To form any trade agreement with China requires consideration on a raft of issues ranging from labor standards and environmental protection, to human rights. It also means admitting that China is ruled by oligarchs and plutocrats, has no regard for the rule of law and allows state-sponsored organ harvesting.
“I don‘t know why any rational person would want to [sign] an agreement with China in any matter… Personally, I wouldn’t even enter an agreement with China selling popcorn,” says David Kilgour, a former member of the Canadian parliament who is internationally known for his commitment to ending human rights abuses across the globe.
It was a message Kilgour delivered during his visit to Taipei earlier this month. Having served as a member of parliament for 27 years, during which he did a stint as Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific between 2002 and 2003, the former politician has been a long-term observer of Taiwan’s democratization. To show his support for the Sunflower movement, Kilgour arrived on April 8, and immediately went to the then-occupied Legislative Yuan where he gave speeches outside and talked at length to protestors.
Over the following days, he held several talks outside the legislative chamber and also paid a visit to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is said to be suffering deteriorating health in prison. The 73-year-old former politician says he no longer has to hold his tongue, and now only listens to his own conscience.
DEALING WITH CHINA
Kilgour’s moral sense has made him a firm opponent of what he calls China’s “robber-baron” communism, where there are “71 billionaires who are members of the National People’s Congress.”
For Kilgour, human rights should always trump economic considerations, and he has little patience for companies such as Taiwan’s Foxconn, maker of Apple iPhones, that thrive off China’s lax labor laws.
Cheap consumer goods made from convict labor and sold across the US are equally problematic, he says. Kilgour cites Charles Lee, a follower of Falun Gong, a religious group that the Chinese government criminalized in 1999. Imprisoned from 2003 to 2006 for religious dissidence, Lee, along with other inmates, worked 16 hours a day without being paid and would be beaten if they refused to work.
Upon release, he returned to his home in the US where he discovered that the kind of Homer Simpson slippers he had made in prison could be bought, even though US federal law prohibits the importation of any products produced with convict labor.
“New Zealand was proposing to have a free-trade agreement (FTA) with China in 2007. I remember talking to someone from the foreign ministry: ‘How do you keep forced labor products out of New Zealand?’ [The reply] ‘We are going to have an inspector in Beijing.’ I almost fell off my chair, laughing,” Kilgour says.
CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
The persecution of Falun Gong in China is a subject Kilgour knows painfully well. In 2006, he and human rights attorney David Matas released a report that documented Beijing’s organ-harvesting atrocities perpetrated against practitioners of Falun Gong. Since Beijing outlawed the group, its followers have been incarcerated, and a large number of imprisoned practitioners have been executed, after which, the report shows, their internal organs are removed for sale to foreign nationals in need of transplants.