Join our Mailing List

"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Engaging China on Forced Labour Exports During Economic Crisis

April 5, 2009

Paper prepared by Hon. David Kilgour, J.D.
Forum Theatre, Chamber of Deputies, Congress of the Union Mexico City
March 30, 2009

Permit me to stress immediately that I have the
highest admiration for the people of China and
their millennia of hard work, long success with
agriculture, numerous inventions, strong families
(with veneration for elders), art, learning,
literature, many other cultural achievements, and
Confucian harmony over a long period earlier in governance.

Regrettably, as we face a severe worldwide
economic crisis, the actions of the Chinese
government continue to cause grave concern among
all who care for  human dignity and the rule of
law. What is almost equally troubling is that
some governments, affected by their own economic
challenges, seem  willing to bend on matters of
principle in exchange for Beijing's "favours".

China has become a major trading partner of many
countries over the past three decades. There are
very few countries which do not have a large
trade deficit with it; partly for this reason,
there are today more than 345,000 dollar
millionaires in the Middle Kingdon. In haste to
court Beijing's financial assistance, much of the
world has chosen to ignore the costs of China's
surge in economic power for the people of China and others.

South Africa

Take, for example, the government of South
Africa's recent decision to deny a visa to His
Holiness, The Dalai Lama, to a peace conference,
a move widely condemned by religious, political
and business and opinion leaders in the
country.  The government has since cancelled the
peace conference and banned the Dalai Lama from
travelling to South Africa for 16 months, citing
as an excuse next year's World Cup.

Unsurprisingly, this also sparked an uproar among
South Africans, who still see their country as a
beacon of human rights because of its
anti-apartheid struggle.  Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, himself also a Nobel Peace Prize holder,
called it a "disgraceful" decision and a "total
betrayal of our struggle history". Mandla
Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela and an
organizer of the peace conference, said the move
to bar the Dalai Lama was a "sad day".  In a poll
on a South African website, 86 per cent of
respondents said the government had "cracked under Chinese pressure."

I understand that more than 65,000 badly-needed
apparel job moved from South Africa to China over
the past five or so years.No doubt some of these
jobs went to China's many forced labour camps,
which David Matas and I learned from former Falun
Gong workers in them also make garments for export.

The Dalai Lama

The Chinese party-state has unfairly accused the
Dalai Lama of fomenting violence in Tibet. In
fact, as the spiritual leader of Tibetans, a
much-loved honourary citizen of Canada, and the
most respected world leader according to a 2008
opinion survey in six European countries, Dalai
Lama is certainly is Beijing's best chance for a
peaceful resolution of the Tibet Issue.

His Holiness advocates Tibetan autonomy under
Chinese rule, but strongly disavows violence and
does not favor secession. In an interview last
year, he expressed fears that there is a
possibility of greater violence after he dies.

Tibet has become a militarized zone. Sandbag
outposts have been set up in the middle of towns,
army convoys rumble along highways, and
paramilitary officers search civilian cars. A
curfew has been imposed on Lhasa.  Multiply that
by the harsh facts over the past five decades:
tens of thousands killed; hundreds of thousands
imprisoned. Over 6,000 monasteries, nunneries and
temples, pillaged and destroyed. Thousands more
Tibetans disappeared last year or were imprisoned.

Beijing justifies the closure of Tibet with the
need for stability and harmony of the
society.  It should be reminded of the profound
irony that peaceful demonstrations do not disturb
stability. The presence of thousands of armed military and police often do.

In another disturbing development, Canadian and
British researchers recently discovered a  vast
electronic spying operation, controlled from
computers almost exclusively in China. By far the
largest uncovered so far, the system has
infiltrated 1295 computers in 103 counties and
stolen documents from hundreds of government and
private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama.

Sacrifices by Chinese People

The Chinese people want the same things as all of
us. Living standards have improved on the  East
coast and other urban areas. There are, however,
substantial costs to a large percentage of
China's people. Many of them continue to be
exploited by the party-state and domestic
industrial firms, often owned by or contracted
for manufacturing to multinationals, which
operate today across China often like 19th
century American robber barons. This explains
partly why the prices of consumer products 'made
in China' seem so low-the externalities are borne
by workers, their families and the natural environment.

In addition to the destruction of China's
cultural heritage and staggering environmental
damage, probably the greatest cost paid is the
sometimes unimaginable abuse to  human rights.
The government has imposed decades of relentless
persecution of Chinese citizens for their
religious beliefs or dissent. We well-wishers of
China have long hoped that the country's economic
growth would be accompanied by increased respect
for human dignity and the rule of law. The
reality has been in the opposite direction: gross
and systematic human rights violations in China continue undiminished.

The party-state continues to regard itself as the
only group with a claim to power; it employs
every implement of government machinery to create
an atmosphere of fear and to oppress one fifth of the world's population.

Falun Gong

To mention only one spiritual community, Falun
Gong, David Matas, an international human rights
lawyer in Canada, and I concluded after our
independent investigation that since 2001 the
party-state in China and its agencies have killed
thousands of Falun Gong practitioners. This was
done without trials and in many cases their vital
organs were sold for large sums of money, often
to 'organ tourists' from wealthy countries (Our
report is available in nineteen languages,
including Spanish, at We amassed 52
kinds of evidence and became convinced beyond any
doubt that this crime against humanity has occurred and is still happening.

Many have asked why the government is so
violently opposed to Falun Gong, which it fully sanctioned before 1999.

The answer, as a Chinese friend recently
explained, is that Falun Gong, with its
principles of "truth, compassion and
forbearance," has attracted believers from all
walks of life, including well-educated
professionals, veteran party members and senior
government officials. As a community with no
visible organizational structure, on April 25,
1999 thousands of Falun Gong practitioners
participated in a sit-in in front of the
Party-state government house and left after a
day-long of demonstration without leaving a piece of garbage.

Such discipline  does not surprise any of us who
have come in contact with Falun Gong
practitioners, who are with almost no exceptions
peaceful, loving and caring individuals with
amazingly enduring dignity. The totalitarians in
Beijing are terrified by such discipline. They
are terrified by the support Falun Gong
practitioners have been able to garner across
China and around the world for their courageous
fight. They fear that more and more of the 1.4
billion Chinese people will follow the lead of
Falun Gong community and openly defy the
continuing brutal  oppression by the Communist party.

Gao Zhisheng

The party-state uses overwhelming force to
suppress voices that advocate dignity for all and
the rule of law in China. One such voice is Gao
Zhisheng, 45, a Nobel Peace Prize-nominated
lawyer in the tradition of Nelson Mandela and
Mahatma Gandhi. In 2001, he was named one of
China's top ten lawyers by China's Ministry of
Justice. Party agents released Beijing's full
wrath, however, when he, a Christian, decided to
defend Falun Gong practitioners.

It began with removing his permit to practise
law, an attempt on his life, having police attack
his wife and 14-year-old daughter and four-year-
old son and denying the family any income. It
intensified when Gao responded in the nonviolent
tradition of Gandhi by launching nationwide
hunger strikes calling for equal dignity for all
Chinese nationals. In his most recent article,
Gao wrote about more than 50 days
of  excruciating torture in prison. A few
weeks  ago, Gao's wife, Geng He, daughter Geng
Ge, 16,  and son Gao Tianyu, 6, escaped China and
reached the United States, seeking asylum.

While they will now be safe and cared for, Gao,
the husband and father has since disappeared
again, presumably rearrested for speaking out again.

Human rights organizations have long documented
systematic and gross persecution by the Chinese
government of its own citizens. For example, for
many years running, Amnesty international has
reported that China leads the world in
executions, with more than 7000 sentenced to
death in 2008, mostly without having received
fair trials. Beijing has continuously ignored
worldwide criticism of its  human rights record.
Most recently, during the United Nations
Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Human Rights,
the Chinese authorities rejected almost all the
recommendations aimed at promoting democracy and
human rights made by all the EU member states and
by Mexico, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New
Zealand, Switzerland as well as Canada.

In my judgment, it is the toxic combination of
totalitarianism and 'get rich at any cost'
economics that has allowed the regime to hang on
to power. This is to the serious detriment of a
country, which has made many great contributions
to world civilization, and to one human family
now aspiring to equality,  peace and prosperity for all.

China and the World Economic Crisis

Niall Ferguson, the Harvard financial historian,
who predicted the present crisis has an excellent
analysis of the present world financial crisis in
his recently-published book, The Ascent of Money.

The 'Chimerica' section of Ferguson's book begins
by pointing out that capital now flows from East
to West, largely because the United States in
2007 alone needed to borrow more than $4 billion
every working day to finance its $800 billion
yearly current account deficit. The funds came in
substantial measure from China's $262 billion
yearly current account surplus. The phenomenon
was occurring in a period when the average
American earned more than $34,000 yearly and the
average Chinese less than $2,000. By 2005, most
Americans were saving virtually none of their
incomes; the Chinese were saving about 45 % of their gross national income.

Ferguson: "In 2006 Chinese holdings of dollars
almost certainly passed the trillion dollar
mark...From America's point of view, meanwhile,
the best way of keeping the good times rolling in
recent years has been to import cheap Chinese
goods. Moreover, by outsourcing manufacturing to
China, US corporations have been able to reap the
benefits of cheap labour too. And crucially, by
selling billions of dollars of bonds to the
People's Bank of China, the United States has
been able to enjoy significantly lower interest
rates than would otherwise have been the case."

The people of China must not be blamed for the
current economic crisis  in the world.  Wei
Jingsheng, best-known Chinese human rights and
democracy fighter who spent more than 18 years in
jail ,explained eloquently: "The Chinese
Communist government controls China's trade.
Chinese workers do not have rights to protect
their own interests. The government controls the
Chinese media. It is exactly these human rights
problems that result in the unfair and unequal
trade, producing the abnormal trade deficit,
tipping the economy of the developed countries,
and finally ending with the current economic
crisis. The imbalanced economic development in
China has also resulted in the global energy
crisis and environment pollution, and indirectly
threatens the global security."

Indeed, the extremely low price of Chinese goods
through distorted, and sometimes inhuman  means,
including slave labour, combined with its
habitual disrespect of intellectual  and other
property, has contributed gravely to the economic
hardship of many countries, including Mexico,
where the rule of law obligates companies to
respect labour and environmental standards.

Slave Labour and Organ Pillaging in Camps

I understand that Mexico has lost hundreds of
thousands of manufacturing and agricultural jobs
to China. For example, this includes thousands in
the Texcoco region quite near this capital, where
small businesses can no longer make Christmas
decorations because the market is being flooded
by competing products from China, some of which
are made by Falun Gong and other prisoners in
slave labour conditions. We will hear today from
two Falun Gong practitioners, Ms. Liu Wei and Dr.
Charles Lee, who earlier worked in two of these camps.

The government of China must stop the persecution
and other abuses of its own people. Beijing
should not be allowed to take its increased role
in dealing with the current worldwide financial
challenges as a license to continued aggression
on the Chinese people or to continue its unfair trade practices.

Here are three recommendations on how to
effectively engage China during current economic crisis:

1. Refuse to live in fear

Paulo Freire said: "Washing one's hands of the
conflict between the powerful and the powerless
means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. "

History has taught us time and again that
acquiescence with perpetrators of violence only
helps to embolden them. The failure of much of
the world  to hold China's party-state
accountable during the last Olympics has only
emboldened Beijing to continue to  tighten its
grip over the Chinese people, millions of whom
are feeling disenfranchised as a result of
jarring disparity in wealth distribution, rampant
corruption and the added insult of chronic human rights abuses.

We should also heed the advice of former UN
Secretary Kofi Annan who said: "We will not enjoy
security without development, we will not enjoy
development without security, and we will not
enjoy either without respect for human rights."

We might also remember the words of French writer
Eve Curie who told us almost 70 years ago that
"peace at any price is no peace at all... life at
any price has no value whatever; that life is
nothing without the privileges, the prides, the
rights, the joys which make it worth living, and
also worth giving. ... that there is something
more hideous, more atrocious than war or than
death; and that is to live in fear."

More and more Chinese people are refusing to live
in fear. A civic movement known as "weiquan,"
taking its name from a Chinese characters that
can mean "rights" as well as "power", is growing
among victims of the system - the evicted; the
cheated; the bereaved parents of babies who drank
poisoned milk, and of schoolchildren killed in
the collapsing classrooms during the Sichuan earthquake last spring.

A year ago, a group of prominent Chinese
intellectuals circulated a petition urging the
government to stop what it called a "one-sided"
propaganda campaign and initiate direct dialogue
with the Dalai Lama. It was signed by more than
two dozen writers, journalists and scholars and
contained twelve recommendations which, taken
together, represented a sharp break from the
Chinese government's response to the wave of
demonstrations then sweeping Tibet.

In a document published on December 10, 2008, on
the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, prominent Chinese citizens
called for 19 changes to improve human rights in
China, including an independent legal system,
freedom of association and the elimination of one-party rule.

"All kinds of social conflicts have constantly
accumulated and feelings of discontent have risen
consistently," read the charter. "The current
system has become backward to the point that
change cannot be avoided ... China remains the
only large world power to still retain an
authoritarian system that so infringes on human
rights,...This situation must change!

Political democratic reforms cannot be delayed
any longer! ...The era of emperors and warlords
is on the way out.  The time is arriving
everywhere for citizens to be masters of states."

Since its release, originally signed by 303
people, in spite of a risk of arrest and jail,
more than 8,100 people inside and outside of China have signed the charter.

In yet another sign that the Chinese people are
refusing to live in fear, since December
2004,  millions of Chinese people  have renounced
the Communist party and its affiliate machinery
of terror in response to an appeal by Epoch
Times, a newspaper run by Falun Gong practitioners.

Strong economic performance has been arguably the
single most important claim of legitimacy for the
Party-state in China,  the current economic
crisis will likely cause the Chinese people to
question further such legitimacy, particularly
industrial  and workers who have long felt left
out by economic policies that favor the rich.

2. Enforce Current and New Trade Laws

In the context of this forum, I should probably
say immediately that rules-based trade has helped
millions around the world to live better lives.

A return to protectionism would only worsen the
present economic problems for most of us. What
many of us oppose, for example, is when a tire
production factory near Montreal closed down a
couple of years ago -- throwing 850 persons out
of work--to move to China, where WTO and other
rules appear to be observed mostly in the breach,
and where hard-working Chinese workers often have
no work safety legislation, pensions, health
care, unemployment insurance, are paid low wages
and often work in poor conditions.

Peter Navarro has a Ph.D in economics from
Harvard and is a business professor at the
University of California. He argues that consumer
markets across the world have been "conquered" by
China largely through cheating on trade
practices. These include export subsidies,
widespread counterfeiting and piracy of products,
currency manipulation, and environmental, health
and safety standards so lax and weakly enforced
that they have made China a very dangerous place to work.

Navarro has comprehensive proposals for all
countries trading with China, which are intended
to ensure that commerce becomes fair.

Specifically, he says new trade legislation should achieve the following:

. All trading partners must refrain from illegal
export subsidies and currency manipulation and abide by the rules of the WTO;

. Any trade partner must respect intellectual
property; adopt and enforce health, safety and
environmental regulations consistent with
international norms; provide decent wages and
working conditions; and ban the use of forced labour;

. Adopt a "zero-tolerance" policy for anyone who
sells or distributes pirated or counterfeit goods;

. Defective and contaminated food and drugs must
be blocked more effectively by measures which
make it easier to hold importers liable for
selling foreign products that do harm or kill people or animals

. Increased monitoring and exposure of China's
party-state activities everywhere particularly in
cases where the party state trades its UN
Security Council veto for energy, raw materials
and access to markets from Angola to Burma to Zimbabwe.

. To reverse the "race to the environmental
bottom'" in China and require all to compete on a
level playing field and to reduce acid rain and
smog affecting populations abroad, all bilateral
and multilateral trade agreements should
henceforth include strong provisions for protection of the natural environment.

2. Take stronger action against corporations that
facilitate the   violation of human rights by the party state

Navarro reminds readers that some well-known
American companies, including Cisco, Microsoft,
Google, Yahoo and Skype, helped to build the
"Great Firewall of China" and thus help the
party-state to oppress its own  people. He'd like
to see stronger initiatives, including,
prohibiting American companies from disclosing to
the Chinese government information about Chinese
users of online content.  I agree!


Until quite recently, perhaps like some of you, I
allowed my respect and affection for the people
of China to mute criticism of its current Hu-Wen
government. No doubt, I rationalized this
position, especially during visits to China as
Canadian Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, by
saying that at least it was not like the regime of Mao Tse-tung.

When apologists for the party-state in China
insisted that the situation for a growing part of
the population is getting better, I was, like
others, too willing to overlook ongoing bad
governance, official violence, growing social
inequalities, widespread corruption and nepotism,
and terrible injustices still being done across China.

Almost 20 years after tanks and machine-guns
crushed a democratic movement, the Beijing party
state must be well aware of the role a
deteriorating economy played in the 1989
Tiananmen Square protests by millions of the
Chinese people. In their recent fervor
for  Confucian teachings as part of "national
studies" in an attempt to stir xenophobic
nationalism, they should also remind themselves
of Confucius' advice that the right to govern has
to be earned with virtues. Social cohesion and
harmony, the ideal social order promoted by
Confucius,  cannot be achieved until the
party-state stops its violent repression of  the Chinese people.

I believe if China revives its traditional
values, abandons Leninism and adopts the rule of
law, a free media and governance of, by and for
all its people -- a democracy with very Chinese
characteristics- - the new century will bring
harmony for both China and its trading partners.
The Chinese people have the numbers,
perseverance, self-discipline, entrepreneurship,
intelligence, culture and pride to make our new
century better and more peaceful for the entire human family.

While the  courageous heroes in China face
formidable odds and stand as witnesses of the
corruption, bribery, extortion, brutality,
threats, and outright murder that are so common
we members of the world's open societies must
stand firm with them. We must speak out
consistently and in public for Chinese democrats,
to support political prisoners and to refuse to
break ranks when the regime tries to single out
this or that country for punishment.

We must continue to take principled action in
defense of dignity for all members of the human
family.  This is how the world helped to end the
aparteid in South Africa. This is how the world
will bring forth a better world with a new China.
The Chinese people will be watching! The people of the world will be watching!


* David Kilgour is currently chair of the Latin
America and Caribbean policy working group of the
Ottawa branch of the Canadian International
council, a Fellow of the Queen's University
Centre for the Study of Democracy and a director
of the Washington-based Council for a Community of Democracies (CCD).

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank