Wetenschap - 15 februari 2001

Reactions to the cancellation of ministerial visit

Reactions to the cancellation of ministerial visit

Last week Tuesday Dr Peter Ho of the Environmental Policy Group had packed his bags ready for his trip to China. As the interpreter for the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Van Aartsen, Ho was to accompany him on a five-day visit to China in order to talk about environmental problems and the human-rights situation.

However, only six hours before departure Van Aartsen cancelled his visit after the Chinese government expressed its wish that the Dutch ambassador for human rights not go ahead with a planned meeting with Falun Gong in Hong Kong. Peter Ho: "Of course I was very disappointed. But in a way I also was relieved, because an assignment like this is usually pretty stressful." Asked whether the refusal of minister Van Aartsen will have an impact on political relations between China and the Netherlands, Peter Ho and his Chinese colleague, sandwich PhD student Zhang Lei, had different opinions about the matter.

Confrontation

Zhang Lei learnt about the situation from Chinese friends, who had information from a Chinese website. She commented, "It said that the visit was postponed to a later date (probably May) because that was a more suitable time and schedule. But other websites gave different explanations. I was very surprised, because although Falun Gong is the centre of much attention at the moment in China, the postponed visit of the minister is not important news in the Chinese media. In my opinion it was not a wise decision of the minister. The Dutch have a good name in China: their environmental efforts are well known for example. Confrontation with the government will lead nowhere; the government can never lose face. Everyone should learn from the American experience with China: if you oppose them, you cannot work with them. If you work with them, you get things done. How is he supposed to help the Chinese people, if that is his aim? I think by talking with the government, not by refusing to come."

Peter Ho: "All the arrangements for the visit were made in December last year. The Ambassador for Human Rights was part of the delegation. Meeting the Falun Gong was in her programme; of course, that is her job. I am sure the Chinese government knew about it, because the request for a visit has to be made up to a year beforehand. But whether or not Van Aartsen would join the ambassador was never quite clear. They had different programmes. Nevertheless, I think the minister has chosen the best way out: by not going he has avoided an awkward situation."

Direct contact

Zhang Lei is rather sceptical about the general opinion concerning China in the Netherlands and other countries. "People only hear one side of the situation in China. To see is to believe: tourists who visit my country are utterly surprised by what they see there. It is completely different from what they hear and read about China. Of course the government tries to control the situation. But I was a student during the student uprising. I even took part in it. I did not like the way the government dealt with the students, but I can understand why. Personally, I would like to see more and more direct contacts between the people of these two countries like on the exchange programmes. These give people the chance to see the differences between the two societies themselves and I believe they are wise enough to make their own judgement."

Lydia Wubbenhorst

Zhang Lei will make a 10-day trip to China in March as a representative of Wageningen UR to talk with students interested in coming to Wageningen to follow an MSc programme.

The changing face of China: street view of Nanjing City in the rapidly urbanising Jiangsu Province contrasts with the more traditional view of Luzhi in the same province. Sandwich PhD student Zhang Lei is conducting research within the Department of Environmental Policy on 'Ecologising industrialisation in Chinese small towns'. She is also working an a cooperation project between the Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Ministry of Science and Technology in China. Minister of Foreign Affairs Van Aartsen was scheduled to have talks on environmental policy during his visit which was cancelled last week. Photos: Zhang Lei

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