Fortune magazine’s 1999 Global Forum opened in Shanghai today, with the issue of human rights glaringly absent from the agenda. The omission occurs despite Human Rights in China’s repeated appeals to Fortune editors, Time Warner executives and business leaders who are attending the conference. As the forum is in progress through September 29, Human Rights in China (HRIC) again calls upon conference participants to raise the issue of human rights in their discussions.
Entitled, "China: The Next 50 Years," the conference gathers more than five hundred CEOs, academics, economists and government officials, including Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who gave the keynote address. Among the U.S. executives on the conference roster are those who control a vast share of American media, including John Welch of General Electric, which owns NBC; Gerald Levin of Time Warner; and Sumner Redstone of Viacom.
HRIC believes the conference’s exclusion of human rights sends a misguided signal. Beijing and the rest of the world must not believe that the major American media and the international business communities have declared human rights a non-issue for China now or in the future.
As business interests are crowding out human rights concerns, this forum, which focuses on the future of China, provides a unique and necessary opportunity for frank discussion.
"Business cannot be conducted in a vacuum. China’s dismal human rights situation directly impacts the climate in which companies operate," said Xiao Qiang, HRIC executive director. "The business community’s fundamental concerns for transparency and true rule of law hinge upon the freedoms of expression and information, and the recognition and protection of individual rights."
The People’s Republic of China is preparing for its 50th anniversary. But there’s little for the Chinese people to celebrate. Despite recent economic reform, the Chinese people have endured the denial of their basic human rights for the last five decades. As the China is recalling its past and looking toward the next millenium, human rights must be put on the agenda. HRIC hopes at least one executive will hear this plea and have the courage to speak up.