AS TOP representatives of China and Slovakia bring further evidence of the above-standard nature of mutual relations, human rights activists claim a more reserved attitude would suit Slovakia better.
On June 25 President Rudolf Schuster presented the departing Chinese ambassador Yuan Guisen with the White Cross Second Class a state honour for outstanding contribution to the promotion of Slovakia's interests.
According to the SITA news agency, Schuster thanked the ambassador for helping to improve bilateral relations between China and Slovakia. The president also stressed Guisen's role in the 'successful course' of his visit to China in January of this year.
Recent media reports say that visit indeed exceeded expectations. On June 20 the Slovak state news agency TASR reported that Chinese President Jiang Zemin had decided to donate an X-ray inspection system to be used at border crossings to 'the people of Slovakia'.
The device, using the latest Chinese technology, is reported to be worth as much as Sk20 million (€482,000) and will be used for scanning trucks entering the country from Ukraine for illegal cargo.
According to the daily SME, the move came as a surprise to Slovak and Chinese representatives alike and the unprecedented move may have been a reward for the excellent impression the Slovak delegation had made on the head of China.
However, human right organisations, among them Amnesty International (AI), are saying Slovak politicians need to remember that trade is not all that matters in international relations.
"We would certainly welcome Slovak representatives taking a clearer stand on the issue of human rights," said Barbora Černušáková, AI's Bratislava office director.
Černušáková pointed out the fact that a memorandum between China and Slovakia signed during Schuster's visit did not mention human rights concerns.
AI reports indicate that violations of human rights in China include unfounded detentions, imprisonment, torture, and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. Freedom of speech and association, and the rights of workers, especially labour union activists, are also not observed.
Concerns also include the extensive use of capital punishment in China. 1921 people were sentenced to death and 1060 executions were performed during 2002, according to AI.
Slovak officials included a clause in a memorandum signed between Slovakia and China, which states that the parties are aware of 'differing attitudes to some issues, including human rights'.
However, Černušáková mentioned that even in Slovakia Chinese officials are trying to have their way.
"In December 2001 members of the [religious group] Falun Gong asked for our assistance, because they wanted to organise a public meeting, but the [Bratislava] city council refused to allow them to," said Černušáková.
"However, no permission is required for holding such a meeting, you only need to announce it. The council representatives told us that they would not [accept announcements] that mention Falun Gong. They argued that when they previously let Falun Gong organise events, they were contacted by the Chinese embassy, which complained that a sect was being given space," she continued.
"For us it was a shocking experience that the Chinese embassy could communicate with Slovak authorities in such a manner and that our authorities accepted it. Whether Falun Gong is a sect or not is irrelevant, what matters is that Slovakia has certain laws, which should apply on an equal basis," Černušáková concluded.
Černušáková did not want to speculate on why Slovak representatives are reluctant to be tough on China.
"It is not our role to comment on the motives [of Slovak policy toward China]," she said.
At the time of his visit, President Schuster, known for his focus on the economic aspects of the bilateral relationship, said: "We would not gain anything by [criticism]. After all, even much more powerful countries than Slovakia are taking a very pragmatic approach to China."
According to AI statements, this attitude makes Slovakia look like "a country that ignores violations of human rights".
Moreover, experts suggest that a fear of pointing out human rights deficits of the Chinese system may not necessarily be grounded.
"I think that Slovak representatives would not make business relations between the two countries any worse if they constructively criticised the human rights situation in China," said Rastislav Šulla, a top advisor at the Economy Ministry.
"Top Chinese representatives, as well as Chinese businessmen and the general public perceive Slovakia as a country with which they have excellent experience in the field of economic cooperation," Šulla said.
7. Jul 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila