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Two elderly women ordered to spend one year in Chinese camp over protest

Thursday, Aug 21, 2008, Page 1

Chinese authorities have ordered two elderly women to spend one year in a labor camp after they applied to hold a protest during the Beijing Olympics against being forced from their homes, a relative said yesterday.

The women were still at home three days after being officially notified, but were under the observation of a neighborhood watch group, said Li Xuehui, the son of one of the women.

A rights group said the threat of prison appeared to be an intimidation tactic.

Li said no cause was given for the order to imprison his 79-year-old mother, Wu Dianyuan, and her neighbor, Wang Xiuying, 77.

¡§Wang Xiuying is almost blind and crippled. What sort of reeducation through labor can she serve?¡¨ Li said in a telephone interview. ¡§But they can also be taken away at any time.¡¨

The order followed the pair¡¦s repeated attempts to apply for permission to hold a protest at one of three areas designated by the government as available for demonstrations during the Games, which end on Sunday.

Beijing has used the existence of the protest areas as a way to defend its promise to improve human rights in China that was crucial to its bid to win the games.

Some 77 applications were lodged to hold protests, but none went ahead, and rights groups say the zones were just a way for the Chinese government to put on an appearance of complying with international standards. A handful of people who sought a permit to demonstrate were taken away by security officials, rights groups said.

¡§This is part of the tough tactics used to intimidate and silence protesters,¡¨ said Nicholas Bequelin of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

¡§Of course it¡¦s of concern that China will use a system that¡¦s clearly beyond the pale in terms of international standards, in terms of arbitrary deprivation of freedoms and liberties to do that,¡¨ he said.

Li said Wu and Wang were ordered to serve a yearlong term of reeducation through labor. The family was notified on Sunday, but officials had not acted on the order by yesterday.

The reeducation system, in place since 1957, allows police to sidestep the need for a criminal trial or a formal charge and directly send people to prison for up to four years to perform penal labor.

Critics say it is misused to detain political or religious activists, and violates suspects¡¦ rights.

The Public Security Bureau had no immediate comment.

A spokeswoman for the Beijing reeducation through labor bureau said: ¡§We have no records of these two names in our system.¡¨

Protests have become common in China, where simmering resentment over layoffs, corruption, land confiscation and other issues explode into sometimes violent action.

The communist leadership remains wary about large demonstrations, fearing they could snowball into anti-government movements.

The sensitivity is more marked during the Olympics, which is meant to showcase China to the world.

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Ma¡¦s UN policy yields to China

Thursday, Aug 21, 2008, Page 8

Instead of bidding for UN membership this year, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government said it would work to seek ¡§meaningful participation¡¨ in the UN¡¦s affiliated agencies.

Doing away with the policies of entering the UN under the name ¡§Taiwan¡¨ or returning under the name ¡§Republic of China¡¨ (ROC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the new approach was based on the principles of pragmatism and flexibility.

While the ministry¡¦s reasoning might sound levelheaded and practical, a closer look leads one to wonder whether the latest change of strategy is yet another attempt by the KMT government to play word games to avoid ruffling China¡¦s feathers.

The UN¡¦s auxiliary agencies include the Universal Postal Union (UPN) and the WHO. The ROC had been a member of the UPN since 1914 when Taiwan¡¦s seat was taken over by the People¡¦s Republic of China in 1972 after the UPN chose to shift recognition to Beijing. However, the change did not affect the ability of Taiwan¡¦s Chunghwa Post to maintain international postal deliveries.

In other words ¡X using the vocabulary of President Ma Ying-jeou¡¦s (°¨­^¤E) administration ¡X Taiwan has been able to engage in ¡§meaningful participation¡¨ in the UPN for years despite not being an official member. So why bother?

Taking the WHO as another example, China¡¦s obstruction has for years prevented Taiwan from gaining membership in the world health body. In June this year, China¡¦s Taiwan Affairs Office Chairman Wang Yi (¤ý¼Ý) said that China would never accept Taiwan becoming a member of the WHO, but would look into setting up an international network that could be a ¡§new framework¡¨ independent of the WHO to include Taiwan on information-sharing in case of disease outbreaks.

So how would the Ma administration be able to determine whether it achieved success in realizing Taiwan¡¦s ¡§meaningful participation¡¨ in the UN¡¦s affiliated agencies?

If Taiwan¡¦s so-called ¡§meaningful participation¡¨ in UN agencies means doing what China tells it to do, then the KMT government might as well announce that Taiwan is part of China, which would guarantee Taiwan¡¦s participation in the UN and its agencies.

Speaking to reporters about the country¡¦s latest UN strategy, Ma said that no matter what the details of the UN bid might be, it should be achievable and uphold Taiwan¡¦s dignity.

¡§We will take this into consideration and then make a proposal that will not only achieve our goals, but will also not affect other diplomatic interests or the interests of cross-strait relations,¡¨ he said.

While some may consider Ma¡¦s remarks a reflection of his desire not to harm cross-strait relations, what they boil down to ¡X much to China¡¦s delight ¡X is Ma tying Taiwan up in ribbons and handing it over to China to make the call.

All in all, the latest UN approach misses the key point, which is working to have the people of Taiwan treated with respect and having their voice represented at the UN.

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