As a rule, I try my best to stay out of politics. Not because I don’t care what happens to people, but because I have lost faith in the idea that people can change, or that people can change the minds of other people. I have seen it happen, but so very rarely.
I live in a small rural town of about five thousand people, but work in a larger city of 350 thousand. This week I heard our local Mayor speaking with the radio station in the city announcing a great new trade opportunity about to be established with Wuzhou in Guangxi Province in China. Establishment of a Friendship-City is touted as “the first step for any promotion of trade or tourism in China” in the press release on the local Council website.
I have a reasonably long history with China. I was comfortable being the smartest kid in the class in my small Queensland school until the arrival of a Hong Kong migrant in year 10. The disparity between the Chinese and Australian schooling systems quickly became apparent as my supremacy in Maths, Physics and Chemistry was quickly toppled. I did become good friends with Kevin in the remaining high-school years and turned to English as a subject I could still come first in. I also learnt that Kevin’s father had swum to Hong Kong to escape mainland China. Up until then I had no idea what Communism was, or what China was like beyond the fanciful Kung Fu dramatisations.
I was prompted to read more deeply into China’s history after I started to learn the Falun Gong exercises in 1998. I had become interested in the practice as part of my search for a personal spiritual path, but quickly was propelled into direct conflict with the brutal Communist regime.
Due to its popularity, Jiang Zemin, then General Secretary of the Communist Party, launched a nationwide crackdown and slander campaign against Falun Gong on 20 July 1999. You can read about the terrible statistics of executions, imprisonment and harassment here. While things were muddy in the first few years, with information very difficult to get out of China, there is now a credible body of evidence, recognised and supported by independent organisations and governments all around the world that verifies the atrocities.
The situation manifested itself in Canberra (Australia’s Capital) in 2001 when some Falun Gong practitioners from Sydney began a hunger strike and permanent peaceful protest outside the Chinese Embassy. With their limited English, I quickly became the interface between local government and the protest, as seen in the 2002 media reports here.
The Australian government of the time was very un-supportive of the protest, their actions eventually leading to a negative finding against Mr Alexander Downer (then Foreign Minister) by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in relation to a complaint that I raised. To be fair, the local security services and police have always been supportive and reasonable. It was the actions of government staff and ministers that were deplorable. As an example, for one visiting Chinese delegation they hired 5 empty buses to park in front of the protest.
In the current situation, some 18 years on from the beginning of the crackdown on Falun Gong in China, not much has changed. Ethnic minorities, House Church Christians, Tibetans and Falun Gong are still subject to beatings, wrongful imprisonment, torture and, more recently discovered, organ harvesting.
While I agree that trade and tourism are good for Australia, and especially good for small towns with limited revenue options, I know that engagement with China must be done with our eyes open. Several Australian businessmen have found themselves in Chinese prisons, Matthew Ng being just one example, as a result of the inherit corruption in the Chinese Communist Party system.
I have written an open letter to the Mayors of both Wuzhou and Yass, as a way to draw attention to the care that needs to be taken when engaging a Communist country. Any government which has a morality level that allows it to keep people imprisoned as a living organ bank, needs to be regarded with extreme caution.
Some further reading: