China`s Communist party has celebrated International Human Rights Day by detaining dissidents who challenged its rule
It seems extraordinarily heavyhanded, but China`s Communist leaders have this week managed to celebrate International Human Rights Day by investigating and detaining dissidents who dared to call for human rights.
Put like that, it could almost be seen as a simple public relations blunder. In fact, it is a genuinely fearful reaction by a leadership that is extremely anxious.
What has angered the leadership is Charter 08, which describes the present political system as 'disastrous' and calls for free elections, an end to one-party rule, the rehabilitation of those purged in political movements, the withdrawal of the Communist Party from the military and the courts, and freedom of religion.
It`s quite a list, but there`s more. The document charges that Communist party rule 'has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity, and corrupted normal human intercourse.'
The Charter is one of the boldest calls for change to have emerged since the bloodshed of 1989 all but silenced dissent in China. Signed by 303 academics, lawyers and some officials – many of whom are now under investigation – it comes at a time of almost unprecedented risk for China`s leaders.
The man whom police believe to be the organiser, Liu Xiaobo, is a 53-year-old professor who is a veteran of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. When those protests ended with a massacre ordered by the leadership, China went into what seemed at the time like political shock. Liu Xiaobo was one of the hundreds who were imprisoned. Many others fled abroad. Talk of political reform fell silent, and relations with the west were bleak.
In 1992, Deng Xiaoping kick-started the economic boom that has made many rich. It was a calculated move – Deng believed that if people were busy striving for wealth, and thought it attainable, they would not demand political freedom. By and large it`s worked for 19 years. The capitalist revival has even gone a long way, in the eyes of the west, to reestablishing the Communist party`s legitimacy – it is seen as an unpalatable leadership that has nevertheless achieved results that many other leaders would die for.
But that formula is now in danger of disintegrating. The global financial crisis is hitting China harder than analysts at first expected. Stock markets and property prices have fallen, exports have slowed dramatically, and production is ceasing in many of the southern factories that keep the shops of the world stocked. The western world has been through boom and bust before, but China`s newly affluent classes have so far only boomed. No one knows what to expect if things go bust, least of all the Chinese leadership.
Read the devastating description of present day China in Charter 08, and you can see why the leadership might be nervous that things could come crashing down on their heads.
The charter identifies what it calls 'a sharpening animosity between officials and ordinary people'.
It predicts: 'As these conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society – the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas -– becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.'
Have things really reached such a critical state?
There is evidence for the animosity the document cites around the country in myriad small protests. Until this year, grievances have focused largely on local government corruption.
Now, just like governments around the world, the Communist party is struggling to contain economic fallout.
They are all too aware that without the promise of wealth, or if that promise crumbles, then their claims to legitimacy crumble as well.
Text der Charter 08