University of Tokyo Associate Professor Ako Tomoko argues the case for long-term engagement with like-minded Chinese people.
On July 10, Liu Xia, the wife of Chinese human rights activist and writer Liu Xiaobo, was released from an eight-year house arrest and arrived in Germany. Upon seeing a photo disseminated by the world’s media of her spreading her hands widely and giving her friends a bright smile, many people felt from the bottom of their hearts, “Liu Xia, you have finally been set free. Good for you.”
Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to eleven years in prison on charges of inciting the subversion of state power in February 2010, was released on parole in June 2017 because he had terminal cancer. He died on July 13. The Chinese authorities did not inform Liu Xiaobo’s family of his physical condition until he had become terminally ill. After Liu Xiaobo’s death, his funeral was held under the guard of the authorities. Even his close friends were prohibited from attending the funeral, and his remains were scattered into the sea after his body had been cremated.
It is conceivable that the Chinese authorities were afraid that Liu Xia would make comments and take action as an advocate of Liu Xiaobo. The Chinese authorities placed her under guard for many years, and there was even an extraordinary period of time in which neither her family nor her close friends could confirm where she was. Liu Xia, who was an artist, expressed her inner world through literary works and photos. The current administration of the Chinese Communist Party suspected that even this quiet artist could threaten the security and stability of the state.
On July 12, two days after Liu Xia had left China, there was news about the whereabouts of Wang Quanzhang, a human rights lawyer, from whom there had been no communication for more than 1,100 days. According to this report, lawyer Liu Weiguo, who represents Wang Quanzhang, was suddenly permitted to meet with him. Wang Quanzhang had dealt with cases related to forcible evictions and the freedom of beliefs, but he was detained in July 2015 amid a large-scale crackdown on about 300 human rights lawyers. In this so-called 709 Crackdown, about thirty lawyers were detained, arrested and prosecuted, and some of them were convicted. There was no information about Wang Quanzhang. His wife Li Wenzu searched for information about him along with his supporters and continued to insist that he was innocent on social media.
Li Wenzu, who listened to lawyer Liu Weiguo’s explanation, said that Wang Quanzhang was in good physical and mental condition. But although Wang Quanzhang had not been hypertensive originally, it appears that he was being forced to take medication to cope with hypertension. Wang Quanzhang’s family is concerned that he is being tortured.
Faced with the criticism of human rights issues from abroad, the Chinese government has consistently insisted that they should not interfere with Chinese internal affairs. On the other hand, many countries are becoming less interested in the Chinese human rights situation with a focus on economic benefits from a short-term perspective. This tendency is also accelerated by the fact that the defects and limitations of democracy are revealed in democratic states.
Today, China is displaying its strong influence in the world. Given China’s scale and economic power as a state, this situation is a logical conclusion, and it is unnecessary to regard the global ripple of the Chinese impact as something bad. But if China, which does not share political values with democratic states, rises, the international order that respects democracy and constitutionalism is sure to be eroded.
If China and the international community hope for economic development and social stability from a short-term perspective, they will only have to cope with the risks accordingly in a given situation. But is that really acceptable? Fundamentally speaking, we should think more seriously about the issues that will affect our children and grandchildren. This may be an exaggeration, but Chinese human rights issues have factors that will have a huge impact on the development of humankind. Instead of being swayed by its relationships with the Chinese government, which uses human rights and the economy as bargaining chips, the international community should associate itself with excellent Chinese people and groups who share the same ambitions.
Of course, when you point out Chinese issues, your image is also reflected in the mirror on the opposite side. It goes without saying that it is necessary to reexamine the conditions of democracy, the rule of law and the freedom of speech in democratic states that criticize China as well, beyond exerting pressure on China.
Note: This article was first published in Chinese by Liberty Times Net / 自由時報 on September 3, 2018. http://talk.ltn.com.tw/article/paper/1229256
AKO Tomoko is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo.