Documents on Democracy

Issue Date July 1998
Volume 9
Issue 3
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Imprisoned Chinese dissident Wang Dan, leader of the 1989 student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square, was granted medical parole on April 19 on the condition that he leave China immediately. Excerpts from his first press conference in the United States, held on April 23 at the City University of New York, appear below:

I will have two goals during my time in America: the first will be to complete my education, and the second to do what I can to promote the democratization of China and to improve the state of human rights in China. . . .

I feel that my country now stands at a crossroads: Will it move toward democracy and prosperity, or go stumbling toward chaos and collapse? The duty to answer this question, I feel, rests with every Chinese person, and will be decided by the daily-life choices that every Chinese citizen makes. I just happen to be more zealous than some. Whatever methods I might use, and whatever achievements I might attain, my goal is not going to change. I plan to devote my entire life to the struggle for democracy in China. I hope to continue using three criteria for measuring the worth of my actions. Have I been responsible: 1) to the Chinese people; 2) to history; and 3) to my own conscience?

Today, as I speak at this spot in one of the freest cities on earth, I feel a special duty to speak for the courageous people who remain trapped inside some of the least free spots in the whole world—the cells of the Chinese prison system. It would be wrong if the world’s concern for me and for a few famous dissidents were to draw attention away from the legion of lesser-known Chinese political prisoners. These include Liu Nianchun, Li Hai, Gao Yu, Liu Xiaobo, and many, many others. The outcry of world opinion has always been immensely important inside China. Let us resolve to work together until every last one of China’s political prisoners has regained his or her freedom. [End Page 180]

I dream of a day in China when the ideas of freedom, democracy, human sympathy, tolerance, and equality have pervaded people’s hearts and minds and have radically transformed the patterns of social life. When that day comes, we can cease our tears, forget every painful memory, and watch China advance toward a magnificent and brilliant new day. If we all work hard for that day to come, it will, I believe, come.

The Americas

On April 18–19, leaders from the member states of the Organization of American States met in Santiago, Chile, for the Second Summit of the Americas. Excerpts from the Declaration of Santiago, signed by the heads of state in attendance, appear below:

The strength and meaning of representative democracy lie in the active participation of individuals at all levels of civic life. The democratic culture must encompass our entire population. We will strengthen education for democracy and promote the necessary actions for government institutions to become more participatory structures. We undertake to strengthen the capabilities of regional and local governments, when appropriate, and to foster more active participation in civil society.

Respect for and promotion of human rights and the fundamental freedoms of all individuals [are] a primary concern of our governments. In commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we agree on the need to promote the ratification and implementation of the international agreements aimed at preserving them and to continue strengthening the pertinent national and international institutions. We agree that a free press plays a fundamental role in this area and we reaffirm the importance of guaranteeing freedom of expression, information, and opinion. We commend the recent appointment of a Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, within the framework of the Organization of American States.


On April 3, Milo Đukanović, president of the Republic of Montenegro (which along with the Republic of Serbia constitutes the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), released a document entitled “Strategic Initiatives of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Fundamentals for a New Beginning.” Excerpts appear below:

[A]part from the need to embrace a new economic system, Yugoslavia must also become a country where the rule of law and democratization of the political sphere are established. Instead of rules which increasingly [End Page 181] lead to establishment of a personal oligarchy in the country, we need the rule of law and legal security of the citizens.

The democratization of society should create a political climate indispensable for all these changes. Without widespread changes in the political sphere, first and foremost in the sphere of democratization, it will be impossible to implement changes in the economy or any other field. The political system must enable each individual to care for his or her own well-being and happiness, while the task of the state is to create conditions in which each individual will be able to realize this, in a productive, ethically founded, and respectable manner. The direction of strategic changes implies expansion of personal freedoms, along with an intensified personal accountability. Democracy is not anarchy. Democracy means freedom, but also responsibility.


On April 9, the France-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues organized a briefing on “Human Rights and Asian Values” at the 54th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. At the briefing, prominent Asian dissidents and activists spoke out against claims that “Asian values” are incompatible with universal human rights. Excerpts from some of their speeches appear below:

Aung San Suu Kyi (Burma, by videotape): We are working for democ-racy in Burma not because we think that democracy is a magic word that will resolve all the problems of our country. We are working for democracy because we understand that democracy is a system which believes in the protection of the basic human rights of the people. . . . Unless our people enjoy basic human rights we will not enjoy peace or prosperity in this country. Those who claim that they will not interfere in the internal affairs of Burma do not hesitate to be involved economically in Burma. As long as they are involved economically, how can they say they are not interfering in the internal affairs of our country? If they are prepared to engage economically, then they must also be prepared to do what they can to help us resolve our political problems. There is no way we can resolve our economic problems without political solutions.

Wei Jingsheng (China): For the last few years, I have heard a lot of authoritarian governments declare that we [Asians] have our own unique Asian values and we do not accept the universality of human rights. I equate this kind of “Asian values declaration” with Nazi Germany’s declarations of racial superiority. First of all, it’s an insult to the Asian people. Why don’t Asians require basic human rights? Basic protection, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, these are basic values that all of us accept as human needs. As for those who [End Page 182] advocate so-called Asian values, including the Chinese Communist Party, their values don’t come from China or Asia. They adapted theories and values from those whom not even the Europeans wanted to adopt, and it’s all a big deceit.

Vo Van Ai (president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights): Asian exceptionalism is used by governments as an excuse to repress human rights with impunity. It is employed as a new weapon in the post-Cold War conflict. . . . The drama of Asian people, and Vietna-mese people in particular, is not only caused by authoritarian, total-itarian, or militarist regimes. It is also caused by Western countries who are now sacrificing the universality of human rights on the altar of the free market. The noble principles so painstakingly developed over the past three hundred years, from the 1689 English Bill of Rights, the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man, are being betrayed by the capitulation of Western countries today.

In the case of Vietnam, the Communist Party does not stand for Vietnamese values. Its ideology has no precedent in five thousand years of Vietnamese history. On the contrary, it is an intrusion of a purely Western ideology—Marxism—in a society founded on Buddhism and Confucianism.

Lobsang Nyandak (executive director of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy): All of us desire happiness and freedom from suffering. Torture is torture everywhere. Killing an Eastern man or killing a Western man is the same. We are all basically the same human beings, no matter which country we belong to. . . . Throughout our long history of more than two thousand years, Tibetans have no modern concept of human rights as such, but our religion teaches us to protect and respect the dignity of human rights. The essence of Tibetan Buddhism is: “If you cannot help others, do not harm them.” Tibetans respect and consider the life of all human beings as precious and sacred.

José Ramos-Horta (East Timor): This so-called “Asian values” argument is nothing but a political slogan. It has no content, no substance. Those who talk about “Asian values,” especially [Prime Minister] Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia, the Singaporeans, and the Chinese, they never really articulated what are these “Asian values” that are so special, so different from the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as freedom from persecution, from torture, from arbitrary arrest, and so on. In reality, what they are saying seems to be quite a perversion of what we know are some of the most cherished ideas and values, not only in Asian societies, but all over the world, that is the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of the family, and so on. . . .

If we read philosophers and religious teachings from the Eastern religions like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, over centuries, for [End Page 183] thousands of years, they always preached about social justice, about compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, about humility. The reality is, if you look at the behavior of Li Peng, Jiang Zemin in China, Lee Kwan Yew in Singapore, Mahathir in Malaysia, Suharto in Indonesia, they certainly are not very humble, not very modest, not compassionate, not forgiving, not tolerant. So it is an absolute hypocrisy for those in Asia who attempt to lecture us about some very special “Asian values.” No, it is pure political slogan, no substance. In fact it is an affront, an insult to people in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, China, India, who for hundreds of years have fought against tyranny, against dictatorship.

Hong Kong

In May 24 elections for the Legislative Council, the first since its handover to China, Hong Kong posted its highest-ever electoral turnout at 53.3 percent, despite torrential rain and manipulated election laws. Martin Lee’s Democratic Party and its allies won over 60 percent of the popular vote, but only 20 out of 60 seats, thanks to restrictive electoral rules employed to guarantee the pro-Beijing makeup of the legislature. The following are excerpts from comments made by Martin Lee after the vote:

This is a phenomenal affirmation of the democratic process. There could be no clearer message from Hong Kong people. They have defied terrible weather conditions, terrible election laws, and conventional wisdom to make their democratic aspirations known.

The world has always underestimated Hong Kong people. Now they have spoken with one voice to say that we in Hong Kong want to choose our own leaders through democratic elections. They have said, “We are Chinese and we want democracy.” And, clearly, this democratic triumph under Chinese rule has broader implications for all of China’s 1.2 billion people.

Our party has won close to half of the popular vote, but because the process is weighted in favor of pro-Beijing parties, we will have a minority in the legislature. Our votes will be strongly outnumbered by those who did not dare stand for genuine election and who are manifestly not representative of Hong Kong people.

These elections have confirmed that the trend toward more open, democratic, and accountable societies across Asia is unstoppable. We have been fighting for many years for this goal and we intend to use our clear mandate from Hong Kong people to push for full democracy in Hong Kong—both for the Legislative Council and for the post of Chief Executive. We are profoundly grateful to Hong Kong people for giving us this opportunity.