Posts tagged: Gao Zhisheng

A Thorn in the Government’s Side – China’s Human Rights Advocates

Prof. Eva Pils

Prof. Eva Pils

Since the fall, not a month has gone by where there isn’t some Chinese human rights advocate being prosecuted.  The charge is usually the vague and broad claim of “disturbing public order.”  Activist Xu Zhiyong (pronounced Sue Zhi young) was given four years in January under that charge, one year shy of the maximum.  Cao Shunli (pronounced Ts-ow Shun lee), another human rights, died in police custody while being investigated for the same charge.

Who are these human rights advocates and lawyers?  And why has the Chinese government become increasingly harsh?  To put this all in is Prof. Eva Pils, an associate professor of law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and research fellow at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.  In 2006, Prof. Pils wrote the seminal article on human rights lawyers in China, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China. This summer, Prof. Pils will continue her work with a book on rights activism entitled China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance.  Last month, as more human rights advocates and lawyers were being detained, Prof. Pils sat down with China Law & Policy.

Read the transcript below of Part 1 of this three-part interview or click on the media player below to listen:

Length: 14:49 minutes

***************************************************************************************************************

EL:  Thank you for joining us today Prof. Pils.  Let’s start with a little bit of background.  These human rights lawyers, who are most frequently referred to as “rights defense” or “rights defending” lawyers, when did they first start to emerge and why?

EP:  Thank you.  I think that they used to call themselves ‘rights defense – weiquan [维权] lawyers’ – but I think that actually over

Bringing back the law - Deng Xiaoping

Bringing back the law – Deng Xiaoping

the past one or two years, they’ve started preferring the term renquan lushi [人权律师] which means ‘human rights lawyers.’  That’s in a way related to how they emerged.  They emerged because in the post-Mao era, especially from the 1990s onward, it became possible to use the law to defend rights, for one thing of course because there [now] was law — it was only under the Deng Xiaoping reform and opening policies that law became an accepted tool of government of the Party-State, after it had been completely denounced in essence as a counter-revolutionary idea in the last decade under Mao Zedong

Then the other thing is that there was a period, [from the beginning of the post-Mao era until] the 1990s when the Party-State authorities were essentially encouraging the use of law to address certain kinds of dispute, certain kinds of conflict in society.  During that time, weiquan – rights defense – was actually an officially propagated term.  As background, one would have to say that rule by law – yifa zhiguo [依法治国] – was an idea that the authorities were making use of in the Deng Xiaoping era in order to claim political legitimacy.  That in a way replaced the political legitimacy coming from the idea of a communist revolution that was what political legitimacy was based on in the Mao Zedong era.

I think that this argument [about law as a tool of governance] is quite right, this is how Deng Xiaoping wanted to develop China in the post-Mao era, but also I think that the authorities, perhaps including Deng Xiaoping, didn’t fully realize what they were letting themselves in for when they promoted the idea of [rule by law and] weiquan.  Perhaps this was because they were quite good Marxist-Leninists and believed sincerely that law was nothing other than a tool of governance to be used by the ruling power.  Whereas of course, from the weiquan or rights defense perspective, [law] is  connected to justice and it’s connected also, potentially at least, to political resistance,  to the idea of rights, of human rights.  I think that it’s a step toward a more explicitly political agenda that the lawyers who used to be referred to as weiquan lawyers have now chosen to call themselves human rights lawyers.

EL:  In terms of the political agenda, the agenda of the human rights lawyers in China, in terms of their issues – is there something that unifies them as a single issue or are there  different issues?  In general, are they located in one area or do you find them throughout the country.

The Jiansanjiang Four - from L to R: Jiang Tianyong, Zhang Junjie, Wang Cheng & Tang Jitian

The Jiansanjiang Four – from L to R: Jiang Tianyong, Zhang Junjie, Wang Cheng & Tang Jitian

EP:  I think in terms of area, definitely there is a huge concentration in Beijing and also in a couple of other cities, in particular Guangzhou and of course also Shanghai.  But when you look at how they work and where they work, it is very important to see that they really work all across the country.   In the Jiansanjiang case you mentioned just before [the interview] you have a couple of human rights lawyers going to this extremely remote location in Heilongjiang with the purpose of freeing, or in any case providing legal support to, a couple of people who are extra-legally detained there.  That’s an example of what human rights lawyers do regardless of where they are based.

Is there something that unifies them?  My impression in having done so many hundreds of interviews over the past couple of years with, I suppose, a few dozen human rights lawyers, [is that] they are very diverse, they are very different in terms of their personalities, their approach to their work, and in some of their convictions.  But there are things that do unite them.  I think that for one thing, they see themselves as adopting different methods from what many other lawyers are prepared to do.  For instance, they reject the idea of wining and dining the officials concerned in their clients case to get results.  In that, they’re not different from a group of lawyers called sikepai [死磕派] lawyers, lawyers who are very uncompromising.  But what sets them apart from the sikepai lawyers is that they are willing to take on cases that nobody else will want to touch.  I suppose one good example for that is the cases of people who practice Falun Gong.   And thirdly, they [human rights lawyers]  have recently started identifying more clearly around political ideas.  They want democracy.

The more things change, the more they remain the same - 25 years after Tiananmen, still cracking down on dissent

The more things change, the more they remain the same – 25 years after Tiananmen, still cracking down on dissent

EL:  Just in terms of the crackdowns that we are seeing and I think you talk a little bit about this in your previous answer.  There has always been a crackdown on dissent in the People’s Republic of China, even in the post-Mao era.  You see the 1978 Democracy Wall movement, there is a crackdown. You see the Tiananmen protests of 1989, there is a crackdown.  Should we be surprised that the same Chinese Communist Party is looking to crackdown on these rights defense lawyers and activists?

EP:  No.  No, we should not be surprised.  I don’t think that the lawyers are surprised either.  And I say this, although I just said that initially, in the 1990s, there was this official promotion of and use of the idea of rights defense.  There was, I think, for a couple of years, especially around 2003 when you had the famous Sun Zhigang incident, this notion that perhaps rights defense could mean a bold group of courageous lawyers, legal professionals, and legal academics sympathizing with them, persuading the State to introduce incremental reforms.  One of [these reforms], for instance, could have been to introduce some sort of meaningful constitutional adjudication  — whichever mechanism one would have used —  this would have made a potentially very great contribution towards making constitutional rights guarantees more effective in actual people’s lives and actual legal practice in China.

So, [until around 2003] you had that hope  — and of course along with that an expectation  — that the State would tolerate weiquan.  But actually very early on, from the moment almost when they started being successful, these weiquan lawyers also encountered repression.  I think we now understand better than perhaps a couple of years ago, that that was really based in a high-level perception that weiquan presented a political challenge and that consequently, it had to be controlled.

So, what has been happening  from about 2004 and especially over the past couple of years, has been a tightening of control, and the use of ways of trying to stop lawyers from engaging in weiquan.  I don’t think that anyone I have spoken to has been surprised by what has happened.

EL:  So in terms of the tightening of control, you mention that the Sun Zhigang case in 2003 is kind of a high point.  But then by

Locked Up for Four Years - Human Rights Lawyer Xu Zhiyong

Locked Up for Four Years – Human Rights Lawyer Xu Zhiyong

2009, we see a government crackdown with Gao Zhisheng basically being abducted and being held incommunicado.  Also in 2009, you see the disbarment of activist lawyers like Tang Jitian and Liu Wei; you see Xu Zhiyong being investigated.  Then in 2011, with the Arab Spring, we see another crackdown.  Now, 2013, 2014, we are seeing perhaps the worst treatment of advocates.  So you were talking about how some of the responses [to weiquan lawyers] is coming from high-level.  I think a lot of people see these different crackdowns as separate incidents, just a knee-jerk reaction by the Chinese Communist Party.  But should we see it that way or should we see it as part of a larger trend?

EP:  I think that it is based in a decision that as I just said was essentially made in 2004 that they would have to be controlled and I think that basic attitude and policy has remained the same also before and after the recent changes in leadership.  So I definitely think this is part of a larger trend, yes.  I think that also the situation at the moment is worsening.

EL:  I think we can guess what it that the Chinese government is so afraid of.  But what precisely is it?  Is it the issues themselves or is it another power base that could take away power from the Party?  What is it that they are so afraid of?

EP:   Well, I think from the perspective of the Chinese authorities, or at least from [the perspective of] that part of the Chinese government that is entrusted with the task of stability preservation – of weiwen [维稳], it’s quite clear (and perhaps it is clearer to them than to lots of people outside and inside China) that the human rights movement of which human rights lawyers are of course an important part, stands for political ideas that challenge the Party’s political existence.

"Social Stability" at all costs

“Social Stability” at all costs

There is a perception also amongst the establishment that the current system isn’t viable unless it’s somehow changed.  But I think what leads to this attitude of having to crack down on human rights lawyers is that the establishment, the authorities, are completely reluctant to allow any civil society forces to take control of the changes that need to be introduced.  So, yes, there may have to be changes; but certainly we, the Party-State, want to stay in control of changes.  Another way of putting the same thing, I suppose, is to say that the tizhinei [体制内]forces, the system, the establishment, can’t accept the idea of accountability to people outside of the system; and in a way, it is not institutionally set up to accept that idea.  That of course means that the notion, the idea of political opposition, the idea of a free open political discussion of popular grievances, of the forces of social unrest, of the various contentious issues which you have in Chinese society right now is even less acceptable.

***************************************************************************************************************

For Part 2 of this three-part interview series with Prof. Pils, please click here.

In Defense of Dylan in China: Come Writers and Critics Who Prophesize with Your Pen

By , April 10, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Bob Dylan performed in concert in Beijing on April 6 and Shanghai on April 8

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times – Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind – lambasts singer-songwriter/protest-singer/civil-rights-activist/voice-of-a-generation/whatever-he-is-to-you Bob Dylan for his recent concert in Beijing, China.  For Dowd, Dylan’s acceptance of the Chinese government’s approval of his set list is anathema to everything he represents.  Dropping his famous protest songs of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A’Changin’” from the set list during China’s most severe crackdown on its own citizens since 1989 and ignoring the recent detention of Chinese rights activists shows, for Dowd, that Dylan is nothing more than a sellout, willing to auction his morals to the highest bidder.

But Dowd’s virulent critique of Dylan makes one wonder, where has she been in all of this?  Dowd is an obvious Dylan fan, likely even a disciple, with her skilled use of Dylan quotes and understanding of the man’s extremely tangled and uncomfortable history with fame.  But China’s “harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade” and its “dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei” as Dowd notes, didn’t just start this weekend and didn’t just start with the detention of Ai Weiwei.

Since the middle of February, the Chinese government has been illegally abducting Chinese rights activists, preventing them from contacting their family let alone a lawyer, and subjecting them to torture and abuse.  This siege on rights activists in China is done as a pre-emptive strike on the nascent civil society that has been developing and is an attempt for the Chinese Communist Party to avoid the fate of Mubarak and Ben Ali and maintain its one-party authoritarian rule, especially as a change of leadership comes in 2012.

Tang Jitian was abducted from his home on February 16, 2011, starting what has proved to be a wide-cast net of illegal abductions and abuse (abuse of both China’s own laws and the individuals that remain in custody).  Since then, Dowd has written 13 columns, not a single one dealing with the issue of the Chinese government’s harsh and violent crackdown on its citizens.  Today’s column barely touches upon the issue and instead focuses on Dylan’s “selling out.”

Let’s face it, Dylan is unable to sell out because he never bought in in the first place.  Dylan never fully engaged the civil rights movement.  While his songs did become a motivating force for many of the great civil rights activists and moments in U.S. history, by 1965, he was done with folk and had plugged in.  And since the 1980s, Dylan has been on a non-stop tour, selling the rights of his iconic protest songs to commercial entities (the rights to Times They Are A Changin’ was first sold to accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand and in 1996 to the Bank of Montreal), appearing in a Victoria’s Secret ad, producing an abysmally bad Christmas album, and almost never including Blowin’ in the Wind and the Times They Are A’Changin’ in any set list anywhere in the world (review his set lists here: http://www.bobdylan.com/tour/calendar/2010).

Dylan’s lack of mentioning China’s recent crackdown on dissent isn’t shocking.  In fact, the old guy likely knows nothing of what is happening in China – why should we rely on him to be our voice and do all the work?  This isn’t his issue; in fact, the man likely has no issues other than himself.

Which brings us back to Maureen Dowd.  Unlike most of the people concerned about human rights abuses in China, Dowd has a powerful platform for her voice – her twice-a-week column in the N.Y. Times.  With a large and influential readership that likely reaches the halls of the White House and Congress, discussion of China’s recent abuse of its own citizens and its subversion of a rule of law in her column could influence important policy makers as well as the world-at-large.

To their credit, some of the world’s major newspapers have been reporting on China’s recent crackdown, but these articles have been cursory at best and do not fully explain why China’s recent assault goes above and beyond what traditionally occurs in an authoritarian regime.  But most individuals knowledgeable on the issue have had extreme difficulty in getting their voice out in the mainstream press (kudos though to The International Herald Tribune and the N.Y. Times for publishing opinion pieces in its print editions and kudos to  The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal for having opinion pieces on the issue in their online papers).

Dowd has the opportunity to expose what is happening in China and call for the freeing of, or at the very least the end of the abuse of, not just Ai Weiwei, but also rights-defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, Teng Biao, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, Li Tiantian, and Gao Zhisheng.  The whereabouts of these lawyers, unlawfully abducted by Chinese authorities (even under Chinese law), remain unknown.  Their only offense: asking the Chinese government to uphold its promise of a rule of law and using the legal system to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Dowd’s disappointment in Dylan’s snub of China’s crackdown on dissent leads me to believe that this is an issue Dowd is concerned about.  But instead of asking Dylan to be the spokesperson for the issue, Dowd should practice what she herself appears to preach.  My challenge to Dowd is to use her sharp-witted pen and find a way to raise the plights of China’s rights-defenders in the American consciousness instead of relegating it to two sentences in a column that is otherwise a critique of Dylan.  If Dowd doesn’t, then I am left to think “you could have done better but I don’t mind, you just kinda wasted my precious time….”

Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s Wife on His Abduction

By , March 28, 2011

Gao Zhisheng is perhaps the most well-known of China’s rights-defending lawyers.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gao began successfully representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers denied just compensation for their land.  In fact, in 2001, Gao was named by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of China’s most influential lawyers.  Spurred by his success and what appeared to be a Chinese government welcoming a stronger public interest law bar, Gao expanded his work to included practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious organization which the Chinese government has long feared as a threat to its one-party rule and has declared a cult.  Gao’s representation of Falun Gong practitioners did not just highlight the baseless accusations of “using superstitious sects [cults] to undermine the implementation of the law” (China’s Criminal Law, art. 300), but also the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while in police custody (for a seminal article on Gao’s work, see Eva Pils, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China, Fordham International Law Journal 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563706).

Gao’s zealous advocacy of Falun Gong practitioners did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, and his status as a lawyer to be celebrated for representing society’s most vulnerable, quickly changed.  Gao was now viewed as a piranha of the state. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

Gao’s whereabouts, like recently abducted rights defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Teng Biao, and Jiang Tianyong, remain unknown.  In a plea for the world to pay attention to these random and lawless detentions, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who was able to flee to the United States with their two children in January 2009, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article.  Geng begs that if her husband has been killed, that the Chinese government have the dignity to return his body so that his family can lay him to rest.

The Dissident’s Wife

By Geng He

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

San Francisco – WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.

Click here for full article

Reality or Myth: China’s Rule of Law & Its Recent Assault on Lawyers

By , February 21, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Rights-Defending Lawyer, Tang Jitian

The Chinese government has tried to break Tang Jitian’s spirit.  Failing, it now seeks to break his body.  Tang, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was forcibly abducted from his home on Wednesday, February 16 by the Beijing police.  Five days later, in contravention of Chinese law, Tang’s whereabouts remain unknown to his family, friends, and other human rights lawyers who desperately await some news of him.  Tang’s wife, after waiting at the police station for over four hours, was not permitted to see her husband and not informed of his whereabouts.  Tang’s “crime” in all of this: seeking to uphold individual’s legally-guaranteed rights and hold the State to its promise of a rule of law.

When Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee Tea-ann) emerges from this unlawful and forced seclusion, he may be badly beaten, tortured and abused.  Soon after his abduction on Wednesday, Tang was transferred to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB), an outfit that has been assigned the task of suppressing China’s nascent human rights movement.  Violence is a necessary part of the PSB’s mandate: it provides a very physical signal to other human rights lawyers what awaits them if they become too vocal, organized, or, ironically, too successful in bringing cases to protect citizen’s rights.  But this State-sanctioned violence is outside the limits of the law, and makes one wonder that if, by attacking these rights-defending lawyers (in Chinese, weiquan lawyers), the Chinese government is really committed to a “rule of law” society or if the use of such language by Chinese officials is a mere mirage.

The Breaking of a Body: Tang Jitian’s Potential Fate While in PSB Custody

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (pronounced Gao Zhi-sheng) likely serves as the most potent reminder of the

Human Rights Attorney, Gao Zhisheng

lawlessness of the PSB.  In 2001, Gao was listed by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of the country’s top-ten lawyers for his work representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers who were denied just compensation for their land.  But as Gao took on more controversial cases – particularly defending Falun Gong practitioners, a quasi-religious organization that the Chinese government perceives as a real threat to its power – government respect for his work quickly faded.   In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  This was the second time he was abducted, the first in 2007 where he was tortured for over 50 days.  But this time, Gao’s abduction would be for much longer.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

What awaits Tang may be similar – 48 hours of continuous beatings, various forms of physiological torture, wet towels over one’s face to give the feeling of suffocation – or even worse.  Unlike Gao Zhisheng, who is well known in the international community, or Teng Biao, a famous Chinese law professor and human rights activist who, because of his status, experienced a less violent beating when he was taken into custody for a few hours by police last December, Tang does not have such connections to protect him.  Without such an international cache like Teng Biao, Tang is an easy target for the Chinese security apparatus and will likely be used to violently symbolize the PSB’s power over the human rights lawyers.

Trying to Break a Spirit: Tang Jitian’s Disbarment

Wednesday’s abduction was not the first time that Tang has been on the Chinese government’s radar.  In May 2010, because of his defense of a Falun Gong practitioner in Sichuan province, the Beijing Bureau of Justice – the government body that manages the legal profession in Beijing – disbarred Tang from the practice of law.  Ostensibly arguing that Tang violated courtroom rules, the Beijing Bureau of Justice’s decision was largely seen as political.  Similar to the United States, disbarment in China is reserved for those lawyers who commit a crime.  Tang was the first lawyer to be disbarred for what merely appeared to be zealous advocacy.

Since his disbarment, Tang has had no way to economically support himself, relying solely on the kindness of other human rights lawyers.  Such a blow has had its impact and more recently, Tang had become depressed about his situation, although still very active in the human rights movement.  One would have thought that this would have been sufficient for the Chinese government – that by taking away Tang’s livelihood, it would not seek to detain him.  One would also think that such action would be unnecessary: Tang’s disbarment was a clear signal to other human rights lawyers that the State could use vague provisions of the law to disbar them and deny them their raison d’etre.  But it appears that disbarment was not punishment enough for the PSB.

Why Abduct Tang Jitian Now? China’s Rule of Law Regression

The immediate cause of Tang’s abduction relates to the recent house arrest and abuse of another human rights lawyer,

Human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong

Chen Guangcheng (pronounced Chen Gwang-chung).  Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer who represented women forced into abortions by their village government, has been under house arrest since he was freed from prison in September 2010.  Last week, Chen and his wife were reportedly beaten after they leaked an hour-long video of their daily surveillance to the U.S.-based human rights and religious group, China Aid (for the video, click here).  On Wednesday afternoon, Tang Jitian had lunch with a group of Beijing human rights lawyers to discuss what the group could do to support Chen.  Soon after this brain-storming session, Tang was abducted.  Additionally, another participant of the Wednesday lunch group has also been abducted.  On Saturday, February 20, 2011, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounced Gee-ong Tea-ann young) was taken away in an unmarked van, only days after he was roughed up while in police custody.

But Tang and Jiang’s belief that the law should be followed and individuals’ rights should not be trampled on by the State is the real reason for his abduction and likely abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Over the past few years, China’s human rights attorneys have become more organized, using modern technology to quickly communicate with each other, and increasingly vocal, demanding that  the government abide by its own laws when it comes to the people’s civil rights and civil liberties.  Instead of responding positively to these developments – developments that largely symbolize a growing rule of law society and an emerging civil society  – the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has further entrenched its authoritarian rule and has used increasingly sever measures to break these human rights lawyers. While Chinese human rights lawyers’ cases would be everyday affairs for public interest lawyers elsewhere in the world, the CCP views these lawyers as a threat to their one-party rule and the PSB views them as a threat to its all-inclusive, and many times illegal, policing methods.  Based upon the recent abduction of Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, the PSB and the CCP will do whatever it takes to suppress these human rights lawyers.

On Saturday, while rumors were circulating on the internet that China itself was to have a “Jasmine Revolution” following the events in the Middle East, a Chinese rights activist tweeted that the Chinese government detained twenty-one other human rights attorneys: Zhu Yufu, Liao Shuangyuan, Huang Yanming, Teng Biao, Ran Yunfei, Li Tiantian, Liu Guohui, Ding Mao, Lu Yongxiang, Xiao Yong, Zhang Jianping, Shi Yulin, She Wanbao, Li Yu, Lou Baosheng, Wei Shuishan, Zhang Shanguang, Li Xiongbing, Xu Zhiyong, Huang Yaling, and Li Bo.  Many may suffer physical abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Some already have.

Why Should Anyone Care?

I met Tang Jitian when I was last in China and was impressed, not just with his bravery, but also with understanding of his role in pushing the Chinese government to truly commit to a rule of law.  If human rights lawyers are suppressed now he told me, there will be no one to take over the movement.  Tang is right and breaking the movement appears to be one of the goals of the Chinese government.  By openly subjecting human rights attorneys to constant surveillance, disbarment, psychological threats, and physical abuse, the Chinese government hopes that once this generation of human right lawyers pass, no younger lawyers will dare to take up the mantle; the repercussions are too severe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a hard line on human rights

But the question remains, will the rest of the world allow this?  Last month, the Obama Administration impressed many by repeatedly raising the issue of human rights with Chinese President Hu Jintao.  Just days before Hu’s arrival in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly discussed the plight of China’s human rights lawyers, stating that the United States will expect China to fulfill its own promise of rule of law: “America will continue to speak out and to press China…when lawyers and legal advocates are sent to prison simply for representing clients who challenge the government’s positions….”  The time has come for the United States to back-up that statement.

The Obama Administration has already expressed its concern with the treatment of Chen Guangcheng.  But it cannot forget the less known advocates like Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong – without some form of international recognition of his situation the PSB will believe it has the cover to do with Tang and Jiang what it wants.  Furthermore, the Obama Administration needs to see the Chinese government’s recent reaction as an affront to a “rule of law” and also needs to comment on the importance of not just a “rule of law” in China but on the existence of a vibrant public interest law bar.  Human rights lawyers directly challenge the State in order to protect individual’s legally-guaranteed rights; only when these lawyers are able to more freely function in society will China have any meaningful rule of law.

A meaningful rule of law in China is not just an abstract principle for Americans.  As more Americans do business in China and as the U.S. government seeks to increase the number of students studying in China to over 100,000, rule of law in China will become an everyday concern.  Last year’s arrest and prosecution of Australian citizen and Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu and the recent conviction of U.S. citizen and geologist Xue Feng embody the importance of China’s rule of law development for Americans.  The Obama Administration needs to publicly condemn the Chinese government’s recent suppression of human rights lawyers, call for the release of Tang Jitian, and frankly question the Chinese government’s commitment to a rule of law.  Tang and Jiang’s safety depends on it.

A Jersey Shore Analysis of the Hu Jintao State Visit

By , January 23, 2011

Welcome to the Jersey Shore!

State visits never produced tangible results, and last Wednesday’s visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. was no exception.  True a series of business contracts  and joint ventures were announced, but not much else.  Really though, that’s not why we watch state visits – especially ones involving leaders of the two largest economies in the world.

We watch them more because they are a reality show of sorts – watching two world leaders from vastly different cultures walk the fine line between appearing strong for one’s own country’s interests but at the same time, not completely trampling the other country’s interests.  But unlike the Jersey Shore where one might just be sent home from the beach for misbehaving (think Angelina Season 1 AND Season 2), the consequences are much more serious when you are dealing with two countries whose future relationship can easily determine the fate of the world.

Fortunately, this State visit proved a lot more peaceful and face-saving than anything being shown on the Jersey Shore these days.  While there were some surprises, especially on the Chinese side, there were no fist-a-cuffs.  Overall, the visit seemed to show an improved relationship, at least rhetoric-wise, between the United States and China.

But this is a Jersey Shore analysis so enough of the feel goodness; the question still remains – who won?  Below is a point-by-point analysis of President Hu Jinato’s State visit.

Point for China – Hu Finally Gets a State Visit

The fact that there was a State visit at all was a huge point for China.  It’s been 13 years since a sitting Chinese president

Ceremony on the South Lawn, Jan. 19, 2011

was invited for a State visit and President Hu’s last visit to Washington in 2006 consisted of a lunch with President George W. Bush.  Could anything be more embarrassing for a world leader than to just be offered the lunch menu at the White House?

Unfortunately, yes.  Hu’s 2006 “official” (not state) visit was marred with embarrassing moments for the Chinese.  First, China was introduced as the Republic of China – the official name for Taiwan – sort of a huge gaffe in U.S.-China relations.  Second, a Falun Gong practitioner, a religious order that the Chinese government considers a threat to its rule, was able to obtain press credentials for Hu’s 2006 visit and protest at the event.

But for this visit, the Obama Administration pulled out all of the stops, making it a State visit to outdo all other State visits.  President Hu was greeted at the airport by Vice President Joe Biden and quickly ushered to the White House for an intimate dinner with President Obama.  At all times, China was introduced by its correct name and there were no protests on the South Lawn.

Michelle Obama at the State Dinner for President Hu Jintao

Culminating the event was Wednesday night’s State dinner, perhaps the most anticipated affair this winter.  In addition to a fun and interesting guest list, Michelle Obama chose an amazing dress in homage to one of fashion’s favorite designers – the late Alexander McQueen – making the event the talk of the town of both politicos and fashionistas.

Point for the U.S. – China Gets (a little bit) Tougher on North Korea

North Korea is proving to be a particularly troubling aspect of U.S.-China relations.  No one – including China – particularly cares for North Korea and its saber-rattling as Kim Jung-il’s son takes the rein of perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship.  North Korea’s bellicose activities interfere with China’s economic relations with its Asian neighbors.  But China has yet to take a strong stance against North Korea’s actions even though such actions upset the stability that China needs to continue its rise.  China’s hesitance comes from the fact that it fears a collapsed North Korea; not only would there be the demise of another communist ally, but a collapsed North Korea would mean an influx of starving Korean refugees into China as well as sharing a border with the democratic and U.S.-military-backed South Korea.

For its part, the United States has begun to see North Korea as an increasingly real threat against its allies and itself.  As a result, at Tuesday night’s intimate dinner between the two leaders, President Obama explained to President Hu that unless China takes a stronger stance against North Korea, the U.S. will be left with no choice but to rebuild a stronger military presence on the Korean peninsula.

That argument eventually carried the day.  In the Joint Statement issued on Wednesday, China, for the first time,

Kim Jong-il, Beijing's friend or foe?

“expressed concern” regarding North Korea’s nuclear build-up.  Additionally, while China has urged the resumption of “six party talks” with North Korea, the U.S. has hesitated, seeing it as a reward for North Korea’s bad behavior.  Evidently China and the U.S. were able to reach a compromise: before any six-party talks resume, the two Koreas must first resume their dialogue (see paragraph 18 of the Joint Statement).  On Thursday, South Korea agreed to low-level talks with the North.

Half a Point for the U.S. –Human Rights Makes the Agenda but an Odd Assortment of “Human Rights Advocates” Advise President Obama

Human rights loomed large during Hu’s State visit.  After meekly raising the issue during his State visit to China in November 2009, President Obama was having no criticism of his commitment to human rights.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that apparent in her speech on January 14, 2011 when she not just raised the issue of human rights but also mentioned specific human rights advocates that the U.S. believed were been unlawfully detained.

President Obama continued to publicly press the issue of human rights.  President Obama publicly declared the universality of certain human rights as well as the need for the Chinese leadership to meet with the Dalai Lama.  Perhaps the most surprising of all was when President Hu admitted that China still had a ways to go in better protecting human rights (see the Q&A portion of the Joint Press Conference).

Normally, this should receive a full point.  But the U.S. loses a half a point because of form.  Prior to President’s Hu’s visit, President Obama met with five China human rights advocates.  These “advocates” included Prof. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Prof. Paul Gewirtz of the Yale China Law Center; author Zha Jianying; the wife of former Ambassador Winston Lord, Bette Bao Lord; and research scholar at the University of Maryland, Li Xiaorong.

While these five are likely well-informed on issues of human rights, there seems to be some missing names from the list of “human rights advocates.”  Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China has dedicated her life – and at times has risked her safety – to advocate for greater human rights protection; one can’t think of anyone else more qualified.  And if one wants to stick with academics (three of the five study human rights), it is questionable why Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU School of Law was not in attendance.  Prof. Cohen continues to lambast China on its human rights record on an almost bi-weekly basis in his South China Morning Post articles and actively supports many human rights attorneys in China.

But most of all, why weren’t the Chinese human rights activists themselves invited?  Currently, the wife of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is in the United States as is the wife of imprisoned human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong.  Why not invite either of them to speak with the President of the current human rights situation in China?  Or exiled dissident Yang Jianli currently residing in the U.S.?  Or better yet – why not have a Skype chat with any of the human rights lawyers presently in China (Teng Biao, Mo Shaoping, Tang Jitian, Liu Wei)?  The latter might be a bit too much to ask, but the list of human rights advocates invited to speak with President Obama should have been longer.

Point for China – U.S. Promises to Rein in Spending

As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China is very concerned about the U.S.’ spending habits.  The Federal Reserve’s announcement of injecting more cash into the U.S. economy through “quantitative easing” only worsened China’s fear that its U.S. dollar reserves would lessen in value.  So when President Obama, in response to a reporter’s question during the joint press conference, stated that the U.S. must take greater responsibility in saving and cutting the U.S. deficit, China was very happy.

Half a Point for the U.S. – Government Procurement

China’s closed government procurement market and its indigenous innovation policy has been a issue for U.S. businesses.  China is not a member of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) and as a result is not required to have an “open” government procurement market.  China has submitted two bids in the past few years to be a member of the GPA, most recently this past summer.  However, both applications have fallen far short and as a result, China remains outside of the GPA.

But surprisingly, in the U.S.-China Joint Statement (paragraph 27), China agreed to resubmit an application to the GPA by the end of 2011 and include sub-central government entities as subject to its proposal.  Such an agreement was unexpected and likely a welcome development to the U.S. business community.

So why half the point?  Seeing is believing in this case.  It’s not completely in China’s self-interest to be a member of the GPA at this stage so anticipate that its renewed application will still fall short of GPA requirements.  And even if it becomes a member, it’s questionable if China will enforce laws to promote an equitable government procurement market.

Point for U.S., Point for China – 100,000 Strong Initiative Articulated

Study Abroad in China!

During President Hu’s visit, Michelle Obama, in a speech before a thousand DC-area students, reaffirmed the Administrations’ commitment to sending 100,000 U.S. students to China on various study abroad programs (the “100,000 Strong Initiative”).  In 2008, less than 15,000 U.S. students (on both the college and high school levels) studied abroad in China. The U.S. has a long way to go before we reach 100,000 students but its commitment to achieving that goal is a win-win for both China and the U.S.

Americans’ knowledge of China is abysmally low; as China rises, our lack of our understanding its history, culture or language becomes dangerous.  Study abroad programs can help bridge that gap.  While very few U.S. students will continue on their China path after their study abroad program, just being exposed to the culture and the difficulties that the nation faces is important.  But there will also be some students that will continue on that path, providing an invaluable resource to the American government as China continues its rise as a global power.

The “strong” in the 100,000 Strong Initiative is more about strengthening the cultural ties and understanding between our two nations.  While China sends 10 times the number of students to the Untied States, it is important that U.S. students go to China for those Chinese who will never come to America.  What’s even more important is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative reaches out to community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, both of which have been underrepresented in China study abroad programs.  It is important that the students the U.S. sends to China reflect our great diversity.

Sec. Gates, not a happy camper on US-China military ties

No Points for Anyone – Military-to-Military Ties Remain the Same

There doesn’t seem to be a change in military-to-military ties.  After the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan last January, China broke off military ties and the relationship has barely warmed.  When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing a few weeks ago, a stealth jet fighter was flown unbeknown to even President Hu Jintao.

The Joint Statement (paragraph 9) includes language on improving and deepening communication between the two militaries.  But it appears to be boilerplate language similar to the language found in the Joint Statement issued after President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009.  The fact that China’s military remains non-transparent, secretive and slightly threatening is a serious issue.  The fact that President Hu did not seem to have control of the military, even though he is the nominal Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is even more troubling, for both the U.S. and China.

The U.S. military is stationed through out China and patrols many international waters.  The Chinese military is becoming increasingly assertive at times.  Small incidents have occurred in the past.  But without good communications between the two militaries, it is easy for any small incident to become an international one that could upset the stability in the Pacific.  Hopefully the promised high-level military visits between the two countries will soon produce results.  Then both the Chinese and American people will find it easier to sleep at night.

Winner?

It’s a tie. As far as State visits go, this was a pretty good one.  Everyone got something they wanted and can bring back positive results to their respective people.  Aside from military relations, U.S.-China rhetoric seems to be improving.  Hopefully this trend can continue.

The U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue: There is News to Report!

us20and20china20flagsAfter a two year hiatus, the U.S. and China resumed their human rights dialogue last Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C.  Don’t be alarmed if this is the first you heard of the Dialogue; the U.S. mainstream press barely covered it.

The U.S-China Human Rights Dialogue is subject to criticism and much of it viable.  China doesn’t send anyone with much power to negotiate (for last week’s Dialogue the highest official was Chen Xu, Director General of the Department of International Organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs); the Dialogue itself is conducted largely behind closed doors and it is unclear what is accomplished; and there are never benchmarks set to determine if these dialogues actually produce any results.

But last week’s U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, even with the little that is

Assistant Secretary, DRL, Michael Posner

Assistant Secretary, DRL, Michael Posner

known about it, is newsworthy; it reflects a changing interpretation of human rights in the U.S.-China relationship.  From what can be gleaned from Department of State press conference, the new emphasis in human rights appears to be almost exclusively rule of law.  While Mike Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, highlighted five different topics which were discussed at the dialogue (religious freedom, labor rights, freedom of expression, rule of law, and racial discrimination), the focus of the Chinese delegation’s field trip on Friday was largely legal.  On Friday, the Chinese delegation made the following visits: a meeting with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to discuss rule of law and an independent judiciary; a talk with Cardinal McCarrisk at Catholic Charities’ Anchor Mental Health Center to discuss the relationship between the religious community and government as it pertains to human and social services; discussions with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services concerning labor rights and collective bargaining; and a talk with Thomas Crothers at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace regarding the interplay among law, human rights and food safety.

In addition to the focus of an effective legal system as a part of human rights, here are some other interesting takeaways:

Why discuss with delegates from an atheist country the role of religious organizations?

This is perhaps the most interesting and most puzzling aspect of the talks.  China, run by the Communist Party, is a self-declared atheist country.  In fact, all of the Chinese delegates from last week are admitted atheists.  To be a Chinese official, Communist Party membership is a prerequisite; to be a member of the Chinese Communist Party renunciation of religion (Buddhist, Islam, Christianity, etc) is necessary.   So given this fact, the State Department trip to Catholic Charities offers an interesting insight into the U.S.’ policy toward religion, human rights, and China, particularly in regards to Christianity.

ChristianWhile ostensibly atheist, China is one of the fastest growing Christian nations.  Even based on the Chinese government’s official numbers –which are likely low-balled—from 1997 to 2006, China saw a 50% rise in the number of Christians.  The number, including those that attend the government-run churches as well as the underground, unofficial churches, is around 70 million.  Although this seems like a large number, population wise, it is only around 5%.  So for many Western Christian missionaries, the name of the game is China.  Western Catholics and Protestants both know this and are in China, albeit undercover, in large numbers.

While China has a growing Christian population, the Chinese government remains ambivalent about its development – sometimes seeing it as buttressing its authority and sometimes seeing it as a threat.  Although religious groups and charities have been important in the U.S.’ civil society development, China is a long way from having any sort of religious charities that could support human rights or rule of law.

So why the trip to Catholic Charities?   Perhaps the Chinese officials requested this because they are sincerely interested in learning more about the role religious groups can play in society.  Or perhaps U.S. policymakers’ idea of human rights, at least in China, is becoming less secular and more religious-based, particularly Christian.  Unfortunately, Assistant Secretary Posner did not explain why the Human Rights Dialogue with atheist China focused on the role of religious organizations in supporting human rights and we are left merely to speculate.

U.S. Raises Issue of Liu Xiaobo’s Imprisonment, the Disappearance of Gao Zhisheng, and likely the Disbarment of Tang Jitian and Liu Wei

Assistant Secretary Posner informed the press that U.S. officials discussed many specific Chinese dissents’ cases during the Dialogue.  However, the only two cases he named were those of Liu Xiaobo and the very odd case of Gao Zhisheng.

Liu Xiaobo has a long history of human rights activism in China.  In 1989, he

Activist Liu Xiaobo

Activist Liu Xiaobo

participated in the Tiananmen protests and has repeatedly criticized the Chinese government.  His activism has received many accolades from the West, including Reporters Without Borders’ Foundation de France Prize.  In December 2008, Liu Xiaobo was one of the organizers of the Charter ’08 movement, a movement calling for more democracy, less corruption and greater accountability of the Chinese government.  For these activities, Liu was arrested and sentenced to a very harsh 11-year prison term for inciting subversion of state power.  Even for China, the sentence is particularly long.

Although Liu’s sentence was harsh, the outcome was not surprising from

An emaciated Gao Zhisheng in March 2010 after a year in police custody

An emaciated Gao Zhisheng in March 2010 after a year in police custody

China.  Gao Zhisheng’s case however is just downright bizarre and Kafkaesque.  Gao is a self-taught lawyer and received much praise by the Chinese government for his work in public interest law.  But that was back in 2001.  By 2006, Gao had fallen out of favor and his work, particularly the representation of the repressed religious organization Falun Gong, was seen as a threat to the Chinese government.  In 2006, Gao was detained, arrested and eventually found guilty of subversion.  His three year prison sentence was converted to five year probation and he was allowed to remain at home.  After harassment, physical abuse and threats to his life, in February 2009, one month after his wife and child fled China for the United States, Gao was mysteriously abducted by Chinese police.  His whereabouts remained unknown.  The Chinese government remained largely silent in regards to Gao’s whereabouts until January of this year when in response to questions regarding Gao’s disappearance, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu retorted that Gao was “where he should be.” Although ominous, Gao eventually reemerged in March 2010 at Wutai Mountain, hundreds of miles from his home.  Announcing that he was giving up rights activism for the opportunity to be reunited with his family, Gao went to Xinjiang Autonomous Region at the beginning of April to visit his in-laws.  After one night there, Gao was abducted a second time and to this day, his whereabouts are unknown.

In addition to Liu and Gao, Posner also mentioned that the cases if recently disbarred public interest lawyers were also raised.  This likely means Tang Jitian and Liu Wei, two public interest lawyers who were recently stripped of the right to practice law.  Both Tang and Liu merely represented

China’s increasingly hard-line stance against rights activists and public interest lawyers reflects a country that may not be interested in establishing the rule of law, at least at it pertains to non-economic spheres.  Raising these issues is important not just for the people being detained or harassed, but also to see how China moves forward in response to the issues.  For example, President Obama, in his trip to China last November, reportedly raised the issue of Liu Xiaobo’s detention.  However, the Chinese government did not lighten Liu’s sentence in response.  Instead, the Chinese government sentenced Liu to the overly harsh term of 11 years in December, a month after President Obama’s visit.  It will be interesting to see what happens to Liu Xiaobo, Gao, Tang and Liu Wei after the Human Rights Dialogue.  Does China care anymore about the U.S.’ criticism?

Even the Chinese know what the real purpose of Arizona’s new law

To create a feeling of mutual respect, the U.S. usually voluntarily discusses design-swappableits own human rights issues during these dialogues.  In last week’s Dialogue, Assistant Secretary Posner volunteered Arizona’s new law against illegal immigrants as an example of a potential human rights violation in the United States.  However, according to Posner, the Chinese were not concerned about the law as it may apply to their citizens visiting the U.S.  Even the Chinese know that the law’s likely racial profiling will be for Mexicans, not Chinese.

How to Move Forward

Last week’s Human Rights Dialogue was only the second since 2002, after China suspended the talks.  Actually having the Dialogue itself is a major accomplishment.  Additionally, at the end both sides agreed to have another session in 2011, making the Dialogue an annual event.  For purposes of a continuing conversation, this is a good sign.  But the criticism that China merely plays lip service to the Dialogue is apt.  That is why it is important that during this month’s Strategic & Economic Dialogue (S&ED), to be held in China May 24 and 25, that high level officials, including the Secretary of State, raise human rights.  China places more emphasis on the S&ED compared to the Human Rights Dialogue.  But if the U.S. really wants China to move forward in human rights and rule of law, the topic must also be raised at the S&ED.

Google & China: Is it Really About Censorship?

By , March 30, 2010
Is it St. George or Google that Slays the Dragon?

Is it St. George or Google that Slays the Dragon?

Google has become the Western media’s new Saint George.  With its pullout from China last week and its refusal to submit to the Chinese government, Google slew the dragon of censorship, or at least that is the story being marketed by the press.

But if we look back to Google’s announcement from January 12, 2010, the catalyst of Google’s troubles in Beijing had little to do with censorship.  Instead, what initiated Google’s eventual withdrawal from China was the hacking attack of its computer infrastructure and the theft of valuable intellectual property.  Absent this attack, would Google have left China?  How did we go from a cyber-attack to a principled stance on censorship and why?  And is relying on Google to promote human rights a good thing?

Don’t Be Evil….Unless it Doesn’t Correspond with Shareholders’ Interests

Google claims that its informal motto of “don’t be evil” is a central pillar of its corporate core values.  But in reality, its motto can only be applied to the extent that it does not conflict with shareholders’ interest.

Google is a publicly traded company and as such, its primary duty to is to its shareholders, usually achieved through the maximization of profits.  This isn’t just a precept of sound business; it is an actual requirement of the law.  In the U.S., directors and officers of a corporation have certain fiduciary duties toward the corporation’s shareholders; if an officer or director acts in a way that breaches these duties, shareholders may bring an action against the board of directors and the officers.   This is to guarantee that the directors and officers act in good faith toward a corporation’s shareholders and make decisions based upon reasonable business interests and not upon personal ones.

Before Google made its January 12 announcement, rest assured that it probably checked with legal counsel to guarantee that shareholders could not bring a suit against it for violating fiduciary duties.  Most likely someone wrote a memo analyzing the merits of shareholders’ potential claims against Google for pulling out of the largest internet market in the world.

The current China internet market totals around 348 million users, more than the population of the United States but Google profitsless than a third of China’s potential internet population of 1.3 billion people.  With such an untapped potential, even if Google maintained its 33% market share of the Chinese search market, it could potentially reach 429 million people.

Can walking away from a market that potentially could be that big ever be justified to shareholders on the grounds of Google’s censorship?

Likely not.  A rational shareholder purchases shares of Google not because of its founders’ stance on censorship in China but more for high return on its equity investment; in other words, profits through increased share price.

So how does Google get away with avoiding a shareholder lawsuit?

First, Google’s foray into China resulted in marginal benefits for the company.  Google did not enter the Chinese market with its Chinese search engine google.cn until January 2006 (to understand the difference between google.cn and google.com see CL&P’s previous article).  However, prior to 2006, Chinese internet users were able to access the U.S.-based search engine, google.com.  At the end of 2005, just through the use of the U.S.-based google.com, Google already had 27% of the Chinese search engine market.  Fast-forward to 2010, four years after it launched its censored Chinese search engine, Google was only able to raise its market share six percentage points to 33%.  Even with its withdrawal from the Chinese mainland, Chinese internet users will still have access to Google either through its U.S.-based search engine, google.com, or its newly established Hong Kong-based search engine, google.com.hk.  Thus, Google’s market share in China will likely continue to hover around 30%.  So the impact of Google’s withdrawal on its profits is relatively small, staving off a shareholder lawsuit.  If profits in China were higher, would Google still have left?  Maybe not.

Furthermore, the initial reason behind Google’s departure – a cyber-attack – is likely sufficient to justify giving up the domestic China market and the meager increased profits.  Although the cyber-attack has been pushed to the background, it’s actually a pretty big deal.  The attack on Google, which was coordinated with an attack on over 30 other western high tech companies, resulted in the theft of proprietary source code and other intellectual property.  While Google hasn’t openly discussed the extent of the cyber-attack, Adam Segal of the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on cyber-espionage, hypothesizes that the Chinese hackers made substantial inroads in obtaining some of Google’s core technologies, namely “how it collects information on users and how it uses it to exploit its [Google’s] market advantage.”  This is information that is core to Google’s success and not something that it wants hackers to be able to access.  Any gains from protecting this information far outweighs the losses of shutting down its Chinese search engine.

Cyber-attacking or Playing the Art of Warcraft?

Cyber-attacking or Playing the Art of Warcraft?

Why then the censorship angle?  First, companies don’t really like to announce their vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks.  It’s not surprising that not a single company out of the other 30 that were attacked has stepped forward.  But second, and perhaps slightly cynically, the censorship angle is a marketing bonanza for Google.  Google is the West’s white knight, and although its share price has dropped significantly since it first threatened to leave China, it could have fallen lower absent the positive press surrounding its departure.

And if this was really just about the censorship, why did it take over two months for Google to leave the mainland?  The Chinese government is not about to give up on censorship, as Google executives must be keenly aware of.  So why prolong it?  And if censorship is so abhorrent to Google’s mission, why continue to promote your Android technology on Chinese mobile networks?  Censorship in China is not limited to computers.  A tremendous amount of censorship and surveillance also occurs on mobile devices.

Google’s principle stance against censorship likely has merit and its belief in “don’t be evil” isn’t idle chatter.  But in regards to Google’s withdrawal from China, censorship was neither the only nor the primary reason for its departure.

What’s the Big Deal if Google wants to Say it Left because of the Censorship?

First, by relegating the cyber-attack aspect of the Google-China incident to the background, the press, U.S. government and corporate America avoid confronting what some call the greatest threat to U.S. prosperity.  Adam Segal – in an interview on Digital Age – offered a sobering account of cyber-espionage and the U.S.’ lack of preparation to deal with this increasingly sophisticated threat.  Although previously focused on military secrets, Mr. Segal argued that the threat is increasingly on corporate secrets.  One of the last vestiges of the U.S.’ success lies in its intellectual property.  But cyber-espionage, especially by the Chinese, puts this very much at risk.  Before, companies avoided intellectual property theft by not doing business in China or setting up an office there.  But now, with increasingly sophisticated hacking, companies can no longer avoid the risk that their research and development is vulnerable – the physical location of a company’s R&D does not matter.  According to Rahm Emanuel, “never let a serious crisis go to waste.”  But that is exactly what happened here.  Every discussion about Google – from the press to Capitol Hill to the Administration –  has been about censorship, not about the more serious threat to the U.S.’ national security, cyber-espionage.  Google should certainly be commended for being so open about the Chinese cyber-attack.  Such frankness and cooperation with the U.S. government is important in battling cyber-espionage.  But the U.S. government appears to have largely ignored this opportunity to create a structure or a defense to deal with this issue.

But perhaps more importantly, should we rely on Google, a publicly traded company, to serve as our proxy on issues

Human Rights Attorney, Gao Zhisheng

Human Rights Attorney, Gao Zhisheng

of human rights?  Google was not created to promote human rights; Google’s dual aims are technology innovation and profits.  And there is nothing wrong with that; it’s what corporations do.  But by focusing so much on Google’s decision to leave China and cloaking it in this narrative of a principled stance against censorship, are we excusing our own behavior and inaction?  While the press has focused on Google’s departure from China, a real human rights defender, GAO Zhisheng, has “disappeared” in China.  Detained by the Chinese police last year, Mr. Gao went missing a few months ago with Chinese officials stating that he was “where he should be.”  Only yesterday was he found, alive.  But this story has received little attention from mainstream press and scant consideration from the Administration (the Google incident inspired a speech from the Secretary of State).  What kind of emerging superpower says that one of its citizens is where he belongs?  And what kind of society that is considered a bastion of human rights allows this power to get away with it?

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: