Thu, Oct 01, 2009 - Page 8 News List

In China, economics can trump all

By Michael Danby

The Taiwanese government’s decision not to give a visa to exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, while labeling her organization as linked to terrorists, is probably a result of her August visit to Australia. Despite pressure from Beijing, the Australian government granted her a visa, as they have in the past. Canberra investigated and rejected assertions that Kadeer has links to terrorism.

No other democratic country has accepted that Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress are linked to the shadowy East Turkistan Islamic Movement. But Kadeer’s visit to Australia followed already-strained diplomatic relations between Australia and China as a result of the latter’s arrest of leading Australian mining executive Stern Hu (胡士泰) of the Rio Tinto company. The only explanation for the government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) accepting these slurs on Kadeer (a former Chinese businesswoman of the year) is its focus on building closer economic links with China.

In her final public appearance in Australia, during a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra, Kadeer expressed her “gratitude” to the Chinese government, a sentiment for which she has good reason.

Beijing’s heavy-handed attempt to stop the Australian government from giving her a visa put the previously unknown Kadeer on the front page of local newspapers. The Australian government resisted Beijing’s pressure. China’s equally crude attempt to bully the Melbourne International Film Festival into canceling the screening of a film about Kadeer made her a cause celebre and ensured that her week-long visit to Australia was a triumph for the World Uyghur Congress. Indeed, Chinese government attempts to censor ­Australian-American filmmaker Jeff Daniels’ film about her life, The 10 Conditions of Love, scored international coverage for the Uighurs, leading the New Yorker film critic Richard Brody to declare his solidarity thus: “We are all Melbournians.”

Australian commentators were puzzled by the behavior of the Chinese government and its diplomats in Australia, questioning their attempts to influence government decisions and to interfere with freedom of speech in a democratic country that has gone out of its way to be China’s friend.

China’s counter-productive antics over Kadeer’s visit to Australia conform to a long-established pattern of behavior. Although China has become a much more prosperous — and in some ways less repressive — place than it was in the days of Chairman Mao Zedong (毛澤東), the essentials of power have not changed: China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party, which brooks no serious opposition to its rule.

China has been keen to blame Kadeer for inciting the violence in Urumqi in July, a charge she denies. The Dalai Lama was similarly accused of stirring up the rebellion in Tibet last year. It is impossible for an outsider to know the exact truth about these events. But as someone who has met both Kadeer and, on several occasions, the Dalai Lama, I can say I have been impressed by the firm and explicit commitment to non-­violence made by both these leaders. It’s far more likely that the troubles in Tibet and ­Xinjiang are the result of the denial of human rights and cultural and religious freedom to the Tibetan and Uighur peoples over many years.

Influential Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor Peter Hartcher, in an Aug. 19 article perceptively entitled “Dragon is cross, but it’s business as usual,” suggests that China’s attempts to strong-arm Australia were really intended as a warning to the US — and perhaps Taiwan. He quotes the Chinese proverb “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.”

This story has been viewed 3425 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top