Article 35 of China’s Constitution says, “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration.”
Despite this provision about basic human rights, however, some prominent civil activists calling for quite moderate reforms have been detained in China.
The Chinese authorities’ actions against these people clearly qualify as oppression that tramples on human rights and are unacceptable.
A campaign called “New Citizens Movement” is currently arising in various parts of China. It is different in nature from the traditional pro-democracy movement, which calls for sweeping reforms to democratize the nation’s political system.
While refraining from radical criticism of the establishment, the new movement advocates specific proposals, such as publication of information about the assets of government employees and equal education opportunities for children of farmers working in cities as migrant workers. This campaign for reforms is gradually gaining public support in the country.
In July this year, Xu Zhiyong, a legal expert and a leading figure in the New Citizens Movement, was detained.
Then on Sept. 13, Wang Gongquan, a venture capitalist who started an online signature-collecting campaign demanding the release of Xu, was taken into custody.
Both were accused of “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place.” But the charges against them are highly questionable.
Other activists have been under detention for some time. The New Citizens Movement is an inevitable social wave that has grown in tandem with rising standards of education and the spread of communications devices, such as personal computers and mobile phones, among Chinese people.
The ranks of Chinese citizens who think and act on their own are rapidly growing.
Since the late 1980s, East Asia has had two notable cases where economic development has led to progress toward democracy--South Korea and Taiwan.
But China has so far adhered to the oppressive, iron-fisted style of government despite its great economic strides in recent years.
The administration of President Xi Jinping has reacted to citizens’ calls for respect of their basic rights, sanctioned by the Constitution, by cracking down on their reform campaigns, instead of listening to their voices.
Its response is distressingly inflexible. How long does Beijing think it will be able to keep resisting rising pressure for change from its citizens who are increasingly aware of human rights?
In addition, major Chinese news media have been expressing opinions that question or deny the value of constitutional government itself. One such article went so far as to claim that the idea of constitutional government is a “weapon used by U.S. intelligence agencies trying to cause the socialist system to collapse.”
The situation can only be described as outlandish.
When the Xi administration was inaugurated, some intellectuals in China expected the new leadership to pursue a reform-oriented policy agenda. But now there is deep disillusionment about the administration’s policy stance toward reform.
In its national human rights report recently submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council, China pledged to work hard to make each citizen more dignified, free and happy.
This is a goal that China should strive for if it wants to be a major power respected by other countries.
As a first step toward that goal, Beijing should immediately release Xu, Wang and other human rights activists.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 20
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