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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Autocracy: China’s unsolicited export

Ephrem Madebo
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, signaled the reunification of Germany, brought the demise of the Soviet Union, initiated the birth of a single super power, and created a wave of new democracies in Eastern Europe ending the Cold War superpower conflict that had governed international relations and world politics for the good part of the second half of the 20th century. The end of the Cold War was a momentous event that changed world politics and minimized the fear of nuclear conformation. Today, most people in the world agree that the United States is the sole super power, but in the last two decades, economic and political power have clearly consolidated around China, making autocratic China the most favored super power candidate of the 21st century. I have no problem with China becoming the next super power. My worst nightmare is that China is helping the tyrant regime (ethnic dictatorship) in my country to consolidate power and build Chinese type oppressive power structure. Today, China is exporting its methods abuse and autocracy to Ethiopia at a much faster rate than the US and EU are promoting democracy.
For the last two decades, China has been demanding the West the respect that matches its economic strength and military might. On the other hand, the West, specially the United States has been pressing China to democratize and improve its domestic human rights conditions. But, the moral authority of the US to promote democracy in China is diluted by Washington’s huge appetite for Chinese lending and export while China’s business and political influence in Africa has been growing steadily. Therefore, it seems that the United States is either implicitly responding to the Chinese demand of respect, or it’s explicitly allowing China to build Chinese type autocratic regimes in Africa.
Today, most Ethiopians are at odds with the Chinese regime because China is wrecking the efforts of building democracy in Ethiopia by bankrolling the corrupt and repressive regime in Addis Ababa. More than anything that China does in my country, my concern is that – the economic success of China without electoral democracy and free press has offered an irresistible model of development for the ethnic dictators in Ethiopia. As the result, the ethno-centered regime in Addis Ababa is forcing itself into power every five year on the pretext of “economic development”.
The government of China blocks Web sites and jams radio and television broadcasts such as the BBC, Radio Free Asia, and the Voice of America. By doing so, it denies the Chinese people the freedoms of speech guaranteed to them in the Chinese Constitution. At the mean time, the West is pressing China to democratize and have respect for the human rights of its citizens. But China has not only neglected the West’s call for freedom and democracy, it is also building oppressive state machinery in countries like Ethiopia, Sudan and Zimbabwe. China has been providing small arms for Zimbabwe in exchange for ivory and is supplying President Robert Mugabe’s regime with internet surveillance technology and radio-jamming devices used to block opposition broadcasts.
In Ethiopia, thanks for the Chinese government, opposition blogs and websites are blocked, and any radio broadcast that disagrees with the Ethiopian regime is jammed. Recently, even the VOA was jammed until superior American technology made jamming very expensive for poor Ethiopia. With a total population of over eighty million people, arguably, Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that has no independent radio and TV stations. Hence, recently, as recently as this past May; benevolent Ethiopians pooled their resources and launched the first independent satellite television to Ethiopia (ESAT). The domestic response for ESAT was immeasurable. Within a week of the announcement of ESAT’s launching, the price of satellite signal receiver dishes quadrupled and by the time ESAT’s programming started; literally there was no dish in the market. However, a week after ESAT started broadcasting to Ethiopia, the Ethiopian regime that boasts to have been elected by unprecedented high percentage popular support, turned off the light of ESAT on the very people that it thanked a month earlier for “voting” it to power. Evidently, the Ethiopian regime does not have the resources or the knowhow to interfere high power satellite signals. The equipment and the technical assistance is coming from one of the most oppressive and brutal regimes on earth- China; while the financial resources come from everywhere including the gullible West. All in all, the combination of financial reward from the West and technical assistance from China has helped Addis Ababa’s brutal regime to block the flow of information and prohibitively limit freedom of speech in Ethiopia.
Obviously, China and the West pursue their own political and economic interest in Ethiopia; they have deep ideological differences and devise and implement different strategies. Sadly, as far as my native country Ethiopia is concerned, both China and the West are doing the same thing in Ethiopia- they help a genocidal minority regime in Ethiopia to trash the freedom of people. For the Chinese, this is business as usual, however, for the West; it is defeating the purpose. Many civic organizations, political activists and human rights groups promote democracy and the rule of law in Ethiopia using websites, blogs, and citizen journalism. These endeavors have offered the “enclaved” people of Ethiopia the opportunity to exercise and advocate their human rights under Zenawi’s adverse circumstances. But, this humble effort is crushed by the reactionary moves of the Chinese leaders who export the know-how for web censorship to the like-minded leader in Ethiopia.
Unlike China, I don’t think it is in the West’s interest to dine & dance with a coalition of tyrants and genocidaires such as Meles Zenawi. The West must undertake a sharp reassessment of its political interests and reconcile it economic and political interest with its fundamental values of freedom, justice and democracy. Otherwise, the West may not have the moral background to promote democracy in China and elsewhere while passively watching China mixing tyranny with its material export to developing countries.
In its confrontation with human rights organizations and the West, China has defended its right to censor the internet, TV, and radio broadcasts; saying the country has the right to govern the internet according to its own rules inside its borders. Yes, the Chinese government has the right to govern everything according to its own rules inside its borders. But this right does not include oppressing people and denying them access to information. No government has the right to take the right of people. Well, I do understand this may be quite strange to the Chinese leaders who have no accountability and electoral responsibility. The question is that – do the Chinese leaders know where the Chinese border starts and ends? Though I understand that I must stand to the right of the Chinese people as much as I stand to the right of fellow Ethiopians, this paper is not about what the Chinese are doing inside their boarders, its about what they are doing 8322 kilometers away in Ethiopia.
The Chinese leaders are reaching far outside their border and are helping the Ethiopian dictator block websites and monitor the Internet access of individuals. According to Amnesty International, China has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world, a bad lesson that the street ‘smart’ Ethiopian dictator learned in no time. The Chinese leaders must understand that, by offering technical assistance and financing the ethnic dictator in Ethiopia to censor the Internet, they have denied the Ethiopian people access to crystallized of human wisdom- the Internet. I hope the Chinese leaders understand that vibrant economy is accompanied by vibrant democracy; hence, they just can’t build economic infrastructure and oppressive machinery in Ethiopia at the same time. They should either build infrastructure, or get the hell out of Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian people understand that the push of China into Ethiopia is driven by China’s desperate need for raw materials and future market opportunities. On the other hand, the affinity of Zenawi’s regime to China is very apparent because unlike Western nations, China makes no value demands with its aid and investments. Besides, the Chinese are happy to quickly lend the regime in Addis Ababa dirty tricks and weapons to oppress people.
We love your export of technology, investment, and pharmaceuticals, but please keep your unsolicited export of autocracy within China. The Ethiopian people do welcome mutually beneficial Chinese investment in Ethiopia, and the Chinese are encouraged to build dams in Ethiopia, but they should better build dams that contain water, not the flow of information.