China’s Charter 08 – a civic call worth noticing

Cecilia Milwertz Senior researcher NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies


On 9 December 2008, the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration og Human Rights, a group of 303 citizens of the Peoples Republic of China including writers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, retired party officials, workers, farmers and businessmen issued Charter 08 / ???? calling for major changes of the Chinese political system. The Charter presents nineteen proposals on constitutional reform, judicial independence, freedom of expression and human rights protection. By January 2009 thousands had signed the document.

Signers detained – Liu Xiaobo arrested Several of the signers, including among others writer Wen Kejian, Hangzhou, Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and physicist Jiang Qisheng as well as journalist Gao Wu, writer Liu Di and rights lawyer Teng Biao have been detained and questioned by the police The literary critic Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December. A map created by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, shows known Charter 08-related detentions.

Inspired by Charter 77 Charter 08 is inspired by Charter 77 issued by citizens in Czechoslovakia in January 1977 among others Václav Havel, who later became the President of Czechoslovakia. Charter 77 was printed in a West German newspaper and circulated in Czechoslovakia by an informal association of citizens who criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed. The document described the signatories as a

‘free, informal open community of people of different conviction, different faiths, and different professions united by their will to strive, individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our country and throughout the world.’

Objectives – what does Charter 08 ask for? Signers of Charter 08 are asking their government for the right to question government policies. They are asking for protection of human rights, independent judiciary and freedom of expression.

Signers of Charter state that they

‘dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement. Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.’

(all quotes in this blog are from the English version translated by Perry Link)

Avoiding violent conflict Charter 08 is a call to avoid the escalation of crisis and violence. As Ian Buruma notes in his Project Syndicate article

‘There is nothing incendiary about Charter 08, no call for violent rebellion, no thirst for revenge or retribution.’

On the contrary, the document warns that as

‘…conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society-the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas-becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.’

Some international reactions More than 300 internationally known authors have signed a petition in support of Liu Xiaobo.

The EU has expressed concern over Charter 08 arrests and has urged Chinese authorities to provide ‘prompt information’ on the ‘conditions under which Mr Liu is being held and the reasons for his arrest.’

Václav Havel, in a statement in support of Charter 08 and Liu Xiaobo, reminds us that

‘China is not Czechoslovakia in 1977. In many ways, China today is freer and more open country than my own country of 30 years ago. And yet, the response of Chinese authorities to Charter 08 in many ways parallels the Czechoslovak government’s response to Charter 77. Rather than respond to an offer of engagement with dialogue and debate, the Czechoslovak government instead chose repression. It arrested the signatories, interrogated and harassed others and spread disinformation about our movement and its aims.’

See Wikipedia Charter 08 for a comprehensive overview of comments and reactions.

Will the outcome of Charter 08 be as dramatic as that of Charter 77? As Rebecca MacKinnon notes in her blog, it is too soon to tell.

University class turned peace process. Senior Reseacher Timo Kivimäki, NIAS

Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province has suffered from communal conflict and at the turn of the millennium the Indonesian province became infamous for two massive cannibalistic riots. While the massive violence has not continued there have been smaller violent incidents with several people killed every year. None of the conflict disputes have been solved either.  NIAS-led peace studies network on the ASEM Education Hub platform has been working in the areas offering teaching on conflict resolution and peace studies in several M.A. classes at the local Tanjungpura University. One of the classes has been targeted to the very same ethnic leaders who mobilized the mass riots and later tried to make peace with each other. On December 15th, this class stepped out of its educational platform and transferred itself into a peace process under the auspices of the vice president of Indonesia. This transition could offer a model for how purely academic work can serve the purpose of capacity building for peace and actual pre-negotiation for a peace process.


ASEM Peace Studies Network teaching in Kalimantan has been based on an assumption that while recognizing the expertise of local intellectuals in understanding the local conflict conditions, comparative research can still offer something to deepen this understanding. Every lecture starts with a general lecture based on comparative conflict studies, focused on a theme that is crucial for the understanding of the conflict in West Kalimantan. In a way the introduction of each lecture attempts to carry lessons from conflicts all over the world for the scrutiny in West Kalimantan. This has been my task. Next the local professor, Dr. Syarif I, Alqadrie has applied the global lessons to the Kalimantan context. In the third phase, the “students”, who, of course are the main actors in West Kalimantan conflict, elected leaders of ethnic associations of each major ethnic group from the five conflict-affected districts, discuss the Kalimantan experience trying to think what went wrong in the run-up to the conflict, and what should be done to prevent the conflict from escalating again. It is natural that in this process, a lot of practical negotiation takes place between the leaders of the main conflicting community leaders. However, a university class cannot pretend to be a negotiation venue: whatever the community leaders would accept in front of a European “Bule Gila” (crazy foreigner) will have little influence when objective interests run counter the commitments in an educational event. Yet, it would have been such a waste to keep the cooperation purely academic, and not to utilize the confidence built in the class, and the explicit consensus “pre-negotiated” around such crucial issues as how to prevent violent inter-ethnic crime from turning into communal conflict, how to help the police react quickly in the case of conflict triggering events by offering them community-base conflict early warning, and how to foster communication and confidence building between communities. During the year 2008 NIAS has worked on a solution that could help the situation.


Indonesia’s vice president is known for his expertise in conflict resolution. After “master-minding” three major peace processes in Indonesia, in Poso, Ambon and Aceh, he has also received a number of international offers for mediation of protracted conflicts. This is why it was natural for me to approach vice president’s able deputy for political affairs, Prof. Djohermansyah, who is also a conflict specialist, and a former student of the father of peace research, Norwegian Johan Galtung. Prof. Djohermansyah did not need much persuasion; he saw the potential of progress in West Kalimantan from the start. Preparations for the conversion of the ethnic leaders’ class into a permanent communication forum started in spring 2008. Finally, on December 15, Professor Djohermansyah joined the ASEM program, and took over the ethnic class, and inaugurated the West Kalimantan Ethnic Communication Forum. The inauguration ceremony was attended by public officials of the province on all levels of regional administration, as well as by the provincial police chief, all chiefs of the police districts. As expected, the inaugural meeting of West Kalimantan Ethnic Communication Forum reached agreements on many issues crucial for conflict prevention. The Pasir Panjang Declaration establishing the forum was signed by the ethnic leaders, the two initiators of the forum (Alqadrie and I) and the facilitator of the work of the forum, Prof. Djohermansyah. Furthermore, the forum decided on the principles of operation, conflict early warning cooperation with the provincial police, crisis management action (to be taken after a “triggering event” has taken place), work for the removal of root causes of conflict, and on the practical working forms and schedules of the forum. Many issues will be left for further meetings, but the fact that all the leaders of each of the conflict districts value the permanence of dialogue and problem solving between communities, is already a long step towards the right direction. Ethnic leaders are not all-mighty, conflict can of course happen even if these leaders opposed it. But with this cooperation it is unlikely, that these leaders mobilized the mobs and militias. It is also less likely, that ordinary people can mobilize ethnic sentiments for violent purposes if the respected ethnic leaders explicitly go against such mobilization. Even if there were youth groups who tried to frame an individual inter-ethnic criminal event in communal terms calling for a communal revenge, most members of the community would probably refrain and listen to their ethnic leaders instead of youth groups in the question of what ones communal affiliation and loyalty requires from them. While not able to resolve all conflict problems of the province, ethnic leaders are probably at best in defining what ethnicity can and cannot be used for. Thus a united stand by ethnic leaders against using ethnic loyalties for the mobilization of violence can be a meaningful contribution in the prevention of future conflict and in the resolving of old ones. The fact that a university class could spill overt this kind of united stand, proves that theory is practical and university collaboration can serve societies. There is nothing “merely academic” about purely academic work.

2008: Ups and downs in Korea

 by Geir Helgesen, Senior Researcher, NIAS

Last year in Korea was, as was previous years, filled with ups and downs, hopes and doubts, surprises and shocks, mystical occurrences and wild speculations, political shrewdness and political stupidity, conflict and thaw, tragedies and hope, fear and forgiving. All in all probably not so different from previous years, so what can be said about the recent past and the possible future on the Korean peninsula?

Korea is still a divided country, despite periods with thaw and positive developments, the relations between the two halves of the peninsula can at best be characterized as being marked by skepticism, usually it is hostile and often the situation seems to be on the brink of war. Not from any perspective an acceptable situation considering that the peninsula is highly militarized, including the presence of US bases and troops. This because the war in 1950-53 never formally ended: a ceasefire and not a peace agreement is the basis upon which the two opposing systems are co-existing. Although the cold war ended around 1990, on the Korean peninsula the balance is still sought upheld between the cold and the cruel war.

How can it be that this crazy situation prevails despite numerous attempts to have it solved? There are internal reasons: for instance the fact that for the majority of people North and South of the demarcation line, this abnormal situation is perceived as normal, as they have never experienced anything else. They know how to relate to “the other” as an enemy, this has been internalized through upbringing, education and political schooling. They do not know otherwise. This “abnormal normality”, however, can hardly be politically justified, as it implies an enormous waste of human resources; is a constant economic drain that creates inhuman conditions in parts of the peninsula; and, because it poses a real threat for the prevailing peace in Korea as well as in the whole region. And yet, to some extent the hostility between the two systems is also a factor that legitimizes their existence: the political authority on each side claims to be guaranteeing the security of its people confronted with the evil other. It is well known that an external enemy may function as the glue that bind people together in an otherwise disillusioned or fragmented population. Externally there are several reasons why some players, even main ones, may hesitate to invest their total energy in seeking a sustainable solution. In Japan North Korea plays an important role as the ideal threat immediately outside its borders, and this has skillfully been utilized by conservative and nationalistic forces in that country. For people devoted to high-tech weaponry development in the USA it has also been convenient to point at the North Korean military might as a main reason for a continued improvement of different anti-ballistic systems. Not that North Korea was innocent in creating these relations, the point is that what North Korea said and did, and what external forces hostile to North Koreas positive development needed, corresponded almost too well.

Was there then anything that happened in 2008 that may be signaling the direction of future developments on the peninsula? Despite speculations about political instability in the North we learned that their leader is in firm control, even when he becomes invisible to the world resulting in all kind of media-speculations. Thus the new US strategy in the last years of the Bush era: to accept reality as it is and stop dreaming about regime-change, was justified. This was too little and too late, however, to create an environment conducive to a serious and productive dialogue between the two traditional enemies, the DPRK and the USA.

Looking for big changes one have to turn to South Korea, where the two previous presidents Kim Dae-jung and Rho Moo-hyun over a period of ten years had created a different atmosphere between the two halves of the divided country, establishing a new platform for dialogue and cooperation. The new approach labeled “Sunshine” policy and later “Engagement” policy, realizing that hostility between South and North would continue endlessly unless a radical change was actively promoted, convinced Kim Dae-jung that sticks would never scare North Korea into a mood of change. To him the logical alternative was to use carrots, and as South Korea was characterized by abundance and North by scarcity, the Sunshine policy meant a transfer of means from South to North.   Despite a decade of improved relations this era was halted when South Korean voters late last year elected the conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who pledged a tougher stand towards the North. Arguing that the engagement policy was too expensive for South Korea, and that North Korea failed to reciprocate as expected, President Lee reintroduced the stick, with the immediate consequence that North Korea retreated to the previous cold-war mode of relations. This, however, may be a short interlude in the bumpy relations between the two Koreas. One reason supporting this expectation is that President Lee after all, as a former successful businessman, will focus on results rather than on ideology, and until now his North Korea policy has proved counterproductive. Another reason is that a new president is moving into the White House in Washington, a president who have emphasized dialogue instead of power policy in foreign relations, who have stated that one needs to talk to ones enemies, not only allies and friends, and who may be able to put eight years of failed US policy towards North Korea aside and connect back to the last period of the Clinton/Albright era where a breakthrough between the USA and North Korea was closer than ever before.

Is North Korea ready for this? Reading official statements from Pyongyang in response to what they see as hostile attacks from Japan, South Korea and the USA, one would doubt it. But these statements are responses to repeated criticism from the above mentioned countries, and North Korea does not restrict itself when it comes to verbal fights, has never done. Looking at what is going on in North Korea, however, how reality is changing in response to changed conditions and in anticipation of a changing policy, with corresponding new laws and regulations, one might be more confident that North Korea is ready. North Korea, its people and its political authorities, are moving. Some move reluctantly, everybody does it cautiously, but change has come to North Korea as status quo would mean stagnation and economic suicide. The outside world has an impact on developments in North Korea, and if North Korean authorities perceive the outside world as friendly and safe they will prefer and promote change. That was Kim Dae-jung’s deep insight and nothing has proved it wrong.

Geir Helgesen

THE ATTACK ON MUMBAI By Stig Toft Madsen Lund University


The attack on Mumbai came after a series of terrorist acts in other Indian cities. Shortly after the attack, a hitherto unknown group, the Deccan Mujahidin, took the responsibility. Because the attack on Mumbai followed the attacks to which the similarly named Indian Mujahidin had owed responsibility, many commentators initially connected the two groups, tracing both of them to the better-known organisation called SIMI (The Students Islamic Movement of India).


With the discovery that the group had apparently reached Mumbai by sea and that they may have communicated in Punjabi (which is spoken by only a few Indian Muslims), the needle of suspicion started turning towards Pakistan. The lone surviving terrorist confirmed this track of thinking by apparently admitted that the whole team of gunmen had reached India from Karachi after receiving training by the Lashkar-e-Toiba. The Lashkar-e-Toiba has for many years been in the forefront of the jihad in Indian Kashmir. It is also suspected of having (or having had) strong links to the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI and to the al Qaida (Matzen 2008). Unlike the Taliban which thrives in Pashtun dominated areas, the Lashkar-e-Toiba has its headquarters close to Lahore in the Punjab.


Indian (and Russian) news media further submitted that Mumbai gangsters may have helped the team of attackers. Many of the gangsters in Mumbai have been smugglers with extensive contacts around the Arabian Sea (Sheth et al.1984, Sanghvi et al. 1984). This brought the name of Dawood Ibrahim back to the headlines. Dawood Ibrahim is strongly suspected of having organized the serial bomb attack in Bombay on March 12, 1993 and he is among the people that India demands that Pakistan extradite.


The locations of the explosions in 1993 in chronological order were:


Bombay Stock Exchange

Narsi Natha Street

A petrol pump near the Shiv Sena headquarter in Dadar

Gopal Nagar Worli, near the passport office

Madanpura, Nagpada

Air India’s building at Nariman Point

Century Bazar

Zaveri Bazar outside a well-known jeweller’s

Plaza Cinema, Dadar

Sea Rock Hotel

Centaur Hotel, near Santa Cruz airport

Centaur Hotel, Juhu,

and Machchimar Colony, Mahim (hand grenades)


These serial bombings were described as “The World’s Worst” by the Frontline magazine (Ramachandran 1993). Therefore, the present attack on Mumbai has awakened a range of memories in both the public mind and in the official mind in India.


This has lead Indians to speak of “India’s 9/11”.


The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 was the first of its kind on US soil since Pearl Harbour. The attack on Mumbai on November 26 was not the first on its soil. In terms of causalities, the Bombay blasts in 1993 caused more fatalities. However, the notion of “India’s 9/11” does make sense for at least three reasons.



The attack on the USA on September 11, 2001 made the USA confront Pakistan, which for years had supported the Taliban regime that gave shelter to al Qaida in Afghanistan. The day after the attack, the ISI chief (who happened to be in Washington DC) was called to a meeting, where he faced Richard Armitage. Armitage demanded that Pakistan make its position on terror clear. Pakistan complied with USA’s demands and joined the war on terror. However, the Pakistani interpretation of what that meant focussed on al Qaida. The Taliban was not subjected to an all-out assault by the Pakistani military, and as regards the many jihadist groups found practically all over Pakistan, Pakistan did even less to curtail their activities. Nevertheless, Pakistan did scale down its subversive activities on its eastern sector, and from late 2002 onwards the relations between India and Pakistan markedly improved. The Pakistani election in 2008 promised further improvement. It is this improvement, which “India’s 9/11” may now jeopardize. Just as the USA talked tough to then ISI chief, India apparently was about to do the same to the current ISI chief until his visit to India was called off. Just as USA went on the offensive, Indian politicians came under pressure to act tough. Citing the US aerial attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, some Indians even demanded that India attack Lashkar-e-Toiba camps or other goals inside Pakistan. Despite the heightened tension between the two countries, their leaders have eschewed jingoism to a surprising extent. If the intention of the Lashkar-e-Toiba was to engender a war between India and Pakistan in order to give the Taliban and al Qaida a breather on the western front, the Lashkar has failed   (Deadline 2008; see also Ghosh 2008 and Rashid 2008).



The phrase “India’s 9/11” also makes sense in an entirely different way. The attack on the World Trade Centre hit many people hard because it took place on an iconic building in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy. Similarly, the attack in Mumbai hit iconic buildings in a metropolitan city killing and wounding people of diverse backgrounds, including the wealthy.


In Mumbai, the attack hit ordinary people at the main railway station (Victoria or Chhatapati Shivaji Terminus) journeying locally, along the Konkani coast, or into the Deccan. A Jewish institution was singled out for murder and mayhem.  Further, the attack was aimed at hotels and restaurants at Nariman Point and Colaba. Hotels and restaurants may attract the attention of terrorists, because the many unsuspecting people gathering there are easy targets. Moreover, at both the Taj, the Oberoi and in Café Leopold many guests were likely to be non-Indians.


Apart from offering potential high-value foreign victims, some buildings in themselves may attract terrorists. The pictures of the Taj at fire will stick in the minds of many people across the globe. The Taj is an institution closely connected with Bombay’s history over the past one hundred years.  Built by Jamsethji Tata, the hotel is now owned by Ratan Tata. The Tatas are Parsees from Iran, who made Bombay their home. As the article “The Taj and Swaraj” in its in-house magazine amply bears out, the hotel has hosted key events in Indian history right from its inauguration (Allen 1998). The staff at the Taj has included both Muslims and Hindus as senior managers. The family members of a senior manager residing at the hotel apparently lost their lives during the attack.


The Taj hotel is expensive, but its doors have generally been open for anyone not too scruffy. By contrast, the Oberoi chain has cultivated its own image of exclusivity a notch or two above the Taj chain (Sanghvi 2007). Riding on a bubble in the Indian economy, both have been able to charge more than comparable hotels in Shanghai or Bangkok (Henrik Lewis-Guttermann, pers. comm.).  Clearly, both hotel chains belong to the “Upper Crust” (Anonymous 2005).


Close to the Taj, Café Leopold was also attacked. Though much cheaper than the Taj, their clientele may overlap.  Writes Dipankar Gupta about the place:


“The terror is now over but will Colaba Causeway be the same again? Will Cafe Leopold still attract sailors from the docks, unhappy clerks and Konkani girls with flowers in their hair? …. Mumbai is cosmopolitan and modern in a way no other Indian city is. A liquor vend can be run respectably by a woman… When beer was quaffed secretly in Delhi, one could have it in the open in Mumbai. It was not necessary to go to a luxury hotel or doctor a health certificate to buy beer. It was always available in Mumbai’s signature “Irani” restaurants. Schoolboys, sporting a shadow on their upper lip, grew up fast in these unpretentious watering holes. Cafe Leopold was one of them…. “(Gupta 2008).


“Dining out in Bombay” (cf. Conlon 1998) has acquired a sad connotation, and liberal cosmopolitanism has suffered a blow similar to what happened in New York in 2001.



There is a third reason to consider the attack in Mumbai “India’s 9/11”.  In USA repeated intelligence failures allowed the hijackers to succeed. As detailed by Lawrence Wright, the FBI and the CIA rarely exchanged information “over the wall” that divided the two agencies. In India, the incompetence characterizing the response of the Indian state was plain for all to see. According to Edward Luttwak, it took 90 minutes for the Chief Minister of Maharashtra Vilasrao Deshmukh to call the Home Minister Shivraj Patil:


“Because Patil had no information of his own – a very peculiar situation for an interior minister anywhere – he put the key question to Deshmukh: How many commandos of the National Security Guard were needed? Deshmukh replied 200…. Patil had no competent staff to intervene to determine the right number, which was at least 1,000” (Luttwak 2008).


With some difficulty a plane was found in Chandigarh to fly the commandos from New Delhi to Mumbai. The commandos reached the scene of the attack at 7 AM, 9 ½ hours after the first reports of the attacks. It took an assorted force of police and military personnel several more days to neutralize the ten attackers. The political fallout of the poor response forced both the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra to resign. In New Delhi, Patil also had to leave office. As in the United States of America, security failures have led the Government of India to initiate a reform process to improve performance. Time will show whether this will make a difference.


In conclusion: The attack on Mumbai does, indeed, bear comparison to the attack on the USA on September 11, 2001, but so far India’s response has not been proportionate to the attack it has suffered. Instead, it has been measured in accordance with India’s new role as a responsible super power, and muted in view of the danger that a confrontation with Pakistan may cause a full-scale conventional or nuclear war.


With thanks to Henrik Lewis-Guttermann for bringing a bundle of newspapers from India to Denmark.




Allen, Charles 1998 “The Taj and Swaraj”, The Taj Magazine 27, 1: 40-53.


Anonymous 2005 “”Married to the Taj”, Upper Crust 6, 4: 58-61.


Conlon, Frank F. 1995. “Dining Out in Bombay”, in Carol A. Breckenridge (ed.) Consuming Modernity: Public Culture in a South Asia World, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


”Terror i Indien et forsøg på at få Indien i krig med Pakistan”, DR 2, Deadline, December 14.,  2008, 22:30,


Ghosh, Amitav ”India’s 9/11? Not Exactly”, New York Times, December 2, 2008,


Gupta, Dipankar “What We Have Lost”, The Times of India, New Delhi edition, December 1, 2008, p. 12.


Luttwak, Edward K “MIA in Mumbi. Indian officials, police and commandos must share the blame for mishandling the attacks”, Los Angeles Times, December 5, 2008,,0,7905913.story


Matzen, Jeppe “Islamister i fri dresser”, Weekendavisen, December 12, 2008, p. 10.


Ramachandran, VK “Blasts of Terror”, Frontline, April 9, 1993


Rashid, Ahmed “Are Mumbai attacks a chance of peace?”, BBC News, December 10, 2008,


Sanghvi, Vir Men of Steel, Roli Books, 2007


Sanghvi, Vir, Shirin Mehta, Hutokshi Doctor, Amrita Shah and M Amin “The World of The Smugglers”, Imprint, April 1984, pp. 23-27.


Sheth, Ketaki, Shirin Mehta, Vir Sanghvi, and Hutokshi Doctor “Will The Real Haji Mastaan Please Stand Up”, Imprint, April 1984, pp. 16-22.


Wright, Lawrence The Looming Tower. Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (many editions and translations)



PHOTO: The author (second from right) with fellow travellers in Colaba, January/February 1970.


Revised and enlarged December 21, 2008