x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

China will move on human rights reform if pushed

A leading Chinese dissident says the world is right to keep talking about human rights to China's government. This kind of pressure does work.

Through much of Chinese history, there has been nowhere to turn when local officials abuse their power. "Heaven is high," an ancient Chinese adage tells us, "and the emperor is far away." There is, in other words, no power to which an ordinary person can appeal against wrongdoing by those in authority.

But one by-product of speedy communication in our wired world is that misdeeds anywhere can become news everywhere. Scarcely a day goes by without the United Nations, or sovereign governments, or international non-government watchdog groups, using modern media to denounce corruption and abuses in some corner of the world. And this year in particular has brought a wave of condemnation upon China for mistreatment of minorities, abuse of local power and silencing of dissidents, among other concerns.

Now someone who has earned the right to an opinion has offered new support for sustained outside pressure against the twin evils of corruption and human-rights abuse in China. Chen Guangcheng, a persistent campaigner against China's forced-abortion policy, had been in jail or under house arrest since 2005 until, last month, he was allowed to leave China.

Last week, speaking in New York, Mr Chen called on American groups and the US in general - and, by extension, the whole world - to put Chinese abuses at the core of relationships with that country.

His homeland has laws against abuses, he noted, but these are routinely ignored: China's real problem is disregard for the rule of law, and that must be challenged. Mr Chen expressed that view at some risk - relatives have reportedly been harassed and beaten since his departure - which makes it all the more striking.

To be sure, the world has protested for years, to no avail, against China's sustained repression of Tibetans and other subject nationalities, not to mention of ethnic Chinese dissidents and anyone who resists abuses such as unjust expropriation of valuable land.

Nor is it only in China where global revulsion often appears to fall on deaf ears. International anger does not seem to have budged Syria's brutal rulers, at least not yet. And yet there are success stories, as well. South Africa abandoned apartheid. Myanmar's brutal junta gave up its hold on its people.

In each such case, internal dissatisfaction, both silent and articulated, was reinforced by sustained international pressures. China has through its history put little store in the views of "foreign barbarians", but the world is different now. Mr Chen would, we believe, agree with Martin Luther King's view: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."