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The rise of an autocratic China

By Chin Jin - posted Thursday, 13 September 2007


A recognition that Australia 's best economic opportunities lie in the Asia Pacific region, led to the APEC initiative, first announced by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in January 1989. That was followed by the inaugural APEC Ministerial Meeting in Canberra later that year. Now Australia has once again hosted the APEC Summit in Sydney . This annual Summit has become an important meeting, with world-wide significance. While it concentrates on economic co-operation and development, it can move outside this agenda. One example was the Counter-Terrorism statement issued at the 2001 Shanghai APEC meeting.

By encouraging and then participating in APEC, there is no doubt that Australia, a medium-sized country in the region, has contributed a lot to economic development in the Asia Pacific area, and to peace and stability.

In 1991, the sudden collapse of the former Soviet Union and its European satellites ended the Cold War, and a new world emerged with the US as the only super power. The East European countries rejoiced in their new freedom, and began to build their democracies. That has been a remarkable development. But the leading democracies have largely failed to capitalise on this achievement.

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Since the 1990's, Western countries have not consistently pursued democracy and human rights. In dealing with the remaining authoritarian countries, the West has been dazzled by trade and economic prospects, and inclined to adopt a policy of appeasement.

Instead, the great democracies need to maintain a consistent strategic vision, a far-sightedness that will lead the world not merely to economic prosperity, but to the creation of more democratic societies which live together in peace, and which respect the rule of law and uphold the human rights of each citizen. They should remember the extraordinary events of 1989-91, when communist governments in Europe, under pressure, gave up their power. The lessons of that time can be applied elsewhere.

The Asia Pacific region contains some of the world's largest and long standing democracies: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. It also contains authoritarian regimes, hopefully near the end of their tenure: Vietnam, North Korea, Burma, and largest of all, China. The region incorporates the biggest developed nation, and the biggest developing one. So far, annual APEC Summits have concentrated on economic issues. But by ignoring issues of human rights, freedom and democracy, the democratic countries show weakness and make implicit concessions to the authoritarian regimes. And they kowtow unnecessarily to China, the largest authoritarian regime of all.

The rise of an autocratic China will not be a blessing to the world, and the US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Japan cannot be indifferent to this. We would call on the democracies within APEC to use the next summit meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate their moral obligation to encourage authoritarian regimes along the road to democracy.

The members of APEC have worked together to sustain economic growth through a commitment to open trade, investment and economic reform. While that is useful, in our view it is an unbalanced development. Democracy and human dignity are also necessary as values in their own right, and as long term guarantees of economic development and social justice.

As the political opposition to the Chinese Communist Government, we want to highlight the situation of the Chinese people and the repressive nature of the Chinese regime, and help their voices to be heard. They too deserve the opportunity of all-round development as human beings. They too deserve human rights, the rule of law, freedom of expression, an independent media, social justice and democracy.

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The Chinese regime receives little political pressure or criticism from the international community. Mostly it enjoys a benign international environment to maintain its repressive rule. Meanwhile there are many brave dissidents inside China, but they are limited in what they can do. They face censorship and the danger of harassment, police violence and imprisonment for themselves and their families. When they do speak out, the West tends to ignore them. Through the Chinese overseas democratic movement, we are trying to give them a voice. We want China to progress from repressive one-party rule, towards human rights and democracy. Until the Chinese regime gives up its political monopoly, we will continue to speak out.

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About the Author

Chin Jin is an M.A. graduate of the University of Western Sydney and Chair of the Federation For A Democratic China, Australia.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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