I spoke in Parliament yesterday, seconding Michael Danby’s private members’ motion on Liu Xiaobo.
Private Members’ Business
Mr Liu Xiaobo
22 November 2010
I have always viewed the challenges facing China with a sense of awe. Since the great opening of the Chinese economy in 1978, China’s economic achievements have been nothing short of remarkable. Rapid economic growth has improved the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Chinese. According to the World Bank, China’s per person GDP rose from US$524 in 1980 to US$6,200 in 2010—a twelvefold increase. And this is in 2005 dollars, so the figures do not take account of inflation. Over the same period, the share of the Chinese population living in extreme poverty—below $1.25 a day—fell from 84 per cent to 16 per cent, while the share of the population living below $2 a day fell from 98 per cent to 36 per cent. In The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs wrote:
China is likely to be the first of the great poverty-stricken countries of the twentieth century to end poverty in the twenty-first century.
He also pointed out:
By the year 2050, it is reasonable to suppose that China will reach around half of the Western European income average, restoring China’s relative position at the start of the industrial era.
In addition, the level of general education has been greatly improved since 1990. Average adult education levels were less than five years in 1982 but over seven years in 2000. In 1982, 232 million Chinese people were illiterate. In 2000, the figure was 85 million. The Chinese economic reforms have transformed lives. Men and women, farmers, factory workers and service workers all prospered in a social environment which now permitted the accumulation of individual wealth.
This brings me to Liu Xiaobo. Born on 28 December 1955 in the north-eastern city of Changchun, Liu Xiaobo has long been a passionate man of letters. He was in Beijing in 1989 when the ongoing student demonstrations of the era grew to encompass much of Beijing’s civil society. Liu has been an intellectual leader. For him, the Tiananmen Square protest and resulting crackdown was a deeply formative experience. Released from prison 20 months later, he wrote:
My eyes were opened by 4 June and the death of the martyrs and now, every time I open my mouth, I ask myself if I am worthy of them.
That was over 20 years ago. To the present day Liu has remained an unceasing advocate for democratic reform, never losing his passion for truth and justice or his demand for the state to recognise human rights. His deeply poignant writing, with its overwhelming commitment to the commonality of all humanity, must rank amongst the most heart-moving of literary protests. In spite of long periods of detention he never faltered in his humanity or love for others. His recent trial statement was dedicated to his wife, Liu Xia, while his Nobel Prize was dedicated to the ‘lost souls’ of Tiananmen Square.
As the new China emerges it desperately needs Liu Xiaobo. It needs his courage to speak truth to power; it needs his advocacy on behalf of the dispossessed; it needs him to argue for an independent legal system, freedom of association and for citizens’ rights. China is a big country, and its future is best assured by trusting and relying upon its greatest strength, its more than one billion people. China faces many tough issues, not least of which is uneven progress and rising inequality. Brave spokespeople like Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo are the key to the emergence of a civil society that will only serve to strengthen China. It is a tragic mistake for the government to intimidate and attempt to silence those whose concern is to articulate the needs of the people.
Due to the great number of shared interests that China and Australia have in common I believe it is appropriate to speak to motions such as this. As I have outlined, the Chinese government has shown real commitment and real results when delivering lasting economic reform, all to the benefit of ordinary Chinese citizens. But as the case of Liu shows, there is scope for other issues of reform to be raised and aired. I fear that no-one benefits if China’s reforms stop at the economy. Speaking at Peking University in 2008, the present foreign minister said:
A true friend is one who can be a zhengyou, that is a partner who sees beyond immediate benefit to the broader and firm basis for continuing, profound and sincere friendship.
As a member of a party formed to represent the workers of Australia, I speak in the same spirit as the foreign minister spoke to Chinese students. I am proud to second this motion honouring such a courageous advocate, a man who has committed his life to improving the lot of the people of China and to doing so entirely through non-violent means.