01/29/2004, 00.00
china - france
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France, doing business with China without moral principles

by Bernardo Cervellera

We offer a review of Hu Jintao's visit to France through an interview with Cai Chongguo, an exiled Chinese union representative.

Paris (AsiaNews) - Cai Chongguo, age 48, is a Chinese dissident from Wuhan now working in Paris. He was dumbfounded by President Chirac's welcoming of China's president Hu Jintao. "Chirac ended up being dominated by China and obeyed all that Beijing asked of him. This a victory for the type of cynicism, which in the name of business, doesn't care to have the least moral basis for its practices," he said.     

Cai Chongguo came to France, fleeing China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. He studied philosophy in Beijing and he dedicated himself along with the union representative, Han Dongfan, to create the first ever free labor union (in China all unions are controlled by the communist party and government). For him France is the home of freedom and human rights.

In Paris he works for the China Labour Bulletin, a web site dedicated to information on the status of workers in China. In a telephone interview with AsiaNews, Cai Chongguo drew a bitter conclusion: (France) not having moral principles does no good even for business."   


Mr. Cai, what is your impression of Hu Jintao's visit to France?

I was very struck by Chirac's warm and royal welcome for Hu Jintao. This is strange, since Hu Jintao is the president of a dictatorship. Chirac dedicated a lot of time to him and gave him plenty of opportunities to talk. He went so far as to let him speak before the National Assembly. It was there that for the first time ever human rights and democracy were passed into law. And yet he allowed an oppressor of human rights to speak before the assembly. This is a real contradiction.     

Human rights are still being violated in China. Dozens of people are being arrested only because they publish their opinions on the internet. There are Christians –both Protestants and Catholics – in prison. Workers asking to be paid are arrested. I am not against building economic relationships, but we must first face issues more globally. Issues of human rights were not part of the visit.


 But don't you think that new leadership is changing China's image?

Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao seem closer to the people. They go and visit farmers and the sick. They say one has to attend to the needs of the poor and that workers must be paid. Yet at the same time they do not allow labor unions to be free. They established a 50,000- manned force just to police internet communications. There are even plain-clothed police officers working as employees at internet service providers. Many workers who protest are thrown into prison. Chinese leadership has put its shiny, pretty, attractive coat on. Yet deep down, nothing has changed.      

Throughout the history of the communist party it has always been like this. A new leader is elected and shows himself to be near his people, and then steps all over them. This happened with Mao and Deng. Deng Xiaoping went so far as to promise democracy. But after a few years he began imprisoning intellectuals and activists for democracy.


Was Chirac's welcoming of Hu all rehearsed?

I had expected the Chirac would have done everything in his power to win Hu's favor and gain new shares of the Chinese market. Yet I thought Chirac would have brought up issues of human rights anyway. However, there was no talk about such matters.  

Instead, he was dominated by China. He mimicked the speeches of Chinese leaders. For example, he criticized Taiwan, borrowing the same expressions Beijing uses against the rebel island. And yet in Taiwan an experiment in democracy is underway – which is important even to China. It's ok to be concerned about the economy, but it is also necessary to push for human rights and democracy. This is important for China and its development. What is missing in China is respect for the dignity of farmers and workers, who are considered to be slaves and they property of their employers. Freedom of religion is also necessary in China, since China is a vacuum of morals and ideals.     


Were you at least able to see Hu Jintao?

On Jan. 24 there was Chinese New Year parade on the Champs Elysées, organized by the French government and governing bodies from Beijing. All groups or associations not allied with Beijing were prohibited from participating in it.   

Even in this regard Paris followed Beijing's instructions. There were protests and manifestations, but were broken up by the police. Hu's hotel was so well roped off that there was no way to get near it. A man from Reporters Without Borders was arrested, as he got too close to the National Assembly building, where Hu was giving a speech…


Does this spell the end of the West and its defense of human rights?

It is a victory for the type of cynicism, which in the name of business, doesn't care to have the least moral basis for its practices. Chirac obeyed all that the Chinese government asked of him: condemning Taiwan and allowing Hu to speak before the National Assembly. And all this because his is drooling over the Chinese market. But not having moral principles does no good even for business.  


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