Amnesty International – The conversation that needs to be had with China



Caption: Police officer watching Hong Kong pro-democracy march, 01 July 2014 © Amnesty International 


Yesterday’s edition of The New Zealand Herald features an open letter to all New Zealander’s from Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China.

Along with calling us a “shining pearl on the Pacific Ocean”, he expresses hopes for a bright future of relations between New Zealand and China. A future, to paraphrase, where the two countries move forward hand in hand, as good friends, sticking together through thick and thin…

President Xi arrived in New Zealand last night, fresh from Australia and koala cuddles at the G20.

His visit will no doubt lead to talk of trade and tourism, but here at Amnesty International we’d like to suggest John Key and President Xi have a different conversation

The problem is the list of human rights abuses taking place in China is so long, it’s hard to know where to start…

TDB Recommends

We could start with torture – in particular the flourishing trade, manufacture and export of tools of torture by Chinese companies fuelling human rights violations across Africa and Asia.

Or we could start with the death penalty – and the fact New Zealand’s biggest trading partner is believed to secretly execute more people each year than the rest of the world combined.

But instead, let’s start with an invitation for tea.

How civilised, you might think – except that in China being “invited to tea” is a euphemism for being called in for questioning by the authorities.

And President Xi arrives in New Zealand amidst an intensified crackdown against mainland Chinese activists peacefully supporting the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. More than 100 activists have been “invited for tea” and then detained for posting pictures online with messages of support, shaving their heads in solidarity, and planning to travel to Hong Kong to participate in the protests; at least 33 of those are believed to still be in detention.

The President’s visit to New Zealand also coincides with China’s first World Internet Conference, taking place in the eastern Zhejiang province. The event,  bringing together Chinese officials and global web leaders, is seen by many internet experts as part of the Chinese government’s attempt to influence the rules governing the web.

Amnesty International’s China researcher William Nee summed up the our concern when he said:

“Internet freedom is under attack by governments across the world. Now China appears eager to promote its own domestic internet rules as a model for global regulation. This should send a chill down the spine of anyone that values online freedom.”

Since President Xi came to power, hundreds of people have been detained solely for expressing their views online. Authorities continue to abuse criminal law to suppress freedom of expression, including by detaining and imprisoning activists for online posts that fall foul of the censors.  Access to thousands of websites, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is blocked, major international news sites such as the BBC, the New York Times are also banned as is, not surprisingly Amnesty International’s website.

Scores of phrases are censored on social media including any mention of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown or the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Is this the future the world wants to adopt?

Amnesty International is calling on business leaders going to Zhejiang to speak out for online freedom and challenge the Chinese government’s shameful record.

And with President Xi here in New Zealand there is an unprecedented opportunity for Prime Minister John Key to raise the issue with him directly.

When New Zealand won its bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council in October, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully publicly stated to media that he was, “quite prepared to test friendships including with China and the US during New Zealand’s two-year term on the Security Council, starting in 2015.”

Why wait until 2015? Now’s your chance. Put China’s abysmal human rights record on the agenda over the next two days and ask China to: ban the production and trade of tools of torture, end the use of the death penalty, and release all activists detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

This is a prime opportunity for the New Zealand government to speak out and prove that it will be that independent and principled voice it has promised to be.


By Anita Harvey, Media Manager at Amnesty International.

Read More:


  1. Good luck with that. Cant see “trader John” talking to the China president about anything but trade & making it easier for china property investors to fast track buying anything they desire…

    Also would be good to mention to Xi is his countries ongoing support of Russia…
    Syria, shooting down civilian planes etc etc…

  2. You can be pretty sure that President Xi would not be coming here if he knew he was going to be grilled about human rights violations in China. The whole thing would have been decided well beforehand and carefully stage managed to maybe a couple of token, carefully designed questions with carefully designed answers with which National will hope to placate the opposition. I’m afraid that is the best we can hope for. President Xi has made something of a reputation for being down-to-earth, anti-corruption and anti-waste in public spending, but we haven’t seen anything to suggest that he will soften the Chinese government attitude to organized opposition or human rights violations.

  3. Conversation? Conversation? The only conversation Key had was, gee how quick can you get your bank in here so you can buy up all our houses while nobody cares yet.
    Did anyone hear THAT speech today

  4. Yes this is a massive issue but I wish AI would also focus more on the human rights abuses happening right here in Aotearoa, such as against indigenous peoples. Why is there always more of a focus on the international rather than also at the local at AI (the latter of which is almost non-existent). Just doesn’t make sense to me, except that maybe it’s easier to point the finger at others overseas rather than also at your own. Would love for someone at AI (or anyone really) to explain it to me.

  5. It is very good to see this article. Human rights are universal and consistency in speaking out against violations is important and why Amnesty is so respected and has credibility. China continues to violate the rights to freedom of association and many activists continue to turn a blind eye to this.

  6. Wait, wait, wait. You’re calling on the National led government of New Zealand to call out China for it’s human rights abuses?!!!

    I’m outraged by such a suggestion.

    Not because our government shouldn’t be doing that, but how do you expect our government to pressure China and the US on their human rights abuses when our government is equally guilty.

    For f@%#s sake. This is ridiculous. Grow up, Anita.

  7. I wonder if Anita Harvey has read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? I wonder if she has read the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990? Obviously not, as it is quite clear that not only are western nations abusing human rights almost as much as China. She’s talking about the UN security council here without acknowledging that it is almost antithetical to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If it wasn’t for the wording that is…

    You see, said document grants us a right to democratic representation. Now, if the wording was slightly different, and it granted us all DEMOCRACY, then the security council would also be an abuse of human rights. As it probably should be. What makes the permanent members of this council so special? What makes the citizens of their countries more important than the citizens of Ethiopia?

Comments are closed.