Report on Visit to China
A delegation from the UK's Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament - CND (Kate Hudson, Bruce Kent and me) travelled to Beijing at the end of May in response to an invitation from the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD).
The CPAPD was founded in June 1985 and is the largest Chinese non-governmental peace association with a total of 24 member organizations. Its objectives are “to promote mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between the peoples of China and the rest of the world in joint efforts to maintain world peace, oppose arms race and war, achieve arms control and disarmament, strive for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, protect ecological environment and promote economic development and social progress.” The CPAPD has links with more than 300 NGOs and research institutions in about 90 countries and is actively engaged in research on arms control, disarmament, peace and security. It has Consultative Status with the ECOSOC of the United Nations and is a member of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO). It publishes a quarterly journal “PEACE” in English and has a website - http://www.cpapd.org.cn/.
All the expenses of the visit (including rooms in the very pleasant Diao Yu Tai hotel where the Six Party talks on North Korea took place) except air fares were taken care of by the CPAPD. We were very well looked after and given full VIP treatment on arrival on 28th May. We were welcomed by CPAPD representatives who collected our baggage and sorted out immigration procedures while we waited in the VIP lounge. After an hour or two to recover from the flight, we were guests of honour at a dinner with Mme. Shen Shuji, Vice President of the CPAPD and former Vice President of the All-China Women's Federation. She was particularly pleased to see that a woman was leading our delegation and we exchanged pleasantries and information about our respective organisations and activities. We also heard about the growing economic development of China and the role that women play politically and in society generally.
The next day (Tuesday) we started with an early breakfast and were driven to the Wan Shou Hotel (rather than the CPAPD offices which were currently undergoing refurbishment – as many were buildings in Beijing - in readiness for the Olympic visitors?). Here we met with prominent members of CPAPD including Mr. Niu Qiang, Secretary General, Mr. Wang Changyong, Deputy Secretary General and Mr. Hou Hongyu, head of research. Our discussion on our respective origins, structures and activities extended over a working lunch after which we left for the Foreign Ministry for a meeting with Ambassador Hu Xiaodi (Former Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs) at the Department of Arms Control.
This was a very interesting meeting. The Ambassador seemed very concerned about the lack of progress at the NPT Prep Com and the failure to make headway with the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) talks at the UN First Committee on Disarmament. For some years now China and Russia have attempted to progress talks on PAROS but the US has always denied the need for such talks saying that there is no such thing as an arms race in outer space. When questioned about the anti-satellite (ASAT) test conducted in January by China, there was a suggestion that the purpose was to persuade the US to take these talks seriously. This may be the case but there are alternative suggestions, including the proposition that Chinese politicians and diplomats did not know that their own military were about to perform the test which was part of an ongoing ASAT development programme. Some news reports showed that the US had been monitoring activity leading up to these tests, and the eventual destruction of an old Chinese weather satellite, but chose not to say anything until it had actually happened.
In the evening we were taken, by our guide and translator Mr Chen, to the traditional Beijing Opera at the Li Yuan Theatre. Driving through the streets of Beijing is some experience. There is a tremendous amount of traffic (about 1,000 new cars are introduced on the roads of Beijing every day!) and vehicles are moving rapidly in and between lanes. We had several near misses but our driver seemed to be used to the mayhem and didn’t seem bothered by it at all. At the theatre we saw two very spectacular, colourful and energetic performances. Beijing opera is a synthesis of stylized action, singing, dialogue and mime, acrobatic fighting and dancing to represent a story or depict different characters and their feelings of joy, anger, surprise, fear and sadness. There are generally four main roles: sheng (male) dan (young female), jing (painted face,male), and chou (clown, male or female). The characters’ make up and costumes are wonderful and the evening was warmly welcomed by an enthusiastic audience of tourists and local people.
On Wednesday after breakfast we left for the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) and met with the Vice President, Mr. Wang Zaibang, and half a dozen members of his department. At just about all our meetings we were asked whether the imminent change in Prime Minister would make a difference to UK Foreign and Defence Policies. Unfortunately we had to keep repeating that indications were that it would only be ‘business as usual’. Dave had met Mr Zaibang previously at conference in Xiamen last year on Global Security. It was very interesting again to share thoughts and concerns at first hand on issues ranging from nuclear proliferation to space weapons.
We had time before lunch for a walk in the park next to our hotel. There we lingered on two or three occasions to listen to groups of people gathering together to sing. Apparently this is quite common not only in parks but also squares and street corners. Coming across a lake in the park we hired a boat and Kate was positioned at the bow and rode in some majesty (as far as that was possible in a pedal boat in the shape of a duck) around the lake powered(?) along by Bruce and me.
After lunch we left for an inevitable visit to the Great Wall which was busy but very impressive. In the evening we were joined at dinner by Mr. Ma Hui, Deputy Director-General of Bureau VII (North American, Oceanic and Scandinavian Affairs) of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Kate had already met Mr Hui in London where he had studied for a Masters degree at UCL and we had a frank and friendly discussion with him on a number of issues including the problems associated with US policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
On Thursday morning we visited Peking University (it is still called Peking University – it was from here that Jeffrey Sachs delivered the second of his recent Reith lectures) and met with a professor and researchers from the School of International Relations – they too were keen to know if Gordon Brown was likely to be a very different PM from Tony Blair. Here we also came across another theory regarding the Chinese ASAT test – i.e. it was carried out as a warning to the US to stay clear of Taiwan. This was a new one to me.
After lunch we visited Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (the city within a city that was once the home of Chinese Emperors). There was a lot of reconstruction work taking place here too – getting ready for the many visitors that are expected during the Olympic Games. In the evening we were taken to a special dinner at a famous Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant hosted by CPAPD Secretary General Mr. Niu. Everywhere we went we saw the amazing economic development that defines modern China. There are enormous buildings, cars, a range of expensive shops – all the things you would associate with any large city in the West. Mr Niu explained that certain (mainly coastal) areas of China had been specially earmarked for rapid economic growth and the wealth brought in to these areas was bringing benefits to all sectors of society. It was now time he said for effort to be focused on some of the rural areas where most of the poorer people lived. Of course, their rapid economic growth has many associated problems and the Chinese people are aware of their responsibility to the environment and to the people in rural areas. However, they do not want to slow down growth too much as they see it as a way of bringing more help and social well being to all citizens, and getting the balance right is not easy.
On Friday morning there was a little time for Bruce to visit the Beijing Catholic Cathedral while Kate and I visited the church of consumerism at the local market. After a secluded lunch (there was another conference taking up the main dining room of the hotel and so we were placed in one of the many large private dining rooms) we said goodbye to Mr. Niu Qiang (who was busy at the conference) and were taken to the airport and again given VIP treatment so that instead of the usual waiting around and queuing for ages before boarding we were drinking tea in a VIP lounge and fast tracked through the various stages of embarkation (although, once on the plane, we still ended up in economy class).
Overall the visit was extremely interesting and very useful. People were most friendly and our hosts accommodating and very attentive. We were treated extremely well and everyone seemed to be expressing themselves freely and honestly. The Chinese people were very aware of their history and considered themselves to be the victims of many events in the past. The impression I got was of a country struggling to cope with rapid growth and a huge population that wants its share of wealth and a prominent place in the modern world. There did appear to be a genuine concern for an improvement in international understanding and global relations and a wish to work for multilateral disarmament. As a parting comment Bruce emphasized that we believe that it is up to groups like ours to apply pressure to our governments to take more initiatives on disarmament issues as a hint that maybe the CPAPD could do more to try and influence their country’s policies rather than act merely as a way of introducing government policy to outside groups and NGOs.
We have come away with a number of possible collaborative ideas to follow up and have invited the CPAPD to the International Conference that CND will be organizing next year. They accepted that invitation with some enthusiasm and so we look forward to furthering our relationship with them and repaying some of their hospitality in London in February.
Dave Webb is a Professor of Engineering at Leeds Metropolitan Univeristy and is Chair of Yorkshire Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He is also the Chair of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space
PO Box 652
Brunswick, ME 04011
http://space4peace.blogspot.com (our blog)