Vol. V, Bulletin No. 8.                                                                       April 25, 2000 

Sparing Authorities in China and Vietnam from Accountability

No Live TV, No Repercussions on Life

Police vehicles, some with sirens blaring, blocked all roads leading to the house. Dozens of police swarmed around the entrance. For what purpose?  Just to prevent a reporter from France, Ms. Sylvie de Pasquier of the French publication, l'Express,from entering the Saigon home of a frail human rights crusader, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que.

Dr. Que, 58, has periodically been visited by reporters since his release from prison in 1998. Police monitored these visitors from the foreign media closely but did not intervene. This time, when Dr. Que opened his front door to the reporter from Paris, a group of security personnel, led by an officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel, blocked her from entering.

She was forbidden to meet with Vietnamese nationals, the police insisted, because she had only a tourist visa. The argument that raged for nearly an hour made enough of a scene to attract a crowd but of course no press cameras. Finally, the police pushed Ms. de Pasquier into a vehicle, and drove her away. Two days later, on April 14, she was expelled from Vietnam.

Despite being closely watched, Dr. Que managed to send a statement abroad urging protests against Vietnam's repression of press freedom and other human rights. But the April episode on a street in Saigon attracted almost no attention. After all, it was not live on CNN. So, for all known practical purposes, it was a non-event. At least so far.  Ms. de Pasquier has been invited to address the sixth annual commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day on May 11 in Washington.

(For background on Dr. Que, see Vietnam Releases a Hero from Prison.)

Meanwhile, a Non-Event in the Country to the North

Under a dateline of Weifang, China, the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires on April 19 carried a long report that began with these paragraphs:

"The day before Chen Zixiu died, her captors again demanded that she renounce her faith in Falun [Gong]. Barely conscious after repeated jolts from a cattle prod, the 58-year-old stubbornly shook her head.

"Enraged, the local officials ordered Ms. Chen to run barefoot in the snow. Two days of torture had left her legs bruised and her short black hair matted with pus and blood, said cellmates and other prisoners who witnessed the incident. She crawled outside, vomited, and collapsed. She never regained consciousness, and died on February. 21."

The Journal recounted how the Communist security apparatus of China has systematically cracked down on followers of Falun Gong since outlawing it as an "evil cult" last July. And yet, despite mass arrests, beatings, and even killings, every day in Beijing several dozen Falun Gong activists unfurl banners calling for their group's legalization, and are promptly jailed. They represent millions of ordinary Chinese Falun Gong followers who remain steadfast, none more dramatically so than Ms. Chen.

Fearful that she might join protests in Beijing during a session of parliament, Communist officials in her home town demanded on February 16 that she promise not to leave home. "My mother told them very clearly that she wouldn't guarantee that she wouldn't go anywhere," her daughter explained to a Journal reporter. "She said she had the right to go where she pleased."

Two days later Ms. Chen, a former worker in a state-run truck-repair garage, was taken into custody by officials of the local district Communist Party office. They locked her up, first in "a small, unofficial prison run by the street committee," as the Journal put it, then in unheated detention center, and later in a hospital, where she died of a "heart attack."  Her daughter tried to file a lawsuit, but no lawyer would accept the case.

The Journal's well researched article documented a heart-rending drama, a shocking commentary on the "rule of law" in China. But it caused hardly a ripple. Once again in Geneva this year, the UN Commission on Human Rights declined to consider a resolution criticizing China's human rights violations. And Congress has scheduled a vote in late May on a Clinton Administration plan to give China permanent Most Favored Nation/Normal Trade Relations status with the United States.

The rulers of China and Vietnam are lucky. They learned a lesson from the fate of repressive regimes in South Africa and Poland, which allowed television cameras the freedom to tell the world about the inhumanities of their systems. 

Breaking the Silence among Economists

A brief HRFW article on Some Radical Ideas of a Leading Economist early this month highlighted a few excerpts from a remarkable address by Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank. Among the remarkable points of that address:

  • He exposes as faulty some of the basic assumptions that most economists, at least in the United States, cherish and promulgate.
  • He highlights the anti-worker consequences of the assumption that regards labor as just another "factor" of production, thereby treating workers as commodities, like pigs or pig iron.
  • He regards trade unions, not just as a fact of life, but (along with "other genuine forms of popular self-organization") as "key to democratic economic development."
  • Dani Rodrik, professor of international political economy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, has thought and written much about such issues, most notably in a book, "Has Globalization Gone Too Far?",  published by the distinguished Institute for International Economics. By email I asked him if he would comment on Stiglitz's address. His response:
    "What is striking about Joe's views is not that much their substance (similar and often more 'radical' views are expressed, using appropriate economics jargon, in academic seminars and conferences) but that they were offered by such a prominent neoclassical economist in a quasi-public forum. Economists tend to close rank, and defend the orthodoxy, in their public comments, even when their own research runs counter to them."
    (The World Bank still has recent Stiglitz speeches and writings on its Website.)

    Greenspan on the Rights of Stock Owners

    Does the government have a role to play in a stock market turned into a wild roller coaster?  Yes, Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, told a Senate committee on April 13. Or, to quote his own language: "As this technology-led market restructuring process plays out, there is a role for policymakers in facilitating the transition to a long-run equilibrium market structure."

    Why?  Because the stock market's gyrations produce winners and losers, and the people and groups involved argue for or against the rules, regulations, and practices that affect their own particular interests. As a result, said Greenspan: "It is the obligation of policymakers to cut through this underbrush and ensure that market participants [stock owners] and trading venues [stock markets] compete on as even terms as possible and that property rights of participants be scrupulously enforced."

    Here Greenspan was staking out a moral principle to protect participants in the stock market. But why is there not an equal obligation of policymakers to protect the rights of  participants in the labor market?  Those rights, too, need to be enforced. Scrupulously, particularly for workers caught in the gyrations of the global economy.

    (For Greenspan's testimony on "Evolution of Our Equity Markets," check the Federal Reserve Board's Website.)

    Diary: Me, Saving the World, and the Times

    For about an hour during the April 16 demonstrations in Washington, I carried a placard proclaiming "Make the Global Economy Work for Working Families." I had found it discarded near the White House, and rolled it up to take home as a souvenir.

    I didn't join the protest march, though I might have if I had known its starting point. Even as an observer, I counted myself on the side of the demonstrators, and felt offended by a New York Times editorial (titled "Stopping the World") that called us "anti-globalization protesters."  Why does opposing the global economy's abuses somehow make you "anti-globalization"?  I strongly oppose rape, sexual harassment, and child prostitution, but that does not mean I am anti-sex.

    A Times news report on the event by David Sanger pointed out that Joseph Stiglitz, formerly of the World Bank, had written a New Republic article very critical of the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Does that make Stiglitz anti-globalization?

    Snidely, Sanger wrote that Stiglitz' "main complaint appeared to be that it [the IMF] was not willing to adopt his approach to handling the Asian crisis when he was at the Bank." But the article did not provide even one example of the ideas Stiglitz advocated. So readers had nothing specific with which to make up their own minds about whether Stiglitz' approach makes sense.

    The Times did not publish my letter to the editor, which made these points under the title "Saving the World." 

    Human Rights for Workers: Bulletin No. V-8, April 25, 2000
    Robert A. Senser, editor
    Copyright 2000
    hrfw@senser.com. (Send e-mail)

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