Musicians have always been known as their dissident stances, especially when it comes to politics. John Lennon stirred the anti-war campaign against the Vietnam War; Bono, the vocal of U2 which was named after the spy planes of U.S., have accused the American Government of being the puppet of transnational corporations. However, since the begining of the new era in 2000s, they have found a new target to hit. Since Björk, the famous Icelandic singer, cheered people as “Free Tibet” in her latest concert in China, criticism towards the country has been increased, particularly on fundamental rights and freedoms. But how much of this criticism is deserved is another issue.
China's bad reputation on human rights is not flash news. The situation first came to the fore with the events in Tianenmen Square, though, the state of political freedoms have always been problematic in the People’s Republic. In 1989, with the fall of the Soviet Union, China was boiled up due to political and economic unrest. Angry youth, especially students and unemployed graduates, have gathered in the Tianenmen square and protested Communist Party's policies for 7 weeks. Whatever the reason of this upheaval, be it a CIA scheme or the late reflection of the freedom movement in late 1960s, the consequences were dire for the protesters. 700 to 1000 people were killed during the army's intervention. Some of the protesters were held as detainees and tortured, others became missing after taken into police custody. In the aftermath, European Union and U.S. have imposed arms embargo towards China which is still in effect. This tragedy have raised eyebrows among international community and people started to look more closely into the "Chinese Democracy".
The country still exercises capital punishment. Almost 30 convicts are executed every year. Freedom of movement was restricted; Chinese citizens in Western regions are not allowed to establish businesses in other cities. The Tianenmen incident was deleted from Google in the face of official threats to ban the search engine's activities from China. Historic events was removed or deflected daily in the Chinese network. Thousands of web sites are either banned or censured based on more than sixty regulations on internet censorship. Considering Tibet as separate country continues to be a crime in the legal system.
China's foreign policy is no different. Chinese actions in Africa usually result in boosting African dictators. Not only it provides economic support for Africa's ill-governed countries but also backs them in the international fora. The main impediment against concerted action towards Sudanese government which is broadly held responsible for the plight in Darfur, the war-torn region, is China’s threats to veto a possible UN resolution in the Security Council. Communist Party also refrains from putting a pressure to Uganda’s dictator Robert Mugabe which refuses to hand over its powers, dismissing democratic elections.
But Tibet is another issue. Chinese army have entered into Tibetian soil in 1949, violating the agreement envisaging autonomy to Tibet. Since then, it has been a major headache for China. Although they abstain from emphasizing Tibet’s right of self-determination, human rights campaigners and a few Hollywood celebrities condemn human rights violations and discriminatory treatment for Tibetians. China strongly denies this. According to the official thesis, Tibetian people are treated equally as Chinese citizens. Taking into consideration current problematic social system in the mainland China, that may be true. Nevertheless this does not justify the problems in Tibet and China’s tit-for-tat with Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet.
Not suprisingly, some steps could have been welcomed if they have worked smoothly. During the Olympic games, Chinese government which was forced to recognize the protests, have arranged public places called protest parks for people demanding more freedom. However, out of 77 applications regarding to use these parks, only 3 were accepted and 2 of which were vetoed and the other was suspended. Furthermore, the Chinese Administration's new social net plan that envisages to protect its workers from low and inhumane working conditions does not loom on the horizon.
Nevertheless, there are other questions; what really is on the agenda of the countries that criticize China? Do they really care human rights violations or just use them as a foreign policy leverage to undermine the new rising power of Asia? (which was also the case for the Soviet Union between 1975-1990s.
Whatever the answer, actors of the international fora, are obliged to somehow engage in China. Its economic clout is growing, its political influence would be felt more in the next decade. And it surely would be more difficult to handle for “pure” human rights’ champions in the future.
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