Post-Nobel China its own worst enemy

By Franck Ching, Special to The China Post

Despite no-expenses-spared efforts to boost its soft power, such as the Shanghai Expo and plans to open a Xinhua news agency office atop a skyscraper in New York’s Times Square, China’s image has taken a beating in recent months, what with its tough talk to the United States and Japan, its defense of North Korea and, now, its attacks on the Norwegian Nobel Committee for honoring imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo. Even the highly publicized remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao in support of democracy and free speech have adversely affected the country’s image as it became known that the premier’s words, too, have been censored within China. Meanwhile, pressure on the Chinese government both from within the country and abroad has increased. An open letter signed by 23 senior Communist party members was submitted to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, in which they called for an end to restrictions on freedom of expression. The signatories, including Li Rui, former secretary to Chairman Mao Zedong and Hu Jiwei, former editor-in-chief of the People’s Daily, called for the abolition of censorship and called on the government to uphold rights supposedly guaranteed by the constitution. In its opening paragraph, the letter notes that the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration but the government, through drafting legislation to “implement” such freedoms, has effectively deprived citizens of those rights. “This false democracy of formal avowal and concrete denial has become a scandalous mark on the history of world democracy,” the letter says.

In theory, the letter notes, the people are the masters of the country. However, after 61 years of being “masters,” citizens of the People’s Republic of China still enjoy less freedom of speech and of the press than were entrusted to Hong Kong’s people when they were the “residents of a colony.” While this letter was drafted before Liu Xiaobo became the Nobel peace prize laureate, another letter, this time signed by over 100 people, many of them scholars, lawyers and writers, was released last weekend.

It called Liu Xiaobo “a splendid choice” and called on the government to release him as well as “all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who are in detention for reasons such as their speech, their political views, or their religious beliefs.” Meanwhile, four United Nations experts on human rights also issued a letter calling on China to release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights. With voices both domestic and foreign calling for basic human rights and freedoms, the Chinese government may well be feeling embattled.