With big power comes big responsibility

Published on March 22, 2009

By Nehginpao Kipgen


The Brunei Times – March 22, 2009


In this economically difficult time, money power seems to speak louder than anything else. Revitalizing the ailing economy supersedes other pressing issues such as global warming and human rights.

Not only is China the third largest economy of the world, but also is the greatest creditor to the United States. Washington uses a portion of the money to reinvigorate the US economy with a US$787 billion ($1.18 trillion) stimulus package.

At the closing of China’s annual legislative session on March 13, the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao flexed his nations economic muscle, drawing the attention of the United States and the international community.

“I would like to call on the United States to honour its words, stay a credible nation and ensure the safety of Chinese assets,” said Wen Jiabao. This announcement came as the finance officials of the worlds wealthiest nations (G20) gathered in Horsham, England.

The timing of the statement was significant. Although the message was delivered for the US government, China intended to convey the message that Beijing’s role is critical in revitalising the worlds ailing economy, and therefore, its voice should be heard and respected.

Wen’s comment is largely seen to be a preview of President Hu Jintao’s message to President Barack Obama for the upcoming full summit of G-20 heads of state and government on April 2 in London when the two leaders meet face-to-face.

Premier Wen also went on to say that Beijing has met its commitments to help the developing nations by erasing a total of US$40 billion in debt owed by 46 countries and giving out US$29 billion in aid to developing countries. “We must see to it that we show concern for developing countries,” said Wen.

Beijing seemed to sell well its economic message, but not on human rights issue. When premier Wen Jiabao was asked whether his governments policy was failed on Tibet, Wen said, “It is a fact that Tibet’s peace and stability and continued progress have proven that the policies we have adopted are correct.” In reality, the rights of Tibetans are suppressed.

Tensions ran high in Tibet before two important events: the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising that sent the spiritual leader Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, and the one-year anniversary of anti-Chinese violence in Lhasa in 2008. Chinese helicopters hovered over the city and police armed with automatic rifles patrolled the capital.

Decades of repression and misery for Tibetans have turned their homeland into “hell on earth,” said Dalai Lama. In an anniversary speech from his exile headquarters in Dharamshala, the Nobel laureate said, “Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear, and the Chinese authorities remain constantly suspicious of them.”

With its rising economic and military power, coupled by the veto power it has at the UN Security Council, China keeps turning blind eyes to the calls for respecting human rights and helping democratic reforms in countries like Tibet, Myanmar and Sudan, where it has tremendous stakes.

The United States has been a vocal critic on China’s human rights abuses. With the global economic meltdown and the growing China’s financial influence, some democracy activists and rights advocates have increasing concerns that the Obama administration may compromise on core democratic values.

China should not only flex its economic muscle, but use its power and position to help bring democratic reforms in its neighbouring countries. It should reshape its image on human rights at home and abroad, without which Chinese leaders will continue to face international criticisms.

Nehginpao Kipgen is general secretary of US-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com) and author of several analytical articles on the politics of Asia published in different leading international newspapers.