NZ/China Free Trade Agreement Bill and Human Rights

In the First Reading of this Bill the Green Party outlined its objections to this implementing legislation for the New Zealand/China free trade agreement.

In this Second Reading speech I want to talk about the timing of this Bill, and the signing of the treaty, in the light of the pressure being put on the Chinese government internationally to improve its human rights record in the build up to the Olympic Games in Beijing.

I would like to say in relation to some of Tim Groser’s comments that the Green Party is not against trade with China, and it is not against trade agreements with China per se, but we believe it is bad timing for us to be signing a preferential trade agreement with a regime that violates the human rights of its citizens. Our view is that if enough pressure goes on the Chinese government during the Olympic period we might be able to give some extra leverage to the many millions of Chinese trying to achieve greater freedoms. This Bill, going through at this time, is a betrayal of the international movement pressing for greater democracy in China.

Now let us look at the background. Back in June 2001, when Beijing was trying to get the Games, its Mayor, Liu Qi, said that the Games “will also benefit the further development of our human rights”.

Jacque Rogge, chair of the International Olympic Committee told the BBC on 23 April 2002, that “we at the IOC urged the Chinese government to improve, as soon as possible, their record in human rights. However, the OIC is a responsible organisation and if either security, logistics or human rights are not acted upon to our satisfaction then we will act.”

And there should have been action, because the Olympic Charter projects its sporting competition as being ‘with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity’ and says that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’

Can we really say there is no discrimination on the basis of race, when we think of the treatment meted out recently to the Tibetan people; that there is no discrimination on the basis of religion, when we think of the persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, or when we think of monks beaten and arrested; and can we say there is no discrimination on the basis of politics, when we think of the many thousands of people imprisoned in China, simply for dissenting with the Government in various ways?

But where has the action been from the International Olympic Committee. There main concern of that body seems to be to prevent protests on human rights issues at Olympic venues by athletes, officials or anyone else. The New Zealand Olympic Committee has backed them in this, even warning New Zealand athletes against anything that could be defined as a protest at the athlete’s Olympic accommodation.

All this inaction – despite the fact that the human rights situation in China has become worse in the lead up to the Olympics.

It is worse than in 2001, when the Mayor of Beijing made the statement about human rights, for the Tibetan people. The Tibetan people’s peaceful protests in March this year were brutally crushed, and many monks and others are still in jail.

Freedom of movement, a crucial right, is denied for most Tibetans, and the foreign media is largely shut out of Tibet, despite Sun Weijia, the head of Beijing’s media operation, saying on Sept 27 2006 that “We have no restrictions on travel for foreign journalists in China. So once they get the visa, they can travel anywhere in China.” That is not the case.

Some foreign journalists have been hassled or arrested for reporting outside acceptable bounds, such as reporting on the fate of dissidents.

It makes a joke of human rights at the Olympics when Chinese democrats like Ye Guozhu, Hu Jia and Yang Chunlin are imprisoned specifically because they publically state their intention to raise human rights issues during the Olympic period. They were chucked in jail.

A pre-Olympic crackdown on dissenters has been going on – a ‘clean up’ as they call it – with arbitrary detention of many petitioners, human rights activists, and the like. We do not know the full details of this, and one thing that our Government and the international movement should be demanding is the full details of all those people, what they have been arrested for and they should be demanding their release. The media has not been granted access to these details. Some of these people who have been arrested, both recently and over the years, have been treated very brutally.

In China there is a programme, with about 300,000 people in it called “re-education through labour.” It is forced labour that sometimes involves ordinary prisoners, but at times involves political dissidents and many thousands of Falun Gong members, whose only crime is to insist that their organisation be independent of the Chinese party and not be under its control. For that reason Falun Gong practitioners are deemed to be part of an illegal organisation and, effectively, to be crushed. Some dissidents have been killed.

It is unclear that in terms of capital punishment, which is something New Zealand is much against, the Chinese Government is the largest executioner in the World today.

For these reasons this is not the time to be signing a preferential trade agreement with the Chinese Government, particularly with the opportunity to make progress on human rights around the time of the Olympic Games.

The Memorandum of Understanding, associated with the treaty, on labour issues is a very weak one. It involves discussions between officials if they can be bothered – not even ministerial meeting as is outlined in the Thai – New Zealand free trade agreement. There is reference in the Memorandum to the International Labour Organisation commitments. Those commitments include: allowing free association of people, the freedom to organise in unions, being against forced labour, being against child labour and being against discrimination in employment. These things do not exist in China.

There is a very weak provision – much weaker than the provision in the Thai agreement, that “The Parties respect their sovereign rights to set their own policies and national priorities and to set, administer and enforce their own labour laws and regulations.” Well, in the case of China that means very weak regulations in terms of protecting labour rights. This Bill, and the treaty it implements, is not good for the human rights of working Chinese people. It is not good for Chinese people as a whole. It is quite wrong for us to be taking, at a time when our Prime Minister and others should be getting behind the international campaign to help democracy in China.