AUSTRALIA'S UNJUST LEGISLATION ON CHINESE REFUGEES.
Rita M. Joseph (Internet address )
27 March 1995
It will be interesting to see what the Australian Government
makes of Amnesty International's latest revelations concerning
Catholics in Northern China being subjected to arbitrary
detention and torture for breaching China's one-child policy.
Can Australia's Immigration Minister, Senator Bolkus, go on
believing that China's one-child policy is being implemented
without coercion? Was he misleading Australians or was he
himself misled when he gave assurances recently that the one-
child policy is being enforced only "by means of financial
sanctions, education, and propaganda"?
There was another glaring error in Senator Bolkus's stance.
China's one-child policy, he said, is of general application and
therefore is not inherently persecutory.
History has shown definitively that totalitarian governments are
all too capable of applying persecutory policies to whole
populations, e.g. Pol Pot's savage ruralization programs.
Apartheid is another infamous example of persecution applied on a
grand scale to a majority.
Senator Bolkus must ditch his comfortable illusion that
persecution can apply only to minorities.
No amount of clever word play can obfuscate the basic truth that
there is no honorably defensible distinction between serious
violations of human rights and persecution. Piffling semantics
are no substitute for real live justice on human rights. Every
serious violation of human rights constitutes a persecution of
individuals singled out from the rest of humanity for inhumane
Experience of persecution is always essentially personal and
individual. The persecuted may suffer in solitude or along with
millions, but the pain is always excruciatingly intimate to the
person. Pain is irrelevant to the numerical size of any group to
which one may or may not belong. There is no group persecution
existing prior to or independently of the lives, ideals, fears
and hopes of individual persons. A particular person, for
whatever reason, is selected for persecution precisely when
singled out for exclusion from the rights and the dignities that
belong inherently and inalienably to the entire membership, past
present and future, of the most significant group of all, the
There can be no valid ethical distinction between persecution en
masse and persecution of more manageable minorities. With the
escalation of numbers subject to persecution, Australia's
obligation to do something about it should, in all conscience,
increase not decrease.
Fundamental obligations of decency dictate not only that we must
accept, at least temporarily, all refugees fleeing persecution,
but also that we must join in the international condemnation of
any government's policies that give rise to waves of refugees.
Logically, with revelation of the staggering numbers of victims
of China's one-child policy, the volume and stringency of that
condemnation should intensify rather than falter into a whimper
of cowardly complicity.
The Australian Government places excessively pedantic weight on
the UN Refugee Convention requirement that refugees must have a
well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of "membership of a
particular social group". The particular social group here,
fertile Chinese couples fearing forced abortion and
sterilization, is a very large one. But it is nonetheless both
smaller than and distinctively separate from the whole human
membership which enjoys by virtue of that membership the basic
human right to procreate.
The basic human right of every couple to decide freely and
responsibly the number and spacing of their children was
reasserted by all countries, including China, at the Cairo
Conference on Population and Development.
Despite this, the Chinese government has usurped from its
nationals the natural autonomy enjoyed by the rest of the human
species over procreation. The power of procreation has been
given to mothers and fathers, and in the natural order of things,
should remain with them. The regulation of births is not the
rightful domain of any government.
Chinese couples are being subjected to appalling persecution
because they are Chinese. No other race in the world is being
systemically persecuted according to the number of pregnancies
incurred. The justification for persecution is the perception
that there are too many Chinese. That both the Chinese and
Australian governments concur in this sweeping judgment does not
lessen the racism rife in this attitude. If the savageries of a
one-child policy were to be exercised on Britons, would the
Australian government's response be different? Yet Britain is
one of more than thirty countries with greater population density
per square kilometre of agricultural land than China.
It is unfortunate that Senator Bolkus is trapped in anachronistic
Malthusianism. His Departmental minders need to update his
reading on population growth, to encompass the growing body of
internationally respected research and scholarship that has
brought rapid progress towards a more profound, multi-faceted
understanding of population issues.
Crucial to this understanding is the recognition by a number of
excellently credentialled demographers that the global
demographic transition is far more likely to be hastened by
development than by coercive population control policies. World
fertility and birthrates have been declining since 1955. China's
growth rate, in decline sine the 1960s, is now below replacement
level. This year there will be fewer babies born on every
continent other than Africa. The 1994 UN World Population
Prospects low variant projection sees total world population
declining less than fifty years from now.
Governments must be made to understand the temporary nature of
population growth. Bolkus's Immigration Department needs to
develop a far more critical attitude towards glib "over-
population" excuses for the systemic coercion operating in the
one-child policy. It should reject Bolkus's simplistic neo-
Malthusian vision of China's future population as an endless
series of geometrical progressions that will overflow onto an
armada of Chinese boats threatening Australian shores.
In the meantime, the Keating government needs to grapple with the
immensity of human rights abuse in China. All the following are
well documented to be both routine and widespread:
* Forced full-term abortions: mothers arriving in labour at
the hospital are asked for their child-bearing licences. Babies
being delivered without a licence are given "the poison shot". A
hypodermic syringe filled with iodine or formaldehyde is injected
through a 5cm needle directly into the soft part of the baby's
head as it crowns. The baby can take up to 48 hours to die.
* Maternal mortality rates have been rising in China since the
1980s as a direct result of the proscription of illegal children
under the one-child policy. The psychological and physical
consequences on maternal health have been calamitous.
* Every woman of child-bearing age, even if infertile, is
subject to offensively intrusive monitoring of her menstrual
cycle with mandatory three-monthly pelvic examinations to make
sure that an unauthorized baby is not on the way.
* Detection of unauthorized pregnancies, even if it is a first
pregnancy, means compulsory abortion. Mothers who express
reluctance are subjected first to "study sessions", then to
harassment; fathers who won't persuade mothers to abort are
beaten and imprisoned, and extended family members are harassed,
threatened, and fined daily for the mother's recalcitrance until
the mother's "consent" is successfully forced. Higher
authorities use the Nazi tactic of punishing the whole village or
the whole factory for the escape of even one mother with an
A disturbing account of the atrocities listed above was furnished
by Stephen Mosher to the Senate Inquiry on Bolkus's new refugee
laws. It was as a Stanford anthropologist working in a Chinese
rural commune in 1980 that Stephen Mosher first alerted the world
to the vicious nature of the one-child policy.
Confronted with 15 years of painstaking accumulation of evidence,
it is unconscionable that any government could continue to deny
or to deliberately trivialize the appalling suffering of Chinese
couples under their government's one-child policy.
The Keating government insists that the new Migration Legislation
Amendment Bill No 4 will send a stern message to the Chinese
victims of the one-child policy that it is useless to even
attempt to seek refugee status in Australia. It is however the
cruellest of ironies that the real message being sent by this
legislation is a loud clear message to the totalitarian rulers of
those victims that Australia endorses their infamous policy.
Strong unequivocal condemnation of Chinese policy is urgently
needed. This is not the time for Australians to shilly-shally in
morally bankrupt diplomacies of appeasement. China, awaiting the
imminent death of Deng Xiaoping, teeters on the brink of anarchy
and upheaval the ferocity of which promises to shake our world.
Its million-strong army, riddled with corruption and
profiteering, has been re-equipped with some $70 billion worth of
sophisticated Russian weaponry, and has developed a nuclear
capability. Already Chinese expansionism has made a bold clear
thrust into the South China Sea, seizing the Spratley Islands
from Vietnam, and more recently, some island territory from the
In view of this, it is ludicrous for the Australian Government to
be ramming through this ill-conceived defensive legislation
against some 900 Chinese boat people. The far more disturbing
potential threat lies in the Chinese acquisition of modern
submarines newly purchased from Russia, not a few old wooden
boats carrying Chinese refugees seeking sanctuary from heinous