Chinese break away?

Second verse same as the first?  That’s the worry for human rights activists who are concerned that Obama’s second term will further entrench failures to honour promises like closing Guantanamo (see more here from my colleague Niluccio)

Over in the East, in China, there is another leadership contest underway and there are fears there too that nothing will upset the status quo. We put out this briefing on the state of human rights in China which stated at the start - activists are not hopeful the change will usher in a new respect for human rights.

Certainly there have been no signs of a desire to embark on a new order in the run up to the election. The authorities have been hoovering up trouble makers- we know of 130 human rights activists, lawyers and academics who have been detained or had restrictions placed upon them since September.

Just this week, Mao Hengfeng, a relentless campaigner for reproductive rights and against forced evictions and long term Amnesty case, was sentenced to one and a half years’ ‘re-education through labour’ for ‘disturbing social order’.

We also know of the use of “black jails” which are unofficial sites where dissidents are held incognito and out of the way.  There is a determination that nothing will mar the congress in Beijing – my friend who lives there told me they have gone as far as removing the handles to wind down windows in taxis as a security precaution. Okaaaaay.  

Other security measures are more run-of-the-mill for China, like the heightened internet restrictions in place to silence criticism. The Ministry of Information Technology expressed the need to ‘seal the network’, known as fengwang, during the Party Congress. Such measures were used to censor criticism in 2010 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo and during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Before we write off these two “new” administrations though as the surly nay-sayers it’s in our nature to be, we must acknowledge a glimmer of hope.

Yesterday evening, at the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament in New York, 157 governments voted in favour of finalising an Arms Trade Treaty next March. Among the “big six” arms-exporting countries, only Russia abstained from the vote, while China joined France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the USA in supporting the resolution. 

This is a turn up for the books, and on the eve of ushering in a new leadership, this move could be construed as heralding a departure from the China which we have come to know- one that routinely sides with Russia to  block the longed-for Arms Trade Treaty whenever it gets tantalisingly close. But with extreme restrictions on all freedoms still firmly in place, and with a spate of self-immolations by teenage Tibetan monks this week – underscoring the extreme distress of so many in China at the repression they are subject to - there is a long way to go before this could be considered a brave new world, in any sense but one.

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