New anti-freedom bylaw a nod to China's tyranny
The Chinese century. A neologism coined by analysts and economists eying the hegemonic growth of the Chinese Empire. According to theory, Chinese economic power, measured in trade surpluses and lending capacity, will expand exponentially with its diaspora, elevating China to lone superpower status. Chinese influence, they say, will shape to varying degrees the lives of most North Americans for the next 100 years.
In Vancouver, we're miles ahead of expert conjecture.
Last Tuesday, council passed a new bylaw restricting political protest in public. The primary target: local practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement based in China, who spent years inside a small wooden hut outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street protesting Beijing's brutal regime. The secondary target: anyone else interested in freedom of expression.
The new bylaw, passed by Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision majority, introduces protest permits (an Orwellian contradiction in terms) and fines up to $5,000. While council was divided, the debate was hardly inspiring. Opposition to the bylaw was based mainly on legal technicalities and process, not principles of freedom and democracy. In fact, when drafting the bylaw, the first of its kind in North America, city staff consulted with members of the Chinese consulate. The Chinese. Jailers of Christians, beaters of monks. Thieves of technology, manipulators of currency. We outsourced our democratic principles, and in return, received a Made in China bylaw contrary to Canadian tradition and section two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Is this the globalization Paul Martin had in mind?
But we shouldn't be surprised. Beijing is big at city hall. While in office, former mayor Sam Sullivan spoke glowingly of China in his broken Cantonese. Last September during a trade mission to China, Robertson, the original Green Man, lauded Beijing's "radical dramatic action" on the environment. "You can question how worthwhile democracy is in a lot of countries right now," he said, "which are, frankly, ignoring the biggest crisis in the history of our species which is climate change."
Maybe if the Falun Gong hut included a solar panel, Robertson would be more sympathetic.
In addition to the anti-freedom bylaw, last Tuesday council unanimously voted against a casino expansion plan for Northeast False Creek, ending weeks of public hearings. The entire spectacle, from the first citizen speaker to the final vote Tuesday, was a fait accompli staged mainly for the benefit of Robertson's reelection campaign. But despite its mock nature, the proceedings paid homage to our Chinese superiors.
From her seat at council chambers, Coun. Ellen Woodsworth used Beijing as an example of judicious gambling regulation before Coun. Kerry Jang, a Chinese-Canadian, rose to deliver a passionate sermon on how gambling in Macau stains an otherwise beatific society. It's the casinos, not the communists.
By killing the casino proposal, Jang and company saved Vancouverites from the evils of capitalism. And by passing the anti-freedom bylaw, they saved Chinese delegates from silent demonstrations outside their consulate's high grey walls. Two days later in Cairo, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces outlawed public demonstrations in Egypt, drawing jeers from reformers who two months ago occupied Tahrir Square, helping end Hosni Mubarak's bloody 30-year reign. In other words, in matters of public freedom, we're keeping pace with the Egyptian army.
The Chinese century came early to Vancouver. Ironically, during the two previous centuries, racism, in the form of draconian labour standards and head taxes, greeted Chinese immigrants seeking freedom and liberty in the New World. Maybe that explains city council's love affair with China. Perhaps residue from our racist past mixes with contemporary sycophantism toward China to produce subconscious genuflections to dictatorial rule.
If Falun Gong practitioners, who addressed city council with horrific tales of torture and death, spoke perfect English, their words might have carried greater weight. If they more closely resembled young white leftists, who lean towards communism, would they be targets for censure?
Probably not. But it's a new world order and the yuan is king. Investment trumps equality, trade outshines torture. If you want to succeed in the Chinese century, you better shrug off dated notions of human decency. All hail Hu Jintao. May the next century last for a thousand years.