Falun Gong is a peaceable movement practicing meditative exercises and espousing Truth, Compassion, and Tolerance with religious fervor. It is being ruthlessly suppressed in China today. Yet similar exercises such as Tai Chi Chuan are practiced every morning by millions of Chinese, and "freedom of religious belief" is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution. All across China, churches, temples, mosques and their seminaries are being built, or rebuilt with government assistance after the devastation of the Cultural Revolution. Religious adherents are increasing almost exponentially.
Puzzled by this seeming contradiction, I dug into any sources I could find, including writings of the Falun Gong itself. As a sociologist, I would say that the movement is a benign but powerful and fanatic cult. Adherents are willing to commit suicide for their beliefs. Its guru is based in the United States (it occurs to me that if he had come to Canada, the movement might have been less suspect!). And it has held mass demonstrations under the noses of the Communist leadership! After Tiananmen, that took a lot of courage. To me, it seems likely that the Politbureau is scared stiff. From their point of view, taking lessons from Chinese history (the Boxers, and the Taiping Rebellion, for example), the guru of Falun Gong seems irrational and unpredictable, and could be one step away from arming his followers.
For us, it's a civil rights issue. But before we rush into economic boycotts, let's not be hypocritical about our campaigns. I believe we should be just as concerned about an even more flagrant civil-rights violation in China: the forced relocation of between a million and two million people to make way for the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze. Already relocatees are courageously demonstrating, and the army is being used to force compliance. The resettlement project is in chaos today, basically because there is nowhere to put that many people without misery and disaster.
In this case, far from protesting, Canada is guilty of complicity. In 1994, Jean Chrétien agreed to provide the dam project with $170 million in financing for the sale of Can-adian products and expertise. Canadian corporations already have dam contracts totaling almost double that amount. For example, our taxes are financing the sale of Monenco-AGRA's super-computer to assist in the construction of the dam and the "management" of the biggest forced relocation in history. The World Bank and U.S. export-credit agencies years ago decided that this dam did not meet their environmental and civil rights criteria.
Should we impose an economic boycott on China for their Falun Gong and Dam policies? I believe it would be counter-productive. So does Dai Ching, a courageous dissident who has spent time in prison for publicly opposing the Three Gorges Dam. She argues that an all-out economic boycott would likely strengthen the resolve of the present leadership and hurt the Chinese people. (As in Iran, Yugoslavia, Cuba?) Rather, she asks for the end to all international assistance to the Dam Project until such time as it can be re-evaluated with a view to scaling it down, if not abandoning it.
My opinion is that with regard to the Falun Gong we should use the usual methods of Amnesty International: letters, demonstrations in front of Embassies, etc. Likewise, I disagree with people who advocate an economic boycott of the Olympics if held in Beijing. Friendly people-to-people contact is slow but effective. "Ping-pong diplomacy!"
But on the Dam issue, Canada has far more leverage. China desperately needs financial assistance: the costs of the Dam are spiraling up while the economic and social benefits are more and more in doubt. We should demand that our government stop supporting it. Canada was the first to seek contracts. Other countries followed. Let us be the first to stop, and to convince the followers to again follow suit! On civil rights issues, we need to approach China with clean hands.
Wendy Cukier, of the Coalition for Gun Control demonizes firearms owners by linking them to the big, bad NRA gun lobby and the "American gun culture." She bad-mouths the USA as the most violent country in the world. What rubbish! The USA is our friendly neighbor to the south, our best trading partner, and the greatest democracy in the world. According to the UN Index of 170 countries, the three best in which to live are Canada, the US, and Norway. Another UN survey found that the three countries with the greatest number of guns are the USA, Norway and Canada.