Missing element in China’s charm offensive
China strives to project a profile on the global stage as a responsible state because some western observers remain wary of “an assertive China” after its rapid rise to become a global economic power house.
Chiefly through its state-controlled media, the Chinese government launched a campaign to highlight its peaceful rise and attractive culture by providing information about its ideas and value system.
China’s charm offensive, however, is unlikely to bear much fruit if its public diplomacy strategy lacks a critical element: “a responsible China.”
People here began questioning China’s motives after a high-profile human rights activist, who was freed 114 days after detention there on suspicions of being a threat to national security, testified that the Chinese authorities abused him at a detention center in the northeastern city of Dangdong.
Speaking at a news conference held in Seoul Wednesday, Kim Young-hwan claimed he was forced to stay awake for many days and nights, did forced labor for 13 hours every day, and suffered malnutrition.
The 49-year-old activist declined to give details of the abuses he suffered over a period of nearly three months.
He didn’t confirm whether or not he was tortured either, expressing hope that the Korean government will take follow-up measures after a fact-finding mission is completed in collaboration with China.
But his fellow activist, who launched the campaign to save the four Koreans, including Kim, said yes to this.
Kim said he didn’t even know why he was arrested because the Chinese authorities didn’t tell him anything about it. Later he accidentally knew that he, along with his three other fellow activists, were arrested by the Chinese authorities on suspicions of being a threat to national security, an allegation he denies.
The four South Koreans are not the first group of foreigners to be arrested, detained and abused by the Chinese authorities while they were at the detention center.
Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher of the non-profit group Human rights Watch, wrote “endangering state security” offenses are usually defined as those that have long been manipulated by the Chinese government to crack down” on dissidents, human rights workers and Tibetan and Uighur separatists.
Human rights are a touchy issue in China. China claims that some foreigners aim to disrupt social stability under the disguise of human rights activists to justify its crackdown on foreigners earlier this year. China is thought to harbor fears separatism fear because some 56 ethnic groups live within its borders.
Despite this, arresting foreigners without hard evidence that they violated the local law, abusing their human rights and allegedly torturing them are not acceptable under any circumstances.
Some blame the South Korean government for its slow and ineffective response to China’s alleged violations of human rights against the four activists.
The government, to some extent, deserves criticism. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it obtained the information regarding Kim’s ordeal at the detention center on June 11 when a South Korean consul met him for interview. Later the ministry contacted Chinese officials several times to check if Kim’s remarks were true, while keeping the allegation secret. China remained uncooperative regarding this.
The foreign ministry would probably have known of the allegation earlier because a South Korean consul had the first interview with Kim in April. Kim was quoted by the consul as having said that he would not say whether there were any violations of his human rights at the detention center because the Chinese police were present during the consul’s visit.
In May, his fellow activist claimed that Kim might have been under duress, based on Kim’s remarks that he obtained from the consul.
But criticism of the Korean government won’t change anything. China knows what happened at the detention center. As a responsible nation, China has a duty to let South Korea know if there were any violations of human rights against the four and take appropriate measures afterwards.