It’s not everyday that a western political leader stands in front of a group of students at the Beijing University and addresses them in their own language. Our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appeared to surprise and delight his audience when he did exactly that. The students apparently laughed in the right places, and had no trouble understanding what he had to say. However, they may not have agreed with what he had to say.
In the speech, Mr. Rudd took the opportunity to once again highlight his concerns over the Chinese human rights record in Tibet. Although it might seem impolite to be criticizing one’s hosts, it would be hypocritical to not be forthright. It appeared that the students in his audience who spoke to the Australian media afterwards mostly were impressed with Mr. Rudd, but very politely disagreed with his views on Tibet. We may never know if they do that from fear of their own government, or because they actually believe it.
The response from Chinese officials has been more blunt, describing Mr. Rudd’s statements as “totally unfounded”. The Chinese Governor of Tibet claimed that more than 95% of Tibetans enjoy “probably the best human rights on record”. Of course, the problem with that argument is the 5%. What sort of humans rights are they accorded?
While China today is vastly different from the old days of Chairman Mao, it seems that one thing is still the same: the belief that all power comes from the barrel of a gun.