The Global Citizen: China
President Barack Obama's recent announcement that he believes Syria has used a small amount of chemical weapons ignited a debate. Has the Assad regime crossed the "red line" the White House laid down?
U.S. intelligence reports "varying degrees of confidence" that Syria used chemical weapons. "We have to act prudently," Obama said. "But I think all of us...recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations."
The situation in Syria is clearly dire, with more than 70,000 deaths. Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees (including 600,000 children) have overwhelmed the ability of the United Nations and neighboring countries to provide adequate care. Another 2 million kids are internally displaced within Syria.
But politicians seem more concerned about U.S. credibility than suffering Syrians. So what's next for Washington?
If I were president, I'd try to carefully navigate between two horrendous mistakes my predecessors made:
The Internet has been around for the last five decades and its influence has reached all corners of the world. From recreational blogging to professional online journalism, it seems that anyone can voice their opinion on the Internet and share their thoughts to any person, no matter where they may be. But what if you were not allowed to express your beliefs? What if, you were imprisoned if you posted, commented or simply 'liked' something that was considered unpatriotic? What if, your government forbids you to have a voice?
On March 11th, the Better World Campaign and the United Nations Association of the United States hosted a panel discussion on "Protecting International Freedom of Expression on the Internet". They invited four panelists to discuss their personal experiences in countries where Internet data, publications and news was controlled by the government.
It's hardly surprising at the point, but no less sad and infuriating. Once again, Russia and China have used their permanent veto-wielding power on the U.N. Security Council to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than the citizens his regime continues to butcher.
In another double-veto today, Russia and China voted against a Security Council resolution which would have threatened the Syrian regime with sanctions in an effort to end the bloodshed there which has gone on for more than a year and killed at least 14,000 civilians. It's not the first time Russia and China have vetoed efforts to stop Syria's crimes against its people; they've been standing in staunch opposition to any such action by the international community for months now. And whether it's the result of Russia's ties to the Assad regime, a belief that the U.N.-approved campaign in Libya last year overreached its mandate, or the fear of what message international efforts in Syria might send to their own restive populations at home, ultimately means very little.
What matters is that the Syrian peace process continues to fail, and two-fifths of the Security Council continues to shield a tyrant and international pariah who happens to be a head of state.
In a development sure to spark renewed tensions between the Chinese government and the Vatican, a Catholic bishop has reportedly been detained by Chinese authorities after announcing his resignation from the state-sponsored Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
The bishop, Thaddeus Ma Daqin (pictured above), is reportedly being held in a seminary near Shanghai, where he is barred from contact with the outside world. During his Saturday ordination ceremony, Ma announced that he was resigning from the CPCA, declaring that "once you assume your pastoral job...your body and heart should be completely focused on pastoral things and evangelization." This resignation was apparently perceived as a threat to the authority of the Chinese government, which exercises official supervision over China's Catholic population through the CPCA.
Since assuming political control over Hong Kong in 1997, the Chinese government has found itself subject to frequent criticism from pro-democracy advocates who argue that its policies have curtailed the political freedom of Hong Kongers. Nevertheless, despite these setbacks, the island remains one of the few areas of China's sovereign domain where individuals can gather in protest without being swiftly repressed by the government.
If you're like me, there's nothing quite as much fun as making a list. And listing "winners and losers" on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis is something of a D.C. tradition. So I'm going to start a regular blog series on "Heroes and Zeros" around the globe-commending those leaders, governments, or ordinary people who did something great that positively impacts the global issues that Globalsolutions.org cares about, and calling out those whose actions have hurt the cause of creating a better world.
Here's the first edition-and feel free to let me know what you think and provide feedback!
Hero of the Week: The Nation of Malawi
As someone who follows the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) closely, I feel that all too often I'm writing about how some new nation has flouted ICC arrest warrants by inviting a convicted war criminal for a visit. But happily, this week indicates the tide may be starting to turn on this loathsome practice, as illustrated by Malawi's refusal to host Sudanese president--and ICC indictee--Omar al-Bashir. Malawi was scheduled to hold an African Union summit, but got into a dispute with the AU because it refused to allow Bashir to attend. Despite protests from the AU, Malawi held firm to its no-Bashir stance, and the summit was moved to another country.
While the world focuses on the democratic revolutions in the Middle East, similarly stirring protests in Tibet have seemed to receive less time in the spotlight. The Tibetan people have been protesting the Chinese government for equal rights for nearly 23 years, the longest democratic protest in modern history. As the world shifts its focus away from Tibet, the Tibetan citizens have grown more desperate in their demands for equality and freedom. Since 2009, Tibetan citizens have been setting themselves on fire in order to show the Chinese their dedication to Tibetan freedom. So far 38 people have immolated themselves since 2009, with 25 of these self-immolations happening in 2012. This is a growing trend for protestors, as the most recent self-immolation happened on May 28th and May 31st of this year. Memorials took place in Dharamsala (northern India) for those who sacrificed themselves for the cause they believe in.
Of course, the United States' relationship with China makes this a complicated situation for the U.S. to create a firm consensus on foreign policy. However, this is not an excuse to stand idly by as protestors kill themselves in the name of freedom and equal rights. It's important to support these protestors in order to support freedom, democracy, and civil rights in all situations, rather than only supporting those of political convenience.
Over the past six decades of its rule, the Chinese government has gained a well-deserved reputation for a disturbing lack of regard for the human rights of its citizens. In light of this reality, it is hardly surprising that, in its annual report on global human rights practices, released this past week, the US State Department directed some harsh criticisms towards the Chinese government for its various human rights abuses.
Given its historically poor track record on the issue, the Chinese government has a fairly low bar to clear when it comes to making "progress" in the arena of human rights. Nonetheless, according to the State Department report, 2011 saw a continued "deterioration" of the country's human rights situation. Among the litany of abuses highlighted by the report:
Syrian President Bashar Assad's despotic regime received major setbacks today, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called on Syria to better cooperate with the Arab League the same day that body approved economic sanctions against the regime. The moves further isolate the deteriorating government, cutting off almost all trade and investment between Syria and other Arab nations and demonstrating the distance Syria's traditional allies are putting between themselves and the tyrannical actions of Assad.
Hong Lei, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters today that "China believes that the Syrian issue should be solved within the framework of the Arab League." While the Chinese did not officially comment on the League's sanctions, this is still a bold change of tune for Chinese officials, who have until now been some of Assad's most stalwart protectors against attempts for international action to reprimand the Syrian regime.
This week, it was announced that a United Nations draft resolution on Syria--written by France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Portugal and supported by the U.S.--was backing off from demanding immediate sanctions on the Assad regime. Instead, it would threaten to impose sanctions only if the Syrian government does not cease its violence toward protesters. This change apparently comes as the sponsoring nations seek to gain the support of Russia and China, both permanent U.N. Security Council members, who oppose sanctioning Assad's government. Meanwhile, Russia is floating a resolution of its own which would condemn the violence in Syria but include no sanctions at all.
On the plus side, the France-UK-Germany-Portugal resolution "demands an immediate end to all violence", and states that the Security Council "expresses its determination, in the event that Syria has not complied with this resolution, to adopt targeted measures, including sanctions."
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