OSD’s Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People’s Republic of China has some illuminating – and somewhat staggering – insight on the current state of affairs with respect to China’s environment and how it influences their national strategic policies. It’s a fascinating look at how the emerging communist nation is dealing with the realities of becoming a global superpower. (more…)
It appears the citizens of an anti-democratic China have stood up to government authorities who are suggesting smoke free restaurants in preparation for this year’s Summer Olympics. The Beijing Disease Control and Prevention Center urged restaurants in the Chinese capital to completely ban smoking on their premises. While the smoking ban is only a suggestion, the article declares not a single restaurant has taken up the suggestion in the city of Beijing.
Even though the United States has fewer smokers by far, maybe we can send them some of our own big government anti-smoking officials to assist them in banning smoking in restaurants and bars. After all, they have been quite successful in our own country of squashing the rights of proprietors to make their own decisions about their business.
It looks like the first mistake of the Chinese government officials was in offering a mere suggestion to city eateries. The government’s tactic clearly lacked language that exudes a self-righteous and a morally superior tone. Language that assumes to know what is best for our own interest, over the interest of businesses owners to choose what is appropriate for their customers. Chinese bureaucrats have much to learn from freedom squelchers in our own country.
The attempt to diminish smoking in Beijing facilities is part of a larger public relations effort to spruce up the Chinese image across the world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to say much for the current state of Western values when the Chinese government feels smoking is the biggest negative image maker in a country marked with notorious human rights abuses.
Whatever your personal opinion about smoking in public, I’ve always felt business owners should be able to make up their own rules about smoking in their facility. Apparently even the authoritarian government in China agrees, because after all, it was only a suggestion.
If you take the worst 30 countries in terms of economic freedom, every one scored low with religious freedom. The top 30 countries all scored high. Why is that? We see two connections. First, wealth could help religious freedom. But we also believe that religious freedom helps general health, well-being, and wealth broadly understood. To the degree that people are not free to organize and manage their lives, you cut down on the possibility of independent economic activity. People are simply used to not doing things unless they’re told to do them.
China remains one of the most interesting case studies in terms of how necessary the correlation is between religious and economic (and political) freedom.
It turns out that the Chinese were really thinking ahead back in 1979 when they implemented their one child policy. After all, imagine what their carbon emissions would be today if they hadn’t:
The number of births avoided equals the entire population of the United States. Beijing says that fewer people means less demand for energy and lower emissions of heat-trapping gases from burning fossil fuels.
“This is only an illustration of the actions we have taken,” said Su Wei, a senior Foreign Ministry official heading China’s delegation to the 158-nation talks from Aug 27-31.
He told Reuters that Beijing was not arguing that its policy was a model for others to follow in a global drive to avert ever more chaotic weather patterns, droughts, floods, erosion and rising ocean levels.
But avoiding 300 million births “means we averted 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005″ based on average world per capital emissions of 4.2 tonnes, he said.
Well thank goodness we dodged that bullet. The link is from Hot Air, which notes that China’s strategy is “brilliant”:
Expect more of this in the future — human rights abusers being criticized by the international community for dubious practices and parrying the thrust with an appeal to the left’s tippy-top-most social virtue.
In a somewhat similar vein, yesterday brought word that all is not well in the world of leftist activism – a conflict is brewing between animal rights activists and the climate change crowd:
According to an interesting piece that ran in yesterday’s New York Times, animal rights groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) argue that being a meat-eating environmentalist–like Al–is an oxymoron… As writer Claudia H. Deutsch points out, the groups have compelling ammo to back it up: last November the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization released a startling report revealing that the livestock business generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined.
The common thread in these stories? That humans are, simply put, a problem: we consume too much and emit too much in doing so, and if only there were a great deal fewer of us, things would get a lot better. It’s a very static worldview, allowing adherents to make no allowance for technological advances or scientific discoveries that may mitigate or entirely solve the problems that they fret about. In reality, it comes dangerously close to what Jordan Ballor described as The Matrix Anthropology, which is summed up by the words of Agent Smith, a villain in that film:
I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.
Jordan concludes that post thusly:
This comes, of course, from a piece of software representing the machines who view humans as essentially batteries and feed the liquidated dead to the living. It is perhaps not the best anthropological foundation to adopt.
Via Slashdot, news comes today that Google’s next shareholders meeting will feature a vote on a shareholder resolution to protect free speech and combat censorship by intrusive governments.
According to the proxy statement, Proposal Number 5 would require the recognition of “minimum standards,” including, that “the company will use all legal means to resist demands for censorship. The company will only comply with such demands if required to do so through legally binding procedures,” and that “the company will not engage in pro-active censorship.”
Part of the basis cited for the proposal is the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that the “advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.”
One of the specific provisions of the declaration related to freedom of speech is Article 19: “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.”
I’m curious to see how this resolution fares and how the directors, especially considering that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has said that the company’s cooperation with China “a net negative.” External considerations might also be at play, given the potential for legislation like the Global Online Freedom Act of 2007 to regulate the activities of companies like Google.
Kishore Jayabalan reported yesterday on the latest happenings with the Acton Institute’s office in Rome and the most recent installment of the Centesimus Annus Conference Series, “The Religious Dimension of Human Freedom.”
As Kishore notes, the conference took place within the context of the spate of media attention to the religious situation in China, especially with reference to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
Last month Acton’s director of research Samuel Gregg wrote in The Australian about the increasing integration of religious identity into Chinese society. “Christianity and other religions previously viewed with intense suspicion by China’s communist authorities are increasingly considered potential social lubricants for China’s fast-transitioning economy,” he writes.
Gregg also observes that “increasing numbers of Communist Party members are reportedly embracing religion, even though this violates party policy.” But given the Marxist antipathy toward religion, how can this be?
As Gregg rightly points out, there is increasing recognition of the social benefits of religious belief…perhaps the Party leaders are seeing the usefulness of religion as a means of increasing social stability and productiveness. And, indeed, the Marxist view of religion as an “opiate” would fit well with a regime obsessed with social control.
But there’s another phenomenon that is facilitating this odd mix of Communism and Christianity. As Forum 18 reports, the radical secularization of religious belief into a hermetically-sealed private sphere provides assurance that religious beliefs won’t impact Party loyalty.
The report sounds a note of caution:
It would be hard to argue that the rising number of religious believers across China will never affect government policies. However, it would be wise not to assume that greater numbers of religious believers automatically lead to changes in government policy on religious freedom. One (or three) hundred million “individual” religious believers, unwilling to engage in direct dialogue and negotiation with – let alone to confront – the government, are not in themselves a collective force for positive political change for all of China’s citizens.
Indeed, a religion that restricts itself to a realm of authority subservient to and derivative of the state may fulfill the role that the Party desires, but it does not reflect the comprehensive symmetry of doctrine and practice, faith and love, that is at the core of Christianity.
President Hu Jintao says the government needs to take these steps to “purify” the Internet, leading to “a more healthy and active Internet environment,” according to the Xinhua news agency.
You can also check out more details about the global spread of Internet censorship, “practised by about two dozen countries and applied to a far wider range of online information and applications,” in this FT story, “Web censorship spreading globally.” China is described as one of 10 “pervasive blockers,” and it seems that countries that are new to the censorship racket are “learning from experienced practitioners such as China and benefiting from technological improvements.”
Can you find the tension in the lead sentence from this WSJ story on the annual Communist Party meeting in China? Here it is:
“China’s ruling communist elite opened an annual meeting that will focus on policies for spreading the nation’s newfound prosperity more evenly and on President Hu Jintao’s attempts to further consolidate his power.”
It still amazes me that so many people still think that centralizing political power is both an effective way to spread out wealth and one that is therefore socially desirable. The first assumes that wealth is a zero-sum game and the second assumes that the negative consequences and corruptions of concentrated political power are less harmful than economic gaps.
But as even Ron Sider has come to realize, the focus should be on how the poorest of the poor are doing, not on how big of a gap there is between rich and poor.
Matt Gritter, a first-year M.A. student at Calvin Theological Seminary reacted this way when he heard Sider say this in last week’s debate with Rev. Sirico: “I know that Sider has been arguing for a decrease in this gap, but to hear him say that he would not mind the gap increasing if it meant that the poorest of the society would be better off was a bit of a shock to me.”
Earlier this month Forum 18 published an article that examined whether the establishment of a law regarding religion at a national level would be a positive step toward ending the sometimes arbitrary and uneven treatment of religious freedom issues throughout the country.
In “Would a religion law help promote religious freedom?” Magda Hornemann writes, “For many years, some religious believers and experts both inside and outside China have advocated the creation of a comprehensive religion law through the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature.” The argument in favor of the establishment of such a law is that “the rights of religious believers would be better protected by being clearly stipulated and codified in an objective law of the land.”
The consensus at Forum 18 is that a law by itself would be no real positive step. After all, “Despite the words contained in China’s laws and regulations, what is even more important is how those words are interpreted – which in turn is affected by one’s view on the roles played by laws and regulations in society.”
Here’s Forum 18’s conclusion:
Without an independent judiciary, even a well-crafted law is likely to fail on its first try. Yet, it is clear that an independent judiciary is not possible within the existing political-legal context. As long as the state remains authoritarian, and while the political and legal culture remain unchanged, it also seems likely that a comprehensive religion law will not in itself end arbitrary state moves that inhibit the religious freedom of China’s citizens.
Even so, the implications of a new human rights group in China may mean that the establishment of a uniform religious law is a positive first step.
The current issue of Christianity Today features a profile on the Human Rights Protection Movement (HRPM). The HRPM is an association of “lawyers, pastors, journalists, and human rights leaders across China,” who “are trying out the strategies of the historic American civil rights movement, using litigation, media publicity, and nonviolent protests.”
In “China’s New Legal Eagles,” Tony Carnes examines in particular the legal aspects of the HRPM. That is, the HRPM provides legal defense for those who cannot afford it and challenges the Chinese government on the basis of its own written and established laws. Thus, oftentimes “the Chinese government is caught between its rhetoric proclaiming the rule of law and its practice of ignoring or abusing the law when it suits its purposes.”
This method of appealing to the current set of laws to defend freedom is one that is also used by International Justice Mission (IJM), for example, in fighting the international slave trade. IJM works “to rescue victims and to bring accountability to perpetrators through the enforcement of a country’s domestic laws.”
The basis for the work of many of the evangelical lawyers and activists in the HRPM is their Christian faith. Fan Yafeng, an influential constitutional scholar in Beijing, makes an compelling observation regarding Christianity in China: “We are seeing the intersection of law and religion in China. More and more Chinese public intellectuals say that only Christianity can provide a solid foundation for the rule of law in China.”
What Yafeng is claiming about the relationship between Christianity and China today has often been repeated about the relationship between Christianity and the West.
In a 2004 essay, “A Time of Transition,” German philosopher and secularist Jürgen Habermas wrote, “Christianity, and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of western civilization. To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.”
Over sixty years earlier German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of his historical context in an essay from his Ethics, “Church and World”:
Reason, culture, humanity, tolerance, autonomy—all these concepts, which until recently had served as battle cries against the church, against Christianity, even against Jesus Christ, now surprisingly find themselves in very close proximity, to the Christian domain. This happened at a point in time when everything Christian had been driven into a tight corner as never before, when the central Christian tenets were being emphasized in their sternest, most uncompromising, and most offensive form to reason, culture, humanity, and tolerance. Indeed, in exactly the reverse proportion that everything Christian was attacked and driven into a corner, it gained these concepts as allies, and thereby a scope of unimagined breadth
Later on Bonhoeffer reiterates the point quite stunningly:
It is not Christ who has to justify himself before the world by acknowledging the values of justice, truth, and freedom. Instead, it is these values that find themselves in need of justification, and their justification is in Jesus Christ alone. It is not a “Christian culture” that still has to make the name of Jesus Christ acceptable to the world; instead, the crucified Christ has become the refuge, justification, protection, and claim for these higher values and their defenders who have been made to suffer.
Sadly, abuses of the rule of law in China are commonplace and Forum 18’s concerns about the independence and consistency of the judiciary are certainly relevant. Such concerns become even more pressing in the light of recent moves by the Chinese government to restrict the flow of information about court cases.
But these issues notwithstanding, the efforts of groups like HRPM show that appeals to the existing laws, within the context of the normative rule of law, can be an effective way to work for the protection of religious freedom. It may well be that a uniform, comprehensive, and objective national religion law would help rather than hinder the work of these evangelical “legal eagles.”
As Daniel Pulliam writes at GetReligion, “Those of us who have heard from Christian Chinese missionaries, perhaps at a church function, know that Christianity could change China.” The HRPM is an example of one way in which such positive changes can be accomplished.