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Liu Xiaobo and the West's naive beliefs about freedom in China

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A wake-up call

This undeniable reality ought to be a wake-up call to anyone who naively believes the autocratic rulers of China will alter their disregard of human rights just because the country is richer. Regardless of how widely China’s leaders have opened its market to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.

On the contrary, China’s dictators have become even more contemptuous of the value of universal human rights. Still under pressure in the decade after Tiananmen, the Communist government released 100 political prisoners in order to improve its image. Since 2000, as the Chinese economy grew stronger and stronger and the pressure from the international community became less and less, they have returned again to hard-line repression.

The international community should be especially concerned over China’s breach of international agreements to which it is a signatory. Besides the UN Declaration on Human Rights, China also signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 1988. Yet, torture, maltreatment, and psychiatric manipulation are extensively used in detention and prison camps in China. This includes beatings, the use of leg shackles and/or handcuffs for prolonged periods, extended solitary confinement, severely inadequate food, extreme exposure to cold and heat, and denial of medical treatment.

As the power of the regime grows with prosperity, the Communist Party feels confident in its immunity as it violates the strictures of its own constitution. Article 35 of China’s constitution, for example, says that “citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.” Yet, can anyone doubt government’s crackdown on these rights, not to speak of regularly blocking the Internet, including denying access in a whole swath of China after the incidents between Han and Uighurs in western China? Censors can easily locate e-mails and their authors using sensitive words like “Liu Xiaobo” and filter them out.

The link between human rights and world peace

As the unfortunate history of Japan during the first half of the 20th century illustrates, a power that marries economic strength and human rights violations is a threat to peace.

Thankfully, the courageous Nobel Committee has exposed this link once again in the case of a prospering China. The committee is absolutely right to make a connection between respect for human rights and world peace. As Alfred Nobel so well understood, human rights are the prerequisite for the “fraternity between nations.”

Fang Li-Zhi, a dissident physicist widely regarded as “China’s Sakharov” and the mentor to the student protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989, now lives in exile in the United States, where he teaches at the University of Arizona. Before he was expelled from China, he spent over a year in protective custody in the US Embassy in Beijing, where he had fled after the Tiananmen crackdown.

© 2010 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services.

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