Commentary by Andrew Lam in San Francisco
In America, when a source of authority says it randomly singles you out, you should always be wary.
On Monday, video surfaced of a Vietnamese American, David Dao, being forcefully dragged from a United Airlines flight departing Chicago for Louisville, Kentucky. Dao, 69, had allegedly refused to voluntarily give up his seat on the overbooked flight.
The video quickly went viral around the world, including in China, one of United’s largest markets, where it broke records for being the most widely shared video on social media. United stocks quickly plummeted, dropping 4 percent early Tuesday.
Many of the comments in China and elsewhere, meanwhile, questioned whether Dao, initially believed to be Chinese, was singled out for his ethnicity. His bleeding face is now the poster child for perceived racism in the friendly skies.
“Reflecting on my three nightmare-like experiences with United,” Richard Liu, the CEO of popular online shopping platform JD.COM posted on the Chinese site Weibo. “I can say … that United is the worst airline, not one of the worst.”
Chinese media also drew attention to an online petition entitled #ChineseLivesMatter calling for a boycott of United Airlines.
Reaction from the Asian American community has been equally swift and stinging.
“There is no justification for inflicting violence on any American who poses no physical threat regardless of race, occupation, or other characteristics,” declared the advocacy group PIVOT, which works on civic engagement issues in the Vietnamese American community. “As an organization that aims to engage and empower Vietnamese Americans for a just and diverse America, PIVOT categorically condemns United Airlines and the Chicago Police for their violent actions.”
According to reports, Dao and his wife were among four passengers selected to involuntarily relinquish their seats to make room for United employees.
In its response to the growing PR nightmare, despite a public apology, United’s CEO, Oscar Munoz added fuel to the growing fire after a leaked email was released showing Munoz referring to Dao as “disruptive” and “belligerent.”
Few in the Asian American community are buying the airline’s defense.
“How exactly were the four people selected to give up their seats on this flight? What is the method of ‘random’ selection?” asked blogger Phil Yu, better known as Angry Asian Man. “Do United computers come with a Random Passenger Removal Generator? Or does a flight attendant just take a quick glance around the plane and pick a poor sucker?”
In another online post, one gate agent wrote it is typically the agent that decides who to bump. “Usually, depending on the airline, it is determined based on the last passenger to check in for the flight.”
Reporting on the incident, Business Insider noted passengers can be “involuntarily denied boarding based on a number of factors.” These include “fare class of their tickets, frequent-flyer status, their itinerary, and when they checked in to the flight.”
Yet to be sure it is not all algorithm.
Like others, Yu believes Dao was selected in part because United staff assumed that as an Asian he would be compliant. “If the ‘randomly selected’ passenger had been a blonde white lady, and she refused to give her seat, there's no way in seven hells that these cops would have dragged her ass out kicking, screaming and bloody,” Yu wrote. “Such indignities are apparently reserved for 69-year-old Asian physicians.”
He added, “Clearly, they were not counting on this guy to put up a fight.”
Commentary by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver
How does Donald Trump’s mind work? The Beijing government hasn’t a clue; neither does the rest of the world. Maybe the president-elect’s thinking is a mystery even to himself.
Sensibly, Chinese Communist Party leaders have opted not to interpret Trump’s telephone conversation on Friday with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a deliberate act jettisoning nearly 40 years of careful obfuscation that has kept the peace between Washington and Beijing.
Instead, the men behind the high red wall of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound in Beijing decided to say that the phone call was a “petty trick” by Tsai. “For Trump,” said a state-controlled newspaper, “it exposed nothing but his transition team’s inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”
So Beijing has decided that for the moment there should be no crisis. Trump, though, seems reluctant to go along with that idea and appears, in fact, to be setting up the Beijing regime as a whipping boy. On Sunday evening he used his preferred method of communication with the world — Twitter — to say:
“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into … their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”
This suggests that, unlike the other promises he has already abandoned, Trump might charge ahead with his campaign vow to stick massive duties on Chinese imports.
That could pose a threat to the survival in power of the Chinese Communist Party — whose Mandate of Heaven is now expressed in the growth of China’s gross domestic product. And that is a far more pressing question for Beijing than the fate of Taiwan
But the Taiwan question cannot be ignored. The Communist Party claims the island and its 23 million people are “a renegade province” that must be gathered into the bosom of Mother China — by force if necessary. Three generations of Chinese have been indoctrinated at school with this mantra, even though it has little historic, legal or political merit. But there is a long history of authoritarian states being mauled to death by the hyper-nationalism they have fostered in order to stay in power.
So there are reasons to applaud the phone call between Trump and Tsai. It is shining a bright light on the iniquities visited upon the people of Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with one of the world’s most successful and sophisticated economies, by the sleazy deal between Washington and Beijing.
The breach of protocol established in 1979 would be far more welcome if someone more trustworthy than Trump were about to become the U.S. president. It’s hard to believe that Trump will see through what he started on Friday, that the ridiculous “one China policy” will be ditched, and that Taiwan will be able to take its proper position as an internationally recognized independent nation.
As with so many U.S. diplomatic follies of the last half century, the blame for this one can be laid at the feet of Henry Kissinger.
Like Trump, Kissinger’s capacity for self-promotion has successfully masked his lack of more useful talents. In 1971, Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor when he went to Beijing to negotiate with Premier Zhou En-lai the establishment of diplomatic relations.
At the time, Washington still recognized as the legitimate government of China the old Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, which had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
Premier Zhou played Kissinger like a violin. Despite Nixon’s insistence that Taiwan’s independence must be guaranteed, Kissinger told Zhou that he could foresee the island becoming part of China. He also agreed to “acknowledge” China’s claim to Taiwan. This wording — which the Chinese usually translate as “accept” — has remained part of the problem.
(In contrast, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was negotiating Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, he insisted that Ottawa would only “note” the Communist Party’s claim to Taiwan. Most other countries have followed the Canadian model.)
The establishment of Washington-Beijing diplomatic relations meant that the fiction that the Chiang regime in Taiwan was the true government of China could not continue. In 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan — though, like most other countries (including Canada), it keeps an unofficial embassy in Taipei and continues to have a military and intelligence relationship with the government.
With this ambiguous diplomatic and legal relationship has gone what is known as the “one China policy,” which Beijing has insisted other governments, especially Washington and Taipei, accept as a condition of economic relations.
In essence this policy says that everyone accepts that there is only “one China.” What constitutes China is left undefined. Beijing, of course, says China includes Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party is its sovereign authority.
In Taiwan, around 90 per cent of the island’s people want to keep their independence. If pushed, they will say there is indeed only one China — but Taiwan is not part of it.
The same goes in Washington. So for nearly 40 years, peace has been maintained across the Taiwan Strait and relations between Beijing and Washington have continued without serious conflict because everyone has agreed to accept there is “one China” without asking what that means.
U.S. administrations have added a couple of other ambiguities to this “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach. There is domestic legislation — the 1979 Taiwan Affairs Act — which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan if it is attacked. It is left up to each Washington administration, however, to decide how enthusiastically it rushes to Taiwan’s defence. As U.S.-China economic interdependence has grown, it has become less and less likely that any Washington administration would go to the wall for 23 million Taiwanese, even if they are part of the democracy circle.
And in a sop to Beijing, successive U.S. presidents have kept well away from any formal or even informal association with their Taiwanese counterparts.
That’s why Trump’s phone conversation with Tsai stands out.
It’s not entirely clear that it has dawned on Trump yet that, on January 20, he will become the U.S. president. He is still acting like someone who just won a game show and is revelling in the attention showered on him by groupies.
Whether the phone call means anything more than that will be seen after January 20.
Republished under arrangement with ipolitics.ca
A recent ruling on a territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines has left Canada “deeply concerned” about escalating tensions in that region. Meanwhile, China is furious that the ruling favoured the Philippines, and the ruling poses a dilemma for Taiwan.
Several countries in East Asia including China, the Philippines, and Taiwan have competing claims over the South China Sea area, which includes fishing grounds and some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, with 30 percent of global trade passing through these waters. The region also includes two chains of islands, the Spratly and the Paracel islands, some of which are believed to be untapped sources of natural gas and minerals.
Falun Gong practitioners in the 100-odd countries where the spiritual discipline is practised take every opportunity to raise awareness about the ongoing abuses toward their fellow practitioners in China. That has been the case since 1999 when the Chinese Communist Party under then-leader Jiang Zemin launched a widespread campaign of persecution against the group.
So when a new report came out about the killing of Falun Gong prisoners of conscience to supply China’s lucrative organ trade, teams of practitioners in several provinces across Canada hit the road, their vehicles loaded up with banners, petitions, flyers, and other materials.
The recent ruling by The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration rejecting China’s territorial claims to islands in the South China Sea has not only sparked a fire-breathing response from Beijing, but has also left Taiwan unhappy.
Taiwan is concerned about the ruling’s impact on its sovereignty over Taiping Island, which it considers its southernmost point.
Fearing that their island city is going to the dogs, close to half of Hong Kong residents interview in a recent survey are looking to move.
And Canada is their top pick to start a new a life.
Some 42 percent of Hong Kong residents want to leave, a survey by independent think tank Civic Exchange showed in June. This compares with 20 percent wanting to leave neighboring Singapore.
Seventy percent of 1,500 people surveyed said Hong Kong had become "worse" or "much worse" to live in, with the biggest concerns housing, the "quality of government" and education, the Thompson-Reuters Foundation reported.
The number of Hong Kong people emigrating to Canada almost doubled in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, and the number moving permanently to Taiwan rose 36 percent over a similar time frame, data shows.
The most recent data from the United States is from 2014 and flat. Emigration to the UK has declined, but the minimum amount for those seeking to qualify for residency as investors there has also doubled to 2 million pounds ($2.64 million).
Australia doesn't provide data for Hong Kong but aggregate figures for emigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Mongolia rose slightly last year.
The diminishing confidence in Hong Kong's future follows the "Occupy Central" protests in late 2014 demanding Beijing grant Hong Kong full democracy.
"After Occupy, (Hong Kong people) started to be nervous about the future," said Andrew Lo, a director of Anlex Services Limited, which handles Taiwan immigration cases, according to reports in Hong Kong.
Mary Chan, of immigration experts Rothe International Canada, said the immigration process typically takes one to two years. "Which is why the numbers are only increasing now," she said.
The disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers who specialized in gossipy political books about Chinese leaders, some of whom were believed to have been abducted by Chinese agents, has also eroded broader confidence in the "one country, two systems" formula under which the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
One of the booksellers who returned to Hong Kong told media he may emigrate to Taiwan because he no longer feels safe in the city.
"Young people were more upset about the government two years ago but the sense of dissatisfaction actually cuts across ages now," said Professor Michael DeGolyer, who co-led the study.
The Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan, a self-ruled island China considers a breakaway province, said it expected the increase in Hong Kong immigrants to continue.
"Taiwan is an open, pluralistic and liberal democracy. The people are very friendly. Housing prices and consumer prices are relatively cheap, while entrepreneurial opportunities and the similar cultures of Hong Kong and Taiwan are all factors for Hong Kong residents to consider coming to Taiwan," it said.
Hong Kong's immigration department declined to comment on the survey. The Security Bureau declined to answer questions about whether the Hong Kong government was concerned about emigration or believed it was due to political concerns.
It provided its own emigration estimates based on the number of requests it had received for certificates of no criminal conviction. Those figures showed a slight increase last year but were below where they were a decade ago.
When activists began setting fire to trash bins and hurling bricks at police during a February riot in Hong Kong, Chris Lee became more convinced his decision to leave his siblings and mother behind and move to Taiwan was the right one.
Hong Kong, long known as one of the safest and most law-abiding cities in Asia, has become increasingly polarized with occasional violent protests, fueled in part by tensions with Communist Party leaders in Beijing over the Chinese-ruled city's democratic future.
"It's not just the politics that are messed up," said Lee, who moved to Taiwan in March and opened a restaurant. "It is also the people who have become irrational and fickle that drove me to leave."
Independent public policy think tank Civic Exchange study also measured wellbeing in terms of how quality of life is perceived in three major Asian cities: Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. The survey interviewed over 1,500 people in each city. The report includes respondents’ reactions to issues such as the environment, housing, education, government and transportation. The study aims to gauge and compare wellbeing across Asian cities with a goal of identifying issues and policy gaps that will generate engagement with governments, academics, NGOs and the broader public in the quest to shape public policy.
Highlights of the findings include:
In general, Hong Kong respondents are significantly more dissatisfied than their counterparts in Shanghai and Singapore.
In terms of life-satisfaction level, Shanghai ranks first (score: 7.4 out of 10), Singapore ranks second (7.1) and Hong Kong is a distant third (5.8)
70% of Hong Kong respondents think Hong Kong has become worse since they started living there. This percentage gets higher with younger respondents.
66% of Hong Kong respondents think Hong Kong is not a good place for children to grow up in, vs. 16% and 13% in Shanghai and Singapore, respectively.
A lot more people worry about poverty in Hong Kong than they do in Singapore or Shanghai.
42% of Hong Kong respondents would move away from Hong Kong if they were free to choose, vs. 17% in Shanghai and 20% in Singapore.
by arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post
by Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa
The federal New Democrats are demanding action from Ottawa after hearing the Chinese government is refusing to recognize Canadian citizenship when granting visas to those with roots in Hong Kong or Mainland China.
NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said she is sending a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion after speaking to travel agents in Toronto and Vancouver who report Beijing is denying Canadian citizens of Chinese origin the right to obtain visas using their Canadian passports.
Instead, they are reportedly being issued travel documents as Chinese nationals, which means they won't have the protection of the Canadian embassy while travelling in China.
Kwan said until June 2, Canadian citizens born in Hong Kong or Mainland China could choose to travel as Chinese nationals or Canadian citizens. Now Beijing is apparently forcing them to travel as Chinese nationals.
"It's a major shift in practice from what it used to be and is of big concern to people," she said.
Even Canadian citizens born here to Chinese parents must apply for Chinese travel documents if they have not travelled to the country as Canadians before, Kwan said.
One Toronto travel agent, who spoke to The Tyee on the condition of anonymity, said his company arranges visas for visitors to Mainland China. Applications have been denied for people born in Hong Kong, Mainland China, or Taiwan, the agent said. The Beijing government has also denied visas to Canadian-born children of Chinese origin parents, he said.
The rejections have come with notes directing the applicants to go to a Chinese consulate in person to apply for travel documents.
Many people have opted to cancel their trips to China rather than travel as Chinese nationals, said the agent.
China expert Charles Burton, a professor at Brock University, said the move appears to be part of Beijing's attempt to tighten control globally to mute dissent against the ruling regime.
Burton pointed to a recent case of a Hong Kong bookseller with a Swedish passport who was arrested in Thailand and sent to China for "interrogation" as an example of Beijing's actions.
He said the reported policy would be in line with China's policy of considering anyone with Chinese heritage as subject to Beijing's authority.
"I think it does have a chilling effect on people of Chinese origin who felt that acquisition of foreign citizenship gave them a degree of protection," Burton said. "It goes against international law; it's part and parcel of China's refusal to acknowledge the authority of international regimes in general."
He said the policy could be considered discrimination because Beijing is issuing visas based solely on people's ethnicity.
Burton said Canada must raise the issue with China at the highest levels.
The revelations come four weeks after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had a tantrumwhen a Canadian reporter in Ottawa asked him about China's detention of Canadian citizen Kevin Garratt, aggressive moves in the South China Sea, and the disappearances of merchants in Hong Kong selling books critical of the Chinese government.
Following the outburst Ottawa faced criticism for its declaration of plans to deepen ties with China.
Global Affairs Canada said it was aware of the visa situation and intends to raise the issue with Beijing, but would not grant an interview with Dion.
** Story update, June 30: Since NDP MP Jenny Kwan's initial complaint, the Chinese embassy in Ottawa has issued a statement saying it has not changed its policy, but gives no explanation for why it was asking people to apply for Chinese travel documents.
"It should be noted that we welcome visit to China by Canadians of Hong Kong origin," read the statement. "There is no such a thing as China tightening its travel document-related policies."
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei also addressed the issue in his regular press briefing in Beijing.
Kwan released a statement in response suggesting that people who had problems apply once again and to bring the full Chinese statement from the Chinese embassy with them when they do.
Republished with permission from The Tyee.
By Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Though it can be criticised as lip service, the Canadian government’s ongoing ‘dialogue’ on human rights with China sometimes has a bite.
This was evident last week when China’s touchy foreign minister threw a temper tantrum at a press conference in Ottawa when questioned about Beijing’s dismal human rights record.
The current practice calls for Canadian ministers to confine human rights discussions to private meetings with their Chinese counterparts. But as much as Canada has failed at curbing Beijing’s habit of executing dissidents and suppressing minorities such as Tibetans and Uighurs, China has failed at trapping the issue to government chambers sealed behind closed doors.
Thus every time the world’s economic dragon fumes at being bridled by ‘Western’ values, the issue of human rights gains more ink in the Sino-Canada storyline.
So what should Canada’s terms of engagement be with world’s next rising economic star, the current elephant-in-heat India?
Last year, India’s economy sprinted ahead to post a world-beating 7.6% GDP growth rate, though this result seems wind-aided thanks to some artful statistical spackling of poor data.
And as with China, this top-of-the-class economic report card has not spawned a halo effect to remove attention from the subcontinent’s own poor human rights record. In the foreground of the recently-stalled Canada-India free trade talks are ongoing protests by Canada’s politically influential South Asian community calling for protection of minorities in India.
These boiled at high heat last April when walls of protesters confronted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi upon landing for his official state visit to Canada, dogging him from Ottawa to Toronto, and to Vancouver.
Human rights violations are again casting a shadow over Modi’s state visit this week to the United States where he will be addressing a joint session of the US Congress. Even though India is being feted by the West as a counterweight to rising Chinese assertiveness in Asia, US elected officials are also petitioning for change in how the Indian government treats minority Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs. This includes a group of 34 senators and congressmen penned a letter recently urging the Prime Minister to ‘hold perpetrators of this violence to account’.
These episodes of bloodshed include the infamous 2002 Gujarat riots in which hundreds of Muslims were killed by Hindu mobs and in which Modi was allegedly complicit – an event that led him to be denied a visa to the United States in 2005.
For Canada’s one million strong Sikh population, justice remains outstanding in the targeted killings of thousands of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984, along with the earlier attacks on the Golden Temple when hundreds of innocent worshippers on pilgrimage were shot down by Indian soldiers. The failure to convict the organisers of the Delhi mass killings and resolve this violent chapter against India’s Sikh minority – which like Christians in India form a mere 2% of the population – has allowed the wounds to grow toxic.
Although official reports record the killings of nearly 3,000 Sikhs, unofficial estimates are as high as 30,000. According to Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times bureau chief in New Delhi, “Almost as many Sikhs died in a few days in India in 1984 than all the deaths and disappearances in Chile during the 17-year military rule of Gen. Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990,”
And so this past weekend on Saturday, Sikhs in Vancouver again gathered at the downtown Art Gallery to hold a vigil for victims of these events. This is the first of two annual commemorative events – the second, the annual Sikh Nation Blood Drive is held in November to mark the Delhi killings. It is the largest third party blood drive in the country for Canadian Blood Services.
Now in his early 20’s, Manveer Singh has worked as an organiser for the art gallery vigil. Like others of his generation, he was born outside of India and after the 1984 atrocities. Yet the horror of these events spared few – virtually every family knew of someone who was murdered or was a casualty of violence. These wounds have filtered into the current generation through emotional osmosis.
For Singh, Canada’s aspiration to expand its trade relationship with a state that refuses to account for the blood on its hands undermines Canadian values.
“At the political level, there is a reluctance to address these past events and press for convictions in the Delhi genocide as this would anger the Indian government,” said Singh in reference to the Canadian government averting its eyes from India’s record of violence towards minorities.
“What pains us most is that those from India’s Congress Party who were behind the killings still live free with impunity,” added Singh, who is currently a university student in Vancouver.
The future lies to the west over the Pacific for both Canada and the United States. North American companies have pivoted towards Asia – the next evolutionary step beyond NAFTA is the Trans Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement between the US, Canada, Mexico and seven Asian nations that is looking to include India in its next stage.
In this ever unfettered global economy, uranium dug out from the Prairies is today shipped across the Pacific to power India’s nuclear power plants and feed its energy starved population. But in this same environment of capital and labour mobility, blood spilled in Delhi thirty years ago can stain the earth red in Canada today.
The Sikh community in Canada is politically potent, punches above its weight, and stands to be a key arbiter in the future of companies like Saskatchewan-based Cameco, which last year signed a $350 million deal in 2015 to provide uranium for India’s reactors. For Canadian resource companies seeking to reach India’s 1.2 billion consumers, they may find their caravans blocked by the ghosts of 1984 that haunt this new silk-road connecting cities like Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Toronto to Asia’s new El Dorado.
A number of Canadian elected officials have attempted to lay these spirits to rest by seeking official recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocide in order to close the chapter and move forward.
In 2011, MP Sukh Dhaliwal was the first to raise this topic at an official federal level. The member from Surrey-Newton put forward a petition in the House of Commons for official recognition of the 1984 killings as an act of genocide, plowing ahead with the convictions of his constituents despite a rebuke from then Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff, as well as the Indian consulate in Vancouver. Dhaliwal received support from current Minister of Innovation, Navdeep Bains.
When asked if he would re-submit a proposal, Dhaliwal stated, “I was happy to forward petitions on behalf of my constituents, and now with e-petitions as a new way to facilitate grassroots democracy, I will continue to advance the petitions that are submitted by Surrey-Newton residents.”
NDP leader, Tom Mulcair has also issued an official release on the matter, stating that he and the federal NDP “firmly stand in solidarity with the community, independent human rights organizations and Canadians across the country, in seeking justice”.
And just this past week a motion for recognition of the Delhi killings as a genocidal act was voted on in the Ontario house. Put forward by Ontario NDP MLA Jagmeet Singh, it was defeated by the Liberal majority.
Singh tweeted afterwards, “By voting against the Sikh Genocide Recognition motion the Liberals turned their back on human rights, justice, reconciliation & healing. They not only turned their backs on the Sikhs but all the Hindu & Muslim families who risked their lives to save their Sikh neighbours.”
The World Sikh Organisation (WSO), the activist organisation that contributed mightily to Justin Trudeau’s victory, also expressed its disappointment at the defeat of MLA Jagmeet Singh’s bill. “We also call for justice for the victims of 1984, and that those who were behind the attacks need to be brought to justice instead of being allowed to live free with impunity,” said WSO legal counsel Balpreet Singh, adding the organisation supported Sukh Dhaliwal’s petition.
With 16 MP’s of Sikh heritage in the House of Commons, this matter will not fade into the recesses of the past. The recent recognition of the Armenian genocide by the German government as well as the apology for the Komagata Maru incident have bolstered confidence of achieving genocide recognition from Canada’s Sikh community.
Even the Government of India's Nanavati Commission Report acknowledges "but for the backing and help of influential and resourceful persons, killing of Sikhs so swiftly and in large numbers could not have happened.”
Despite such a damning statement, the Indian government has yet to move on convictions against the senior Congress Party members who organised the attacks.
Last year, Canada’s then-Conservative government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on the anniversary of China sending in the tanks against the protesters in Tiananmen Square, “Canada urges China to break its silence on the events of 26 years ago by openly accounting for the people who were killed, detained or went missing and by launching a process of national healing and reconciliation.”
The Canadian government has yet to make an equivalent request to India for its Tiananmen moment, when its tanks crackled over the marble promenade of the Golden Temple in 1984 and when senior Congress Party officials ordered police to stand down while sword-wielding mobs cut down thousands of innocent people.
With discussions of free trade in the air, the timing is right for that statement. It stands to be a rare moment where investing in the fight for human rights would provide a good return for business.
This commentary was republished with permission from the South Asian Post
by Florence Hwang in Regina
Attendees from across North America gathered to discuss ways to revitalize Canada’s Chinatowns at the Edmonton Chinese Chinatown Conference, held on June 11 and 12. It’s possibly the first of its kind in terms of scale and scope, says one organizer.
Topics included “Transforming Chinatowns: Social, Economic and Cultural Trends” and “Development Strategy and Planning and the Chinatowns of the Future: What Would This Look Like and How to Sustain Them?”
The first conference on this topic was held in 2011, but it focused mostly on the City of Edmonton. This year’s conference took the issue to a larger stage, drawing on the expertise and experience of Chinatown activists from all over Canada and United States.
Conference organizer Lan Chan-Marples says some recommendations for revitalizing Chinatowns that came out of the weekend included hosting night markets, cultural festivals and historical walking tours.
Chinatowns were formed in the 1880s in major cities in the United States largely because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. In Canada, they arose with the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, on which many Chinese immigrants worked.
These enclaves enabled Chinese immigrants to form tightly knit communities, capable of defending themselves against hostile external forces, and create job opportunities.
Before the 1950s, most Chinese immigrants in the United States and Canada came from the southern province of Guangdong. Since then, the population has became much more diversified.
Intention of the conference
Claudia Wong-Rusnak is the City of Edmonton Project Manager for the Chinatown plan. She was also one of the panelists at the conference.
Wong-Rusnak says there have been many decisions made in the past few decades that impacted the city’s Chinatown, but that they now need the residents’ assistance to put those plans into action.
“That’s why we’re having a conference. That’s why we need a comprehensive plan because the old one [that was made in the 1980s] didn’t materialize. The city council is extremely dedicated to seeing Chinatown thrive,” notes Wong-Rusnak.
She says the two Chinatowns in Edmonton, which are quite close to one another, have had competing interests, making progress difficult.
“The north Chinatown is a very commercial centre. South Chinatown is more of a destination and houses the multicultural centre, the Benevolent Association and the seniors’ home. Ideally, Chinatown should have both elements of business and culture,” she says.
“We’re suggesting we grow a core so that we can have a destination and explore those connections to downtown and to each other physically,” Wong-Rusnak explains. She also hopes that they can “continue storytelling and celebrating our Chinese culture through softer means.”
Revitalising Chinatown’s across Canada
Named Toronto’s first Chinese historian, Valerie Mah discovered very little had been written about the Chinese when she attended Teachers’ College in Toronto.
Mah was born in Brockville, Ontario, where her grandfather had a laundromat and her parents opened a restaurant in 1930. When her mother was born, there were only two Chinese families in town, but many “bachelor” Chinese men owned or worked in Chinese restaurants.
Mah is still involved with the Chinese community, even in her retirement from teaching. She sits on both the Yee Hong and Mon Sheong Board of Governors, two major Chinese retirement homes.
“My hope is to try and help 'East Chinatown' become a vibrant community. Some of the older owners are retiring and I am working on their offspring who are carrying on in the community,” says Mah.
Creating change through collective dialogue
Yi Chen, a filmmaker who was born and who grew up in Shanghai, China, was asked to speak at the conference about her 30-minute documentary that explored Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown.
Chen said she wanted to be part of this conference because it gathered Chinatown activists from major cities across Canada and the United States to talk about a topic she’s very passionate about.
“More importantly, this kind of collective dialogue about Chinatown’s future is unprecedented and much needed,” she says.
Like in Edmonton, the Chinese population in D.C. is hoping to revive their Chinatown by working with grassroots and non-profit organizations with similar interests, as well as the municipal government.
Nicole So, who has helped establish the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown group and organized the "Hot and Noisy" mahjong social events in Vancouver, saw the conference as “a unique opportunity that brings together individuals from Chinatown all across North America."
These events are vital “to further the conversation about the different Chinatowns, especially given the rapid developments and changes seen in recent years,” she says.
“Who we are, what we do and where we come from is nested in the history and lives [and] the actions of all those who came before us,” she continues. “So I think it is important to remember and cherish that, especially for someone like myself—to learn about their roots and remember how things used to be.
“New things are always coming along, but once old things are lost, they are gone for good.”
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by Dustin Godfrey in Vancouver
A new exhibit at a Vancouver museum is exploring the experiences of a lesser-known group of combatants in the Second World War, who were major contributors to Chinese-Canadian civil rights, according to experts.
The Chinese Canadian Military Museum’s “Rumble in the Jungle” exhibit looks at Force 136, a team of Chinese-Canadians trained by British forces to practice guerrilla tactics in Southeast Asia.
Borrowing tactics from the French resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the team fought against the Japanese advancements in the area,
Local historian and lecturer Judy Lam Maxwell, who wrote her master’s thesis on Chinese-Canadian war veterans, conducts tours of historic spots in Vancouver’s Chinatown. She said the reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers faced by Caucasian Allied soldiers.
“They were British subjects and they were going into territories that were colonized by the British, but all through Southeast Asia is a sprinkling of Chinese,” she says. “That gave them power that they visually fit the part, whereas here, being in society here, they stood out.”
Launching the exhibit
The museum’s curator, Catherine Clement, says the exhibit’s launch in May was the biggest the museum had ever seen; in attendance were nine living veterans of Force 136.
Cynthia Fung-Sunter attended the launch with her three sisters and her two sons. Her father, Henry Fung, was the among the first group sent into the war with Force 136. She says she has had to piece together her father’s experience through external sources.
“I did ask, clearly, at different points, and he just would not give details,” she recalls, noting that the silence on the subject may have been due to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“She did a fine job,” says Fung-Sunter, commenting on Clement’s work in the exhibit. “I honestly feel that Force 136 became alive in that exhibit.”
Force 136’s impact on civil rights
Clement says the impacts of Force 136 extend much further than the context of the war; its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.
“A lot of the [Chinese-Canadian men] who served in the war were actually not considered Canadian citizens,” says Clement, referring to the denial of citizenship to Chinese Canadians, including those born in Canada, under the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.
“It denied [them] the right to vote,” she says. “It means that even if you obtain a university degree, you cannot practice medicine or law, engineering, accounting — any of the really important professions.”
According to Lam Maxwell, after the war, many countries looked introspectively at their own racially driven policies.
“There was also the realization that all these countries were racist in their own way,” said Lam Maxwell, pointing to segregation in America and Canadian treatment of the Chinese community. “They were fighting for rights on many different levels.”
Clement notes that it was the contribution of Chinese-Canadians to the war efforts that gained the community a great deal of popular support for civil rights.
“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship,” says Clement. “A lot of it had to do with their service in the war."
In that same year, 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Ten years later, former Force 136 member Douglas Jung was the first Chinese-Canadian voted into parliament as the representative of Vancouver Centre.
The importance of remembering
Due to Force 136’s clandestine nature, Clement says it was difficult to garner information about the group.
It took about five months of full-time work to put the exhibit together, during which time she interviewed soldiers’ children like Fung-Sunter, whose knowledge of their fathers’ experiences was often fragmented.
Clement said she was interested in doing the exhibit on Force 136 now because there had never been one dedicated to the group and because of the shrinking number of living Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans.
“There was this one last window of opportunity to do something to celebrate what they did while they were still alive,” she states. “And it’s an excuse to ask them more questions about what that experience was like.”
For Clement, there are lessons that today’s Canadians can learn from the history of the Chinese involvement in Force 136.
“For Chinese people, it’s understanding history,” she says. “How did we get here? This is not by accident; this is by things that people did for us, of [whom] there are still a few [. . .] around.”
Regarding Canadians as a whole, Clement says the lessons come back to the issue of immigration, which has come up in recent years in Vancouver.
“What do we learn from that? It’s that [. . .] making people feel different and isolated actually works against us as a community,” she concludes.
"Rumble in the Jungle" will be featured at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown until fall of 2016.
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