rights situation in China in the leadup to the Beijing Olympics. This was held just after Steven Spielberg announced he was withdrawing as artistic advisor to the Beijing Olympics in protest at the Chinese government’s links to the regime conducting the ongoing atrocities in Sudan, but before the latest government crackdown in Tibet.

It was attended by a range of human rights advocates, as well as politicians from Canada, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  There were some very good speeches and contributions amongst the large number of speakers. Among them was Dr Sev Ozdowski, the previous Australian Human Rights Commissioner – his speech is here – and David Kilgour, former Canadian Secretary of State for the Asia-Pacific, whose speech is here.

As with many conferences, I found networking with people in between times as valuable as the speeches. It was fascinating to talk with various local people about their views on the local political scene and on relations with mainland China.
It was an interesting time to be in Taipei. It was in the middle of the Lantern Festival, held in conjunction with Chinese New Year, and also in the lead up to their Presidential election, which was held today. 

I wrote here about Taiwan’s Parliamentary elections in January. The ruling party, the DPP, got soundly clobbered at that election by its main competitor, the KMT. Term limits means the incumbent President, Chen Shui-bian, can’t recontest and it had been expected that the KMT’s candidate, Ma Jing-jeou, would win comfortably over the DPP’s Frank Hsieh. Despite suggestions that the controversy over the latest crackdown by the Chinese government in Tibet might hurt the KMT, due to their policy of pursuing more formal contact with the Chinese government, Ma did win quite easily.

Regardless of the result, relations with mainland China will continue to be a central part of political debate in Taiwan. For example, even though Ma Jing-jeou and the KMT is seen to favour closer ties with mainland China than the DPP, Ma made stronger statements about the potential for an Olympic boycott by Taiwanese athletes if the violence in Tibet continues.

There were some Tibetans amongst those who spoke at the human rights conference, linking their experiences of oppression with those of many others inside China. While many speakers referred with approval to Steven Spielberg’s withdrawal as an artistic adviser to the Olympic Games, they also noted the many serious human rights abuses continuing to occur inside China itself. Plenty of evidence was presented showing Falun Gong practitioners are consistently targeted for serious persecution, as are many civil rights and pro-democracy activists, along with Tibetans, Uighurs and others. The case of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng was one that was regularly referred to.

I was interested to hear Honk Kong politician Kwok-Hung Leung speak, as I thought being a strongly pro-democracy politician in Hong Kong would give some specific insights into the attitudes of the Chinese government. He had long black hair and wore a Che Guevara t-shirt, (which I discovered later is something of a trademark for him). The picture below shows him in a delegation of us that met the Taiwanese President after the conference had concluded. Apparently he has vowed not to cut his hair until the Chinese government apologises for the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. His speech was interesting and I can’t doubt his commitment, although I must say I’m not Che Guevara mixes terribly well with either democracy or human rights.

One other interesting speaker at the conference was a woman from Canada named Nazanin Afshin-Jan. Unlike most of us at the conference, she was not a politician, a lawyer or an academic (although she is a graduate in international relations), which probably explains why her speech seem more focused on practicalities than some of the others. She is Iranian born, trained in the Canadian Air Force, and has used her profile as a former runner-up in Miss World and a singer and songwriter to campaign on human rights issues. One of her main campaigns is to stop child executions, although the main offender on that issue is Iran, not China, so she didn’t focus on that so much in her speech at this conference. She was also able to end her speech by showing a video of one of her songs, which was rather hard for the rest of us speakers to compete against.

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  1. ah! ,the life of an international politician is just one glamorous junket after another.

    being a lame-duck has some compensations, if only hearing how people in other lands have it worse than you do. enjoy it while you can, the real world is coming up fast, have you got a parachute?

  2. Al Loomis again, thinking the Senator is on a plane of existence,with a a modelling process he cannot as a singer song writer compete with…pigs arse Al.Go to it Andrew!?….I suppose we have to accept what she has to say for herself..because immediately what came to mind with me,what does those qualifications mean,and what would be the occupation!?She has no qualifications that mean anything much to me,accept can or could we hold an intelligent conversation,that was structured around other matters besides the vast army of important persons in themselves across the globe..speaking any number of languages,and minimal subjects,as long as a subject allows either the various intonations of money or name dropping to take place!We have them in Iran and China too,often right outside the reach of the average Ms. Nobody or Mr.Nobody,and the only way to the heads of the Army everywhere is to be somewhat unique, in means to their eyes and ears,if both sets are functioning.The average human cannot fly into their presences by the non-rocket science of fart power,unless, Geo.W.Bush is looking for a new one to test on people.[Joke..that is].Actually,I just hope the Chinese and Iranians just change a little bit.And human rights are important enough an issue,to not always offend the powerful,but maybe extend their sense of power in a way they may not of regarded,that highly.I mean do they all seriously think,their images on TV. whatever, actually allows many of them to be so terrible in their decision making,and hope the rest of us on the planet dont think for ourselves!?

  3. Thanks al. I was thinking when I finish up in the Senate that I would just spend my time putting up comments on blogs that ignored the topic and just took cheap snarky shots at people – know of anyone who might be able to give me a few tips?

    Mind you, there’s more than enough journalists who are happy to use international trips by politicians as fodder for populist tabloid-style cheap shots, so having one more snark doing the same on blogs probably won’t add much.

    As you rightly wisely and contructively point out al, hearing and getting understanding of how people in other lands are faring is a worthwhile experience. I didn’t do very much overseas travel over my time in Parliament – although I did make 4 trips to Nauru to see some of Australia’s outsourced refugees – but most of the travel I did do was very useful.

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