If you ask a Chinese scholar to discuss human rights, and Beijing’s irritation over Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in the reckoning for the Nobel Peace Prize — the professor may point to the new cars on the roads and the queues to buy an iPhone4.
This week, China’s cabinet issued a white paper on human rights that begins with a discussion of economic development, not freedom of speech and expression, as rights campaigners would expect.
“The year 2009 was the most difficult one for China’s economic development since the beginning of the new century,’’ says the opening line. The report links the economic turnaround after the financial crisis to ‘promoting new and notable progress in China’s human rights’.
The first section on human rights informs us that by 2009-end, Chinese car ownership reached 31.36 million, an annual 28.6 per cent increase.
It lists the increasing number of telephone and mobile users. “There are now 79.9 telephones for every 100 people.’’ The paper said Internet access in China is higher than the world average but did not mention censorship.
In the same week, the state-run China Daily reported that Beijing police are investigating a company that allegedly receives commissions from officials for locking up petitioners in abandoned hotels and forcibly sending them back to their hometowns.
Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in jail last December for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ as one of the main signatories of Charter ’08, a petition seeking greater freedom for the Chinese.
At the foreign ministry’s regular briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Jiang Yu fielded questions mainly on Japan and Beijing’s opposition to Liu Xiaobo's inclusion in the Prize shortlist. “The person you just mentioned was sentenced to jail. His actions are completely contrary to the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize,’’ said Jiang.
I filled two pages in my notebook with the spokesperson’s response on human rights. “Countries may have different perceptions of human rights...the Chinese enjoy full freedom and various rights.’’ The official English transcript of the briefing released later on the foreign ministry website exercised its right to peaceful protest by deleting every question and answer on the Nobel Prize.