Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “ABC article”

China and Human Rights Pt. 2

Following on from my blog post on Monday, I have been thinking of the threat China holds over the US. This is not about tanks and nuclear weapons, but money. The US owes China over $1 trillion – I can’t comprehend a number that size.

US companies are falling over themselves to business with China and the government is happy for the revenue.  Ironically, these companies are often collaborating on projects that provide effective tools to quash protests and free speech. A while ago my colleague, Tom Rossi, wrote that corporations exist solely to make money, not to better our society.

Installing surveillance cameras

Here are some examples I provided in an earlier post:

– Cisco Systems (among others) are creating the biggest police surveillance system in the world through a government contract in the city of Chongqing.

– Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, still censors searches in China. Earlier this month, it agreed to provide search results in English for Baidu, China’s leading — and heavily censored — engine. This is taking place 18 months after Google, to avoid aiding the government with such censorship, pulled its search engine out of China.

The Consequences:

1) Shi Tao sits in prison for a 10 year sentence after Yahoo provided copies of his emails to the government.

2) In May 2011, Cisco was sued by Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong who accused the multinational of abetting  the Chinese government through the creation and maintainable of the so-called Golden Shield system. This surveillance system targets and then follows dissidents communicating online, which has led to the detaining and torturing of Falun Gong practitioners.

Cisco took issue with the accusation. The company claims that it does not design it’s programs or equipment to aid the government censor content, intercept communications or track users. It sells the Chinese government standard-issue general network equipment.

In fairness, some of the multinational corporations did begin to take steps after Yahoo’s debacle regarding its role in Shi Tao’s arrest and convictionYahoo, Microsoft and Google joined in the Global Network Initiative which tries to create guidelines to protect “the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression.”

But these commitments are voluntary. Should the government take a role in clearly setting boundaries? It happened following the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre when companies were barred from selling such technology. Quite rightly, it has been pointed out that effective anti-spam and hacking technology could be adapted to aid repressive regimes.

One executive from Hewlett-Packard, who are bidding for a stake in the Chongqing surveillance project told The Wall Street Journal: “It’s not my job to really understand what they’re going to use it for.”

Really? Is there no responsibility beyond the profit line? Coming from a multinational, probably not.

Which is why, if the United States truly sees itself as the leader of world freedom, it needs to create not guidelines or principles, but laws preventing American technology helping totalitarian regimes. However, we may discover that since our government cannot even get these companies to pay their taxes, it might have little power over such huge economic conglomerates and their powerful lobbyist allies.

Even scarier is the fact that we are confronting a country that is not only strong militarily, but outdoing us financially and to whom we owe over $1 trillion.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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Revisiting China and Human Rights Part 1

There has been a lot written about Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, the blind ‘barefoot’ lawyer, who after sitting in prison or house arrest for advocating to change the way China forces abortion and sterilization to implement its one child policy.

It is difficult to understand whether Mr. Chen coming to the US as a student is a victory or not, or rather for whom it is a victory. Mr. Chen was clear from the outset that he had no desire to leave China. He wanted to live free of intimidation and continue to advocate for what he believes in.

The US, once again the lone voice in a human rights dispute, seemed more embarrassed than anything else. The fact that Mr. Chen forced his move while Hilary Clinton was on a high-profile visit was an obvious tactical move.

It seems as though the winner might actually be China, who might feel that they have off loaded another angry activist, destined after a few weeks of interviews and media attention to be buried under the next latest news item – and all this during an election year.

Part of me can’t help wondering whether the Chinese didn’t architect all this from the beginning. China excels in surveillance and strong-armed tactics. How does a blind man escape house arrest, avoid security and make his way to the one place in China where there are probably more cameras and surveillance than anywhere else in that country.

Chinese dissidents have a hard time in the US. There was a great article earlier this month, but I can’t find it here about these challenges. An ABC article offers some light on this, but there are a number of cold realities that these dissidents face.

Many of these men and women do not hold qualifications that enable them to enter the job market. There is a foundation that helps them financially. For a proud leader, however, this cannot be an empowering experience.

Often, they did not want to leave China, or at the risk of being clichéd, have left their hearts and family there. They risked their lives to change China, not live in the US. And they are faced with never being able to return.

While their short-lived celebrity status might garner a speaker tour during the first year, they are often not articulate in English and can’t sustain the speaker tour necessity to receive invites back the following year. The tough personalities that such brave people need in a totalitarian state might be difficult to process in the West.

Finally, their ability to influence what is happening in China is extremely limited. The world-wide web isn’t quite as world-wide as we would like to think. Hopefully these dissidents helped train their successors and, with thousands of miles and Chinese surveillance between them, they will find that their positions in the human rights organizations have been replaced.

China has discovered an effective way to neutralize a freedom activist. Send them to freedom and see how they like it there. And all along, the US has been  a compliant if unknowing partner.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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