David C. Henley: Nevada should be leery of teaming with China

I, like millions of Americans, was glued to the television set during the Beijing Olympic Games, awed by the pageantry and cheering for our nation's winning athletes.

The 2008 Olympics, however, have left a legacy, a legacy that highlights China's escalating and calculated disrespect for human rights, civil liberties, freedom to assemble, freedom to speak one's mind and fear and distrust of inquiring and free press.

China's abuse of basic human rights is manifested in its denunciation, persecution and imprisonment of political dissidents, writers, professional journalists, artists, free speech advocates, religious faithful and virtually anyone it accuses as "harmful to the state" and "endangers national unity."

China, despite its emergence as a world economic and military power, is a totalitarian state. It lacks even the basic, accepted requirements that distinguish a nation from being civilized or uncivilized.

On a recent three-week pre-Olympics visit to China with my wife, I came face to face with China's totalitarianism and lack of freedoms. Even innocent questioning about China's treatment of Tibetan freedom adherents, its banning of "unapproved" churches, its jailing of members of the Falun Gong meditation and exercise movement, and its censorship of the media brought hostile replies such as "Why are you asking me this?" "What business of this is any of yours?" "This is China's concern, not yours."

When I attempted to locate these abovementioned topics on computers in Chinese hotels we stopped at, up popped replies such as "not available" and "this cannot be found." The hotel computers were censored, I soon learned.

Reporters covering the Aug. 8-24 Beijing Olympics also were unsuccessful in reaching the sites. As well, Internet sites such as the British Broadcasting System (BBC) Watch of America and Human Rights Watch were censored.

And worst of all, the International Olympic Committee, which had assured the world that China's press censorship and human rights violations would be relaxed during the games, caved in and showed great lack of spine when it refused to criticize the Chinese for continuing and even stepping up their repressive policies.

Thankfully, despite the alluring beauty and colorful spectacle of the just-concluded Olympics, several well respected international human rights organizations are reminding the world that China today is one of the world's most notorious violators of every aspect of human freedoms.

Amnesty International, for example, notes the the Olympics were used by the Chinese government to justify "its growing crackdown on Chinese human rights activists in the name of harmony or social stability." Another group, Human Rights Watch, issued a report charging the Chinese authorities with repeatedly obstructing the work of foreign journalists despite commitments to guarantee freedom to the writers.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, of which I am a member, has said the Chinese government "severely restricts and censors the domestic press" and further condemns the fact that 29 Chinese journalists are in prison. This makes China the world's worst offender in jailing journalists.

"Vast censorship rules are in place in China and press attacks and harassment occur with impunity," adds the CPJ.

This criticism of basic freedoms in China brings me around to what is happening in Nevada in relationship with the Chinese government.

A year ago, I wrote a column about a press conference I attended in Carson City where it was announced a $50 million Chinese Workers Museum is to be built on BLM land east of Carson to honor the Chinese laborers in Nevada who helped construct the transcontinental railroad in the1860s.

Gov. Jim Gibbons and several state officials joined high-ranking Chinese diplomats at the press conference, describing the ambitious project. The State Legislature has kicked in $50,000 toward the museum and a fundraising drive is to begin soon, reports Carson City architect Art Hannafin, a museum director and vice president.

Hannafin also told me this week that the initial $50 million construction cost projection was much too low. The cost today is about $100 million, he estimates.

Although I appreciate the basic idea of a museum honoring the Chinese workers and admire its supporters, I am distressed at thought of Nevada falling at the feet of the Chinese authorities in soliciting funds and assistance from them.

Next May, China-sponsored film festivals, art exhibitions and industrial exhibitions to support the museum will be held in Carson City, Reno and Las Vegas, and I cringe at the spectacle of influential Nevadans and state officers cozying up with top-ranking Chinese leaders who represent one of the world's most oppressive regimes.

I thoroughly understand Nevada's need of Chinese tourism and trade, but the thought of a museum established in this state that is supported by Chinese money and the Chinese government gives me a feeling of unease.

China ranks near the bottom of every recognized survey that calculates civil liberties as practiced by the governments of the world's nations,

Unless the Chinese leadership gives strong evidence it is abandoning its human rights and censorship policies, Nevada should refuse Chinese funding and diplomatic support for the Carson City museum, even if that results in a smaller and less ambitious project.

David C. Henley is publisher emeritus of the Lahontan Valley News.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment