Yesterday was, apparently, the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our former Prime Minister, former senior UN official, beloved of the Labour Party faithful, Helen Clark tells us so.
I can’t claim to be much of a fan of the United Nations, am not entirely convinced by the concept of “human rights”, and certainly don’t believe that any such rights flow from declarations of governments. I’m not convinced some items in the declaration belong there. But Helen Clark probably sees things differently. She seems to be champion of all such things, worthy and not so much. She’s a private citizen now, but it was only a year or so ago that our governments were championing her campaign to be Secretary-General of the United Nations and I’m told MFAT still uses her promote New Zealand foreign policy.
And what was our former Prime Minister actually doing yesterday on Human Rights Day? Well, her Twitter feed says she was in the People’s Republic of China, attending something called the Imperial Springs Forum.
Is this some dissident forum, bravely championing the rights and freedom of the Chinese Communist Party’s subjects? Silly, no of course not. This was an event opened by the PRC’s Vice-President (open the report of the speech in Chrome and you’ll get a translation – or Google a shorter version in English). Here’s some of what he had to say
Wang Qishan said that the interests of all countries are deeply integrated and shared. China adheres to the path of peaceful development and advocates building a new type of international relations of mutual respect, fairness, justice, cooperation and win-win, and promoting the building of a community of human destiny that lasts for a peaceful and common prosperity. China will unswervingly follow its own path, do things in a down-to-earth manner, continue to learn from each other with sincerity and open mind, learn from each other, deepen cooperation, and always be a builder of world peace and global development. Contributors, defenders of the international order.
Doesn’t all that just describe so well the way in which the PRC operates? Well, I guess “unswervingly follow its own [evil] path” might qualify.
Is the Imperial Springs Forum some quasi-independent body (if such an idea were even conceivable in today’s PRC? No, of course not. Here is how one China watcher summarised it
All part of the same United Front work programme. One of the leading figures behind it is apparently an Australian citizen Chau Chak Wing, of whom there are many rather gruesome stories to read (eg here), including some involving possible shadty dealings around the United Nations. It seems to be a convenient – for the PRC – forum at which to gather prominent people from all over the world who will be polite and deferential, and treat the Party and the PRC as some sort of normal decent people – not a bunch of brutal tyrants – as a bunch somehow genuinely committed to open trade and free human development. You can see the sponsors on the website here (and incidentially can see that our other former Prime Minister – heavily involved in all things pandering to the PRC, including the New Zealand China Council – Jenny Shipley was at last year’s event).
But what really struck me wasn’t what the PRC regime does. We take them as evil and opportunistic – they’ll use self-important people who make themselves available to be used. It was more a case of what Helen Clark chose not to do. There were quite a few tweets from her yesterday, including the one above about the Universal Declaration – a document that China was a party to at its launch, and which the People’s Republic has made itself party to in 46 years in the United Nations. Twitter is blocked in the PRC itself, but presumably there was some sort of VPN allowing the eminent former politicians and other attendees to carry on tweeting.
But there was not a word – not even a subtle hint – about the utter incongruity between the actions and expressed values of Helen Clark’s hosts – the regime and its acolytes – and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On Human Rights Day. You can read the whole declaration here but how about
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
The million of so Uighurs anyone?
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
As applied, say, to the PRC former head of Interpol? Or
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
That would include those not-yet imprisioned Uighurs who’ve had PRC government spies forced into their homes?
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Forced organ donations?
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Where to start on what PRC subjects can’t do?
And then there was the article which really prompted me to turn to the keyboard today
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The mass internment of Uighurs seems to be substantially about their Muslim religion. Serious religious commitment involves an alternative and higher form of loyalty than that to the Party. That’s a threat – as it was to the Nazis, or the Communist rulers of the Soviet Union. As it is, and ever has been, to the CCP and to Xi Jinping. And it isn’t just the Muslims. This happened in Chengdu over the weekend – where the New Zealand consulate had been wining and dining Beijing’s Confucius Institute people from New Zealand a few days previously.
(Great book by the way, on all manner of religious traditions in China.)
It is not exactly secret. I’m sure Helen Clark – and the consulate in Chengdu, broadcasting news of its latest meeting with the local CCP/PRC powers than be – will have been aware of it. Not a word, of course, from our authorities, and that isn’t surprising. But not a word either from a former Prime Minister, former senior official of the United Nations in the PRC on Human Rights Day itself.
Does the fine rhetoric, the official declarations, mean anything at all, or is it all just for show, some sort of Potemkin village, just enough to keep the conference invites coming, but not to be taken seriously, at least as regards any country that offers enough hospitality?
Had Helen Clark said something – whether about the Early Rain church (it being in the headlines), about the Uighurs, or about any other of the myriad breaches – what was the PRC going to do? They were hardly going to toss her in prison were they? At worst, she’d have been ignored by her hosts, and not invited back. But so what? She can hardly need the money, and the PRC is hardly going to reform because some international toadies turn up to meetings with them. With the UN stint behind her she is the sort of person who could effectively speak up and speak out for “human rights” and freedom in the PRC (and against its aggression and interference abroad, including in New Zealand, against its effort to intimidate ethnic Chinese New Zealanders or Anne-Marie Brady – who, at least as suggested by her writing seems to be personally of the left.)
If she cared, if it meant anything.
Instead she joins the pantheon of the prominent, determined never ever to say a word upsetting to Beijing – Don McKinnon, Jenny Shipley, John Key, Bill English, (Todd McClay, Simon Bridges, Jacinda Ardern) and…..that champion of human rights, Helen Clark.
(For anyone more interested in the Wang Yi case specifically there is some useful, inspiring, material linked to by Ian Johnson, the New York Times journalist and author of that book on religion in the PRC.)