I promise, I am not becoming a China-hater. Despite what these last two posts may read, I have visited the country and think the people, cities and countryside of China are amazing. However, after joining Reporters Without Borders yesterday, I took a gander through their annual Press Freedom Index from 2008. I was shocked to see some of the more developed, thriving nations rock bottom on the list.
Which brings me back, of course, to China. How can a country so fraught with humanitarian issues be constantly congratulated by the U.S. government? How could they have been chosen to host the most important, influential and unifying sporting event in the world – the Olympics? They were given this honor even though Tibetans are continually enslaved in their own country, Falun Gong practitioners are tortured and imprisoned, and Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 167th out of 173 in terms of the rights journalists have in China.
“Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai… is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment,” reads a passage from the report. Although liberal media outlets are beginning to form, China has a long way to go if it wants to compete with its nearby neighbors such as Japan (29th), Taiwan (36th) or South Korea (47th). Even war-torn Sri Lanka beat them by two places.
Of course not all of Asia is booming with press freedom. Not surprisingly, North Korea was listed second from the bottom, where government propaganda rules and the population is largely cut-off from world happenings. Burma and Vietnam came in as the fourth and sixth worst rated countries, respectively. Eritrea, in Northeast Africa, came in at number one.
Still, China must reconcile what it wants to become and what it still inevitably is. While the country has made huge strides economically, pulling millions out of poverty, their successes have not come without a price. Human rights activists are imprisoned regularly, religious freedom is highly restricted (the constitution forbids any practice that may cause “disruption”to society) and the media struggles to produce independent journalism.
Human Rights Watch announced just today that on February 13 China placed new restrictions on Chinese news assistants to foreign correspondents, who risk being dismissed or losing their accreditation for engaging in “independent reporting.” The government also announced that it would create a blacklist for Chinese journalists who participate in “illegal reporting.”
Great nations are not only formed by swift economic growth and a reduction in poverty but by an open society where all citizens are free to express themselves and to strive for what they want to achieve. Great nations are those which respect the environment, engage in constructive dialogue with their allies and their foes, educate their children, and provide services to the poor and underprivileged.
I would never presume to list any of today’s countries as “great nations,” and certainly not my own. And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t give China a chance to improve themselves. After all, they haven’t been at this whole “developed country” thing for very long.
But still, certain issues just can’t wait to be dealt with. How many people will have to die before China’s human rights records improve?