I returned to the U.S. on Saturday after two weeks teaching a course in Comparative Environmental Justice at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Most of my spare time in Vancouver was spent finishing the new 6th edition of my Environmental Law casebook, which will be published in August.
Thursday was the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989 when the communist government brutally murdered more than 100 students demonstrating for democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. The Chinese authorities went to great lengths to stop any events marking the anniversary, censoring the internet even more extensively than normal and flooding Tiananmen Square with plainclothes police who harassed anyone trying to do interviews or news reports. I watched a CNN International report where the newsman was surrounded by plainclothes thugs opening large umbrellas to try to prevent his cameras from catching any view of the square in the background. The reporter kept dodging and weaving and the plainclothes cops kept tracking his every step, making for a comical display of how paranoid the Chinese authorities are about any mention of the anniversary. A Financial Times reporter reported being pushed and cursed at by plainclothes officers near the square when he tried to talk to a U.S. student spending the summer in Beijing.
News report said that because the words “June 4” were being censored on the internet, students started referring to the anniversary as “May 35th”. I had heard that since organized protests were prohibited, many people in Beijing were planning to wear white on Thursday as a silent way of marking the occasion. When you ask people in Beijing what their recollections are of the event, even students who are too young to remember it will tell you what their parents recall (e.g., “my parents said they made sandwiches and sent them to the students”). I even have met a few Chinese who had been among the student protesters in the square.
In Hong Kong there was a large public candlelight vigil to commemorate the anniversary with more than 100,000 people demonstrating. While Hong Kong is part of the P.R.C. following the end of the British rule in 1997, it enjoys considerably more freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The New York Times reported that for the first time ever the official Chinese media had a mention of the events of 1989 in a story extolling how much more peaceful the area was today. The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed by a reporter who had been at the square when the massacre occured. She concluded that “[t]he real sign of modernity will come when China opens up its political system enough so that the country’s leaders no longer fear June 4 but treat the Tiananmen uprising with the honor it deserves.” Claudia Rosett, What I Saw at Tiananmen,” Wall St. J., June 4, 2009, at A15.
In lecturing about the development of global environmental law, I often refer to Canada’s chemical testing program and how it has contributed to the growing movement to ban bisphenol-A, a chemical widely used to harden plastics. After test data showed that the chemical may be particularly risky to children, Canada announced last year that it would ban its use in children’s products and Walmart announced that it would no longer carry children’s products that contained the chemical. Last Sunday the Washington Post revealed documents from an industry strategy meeting where lawyers for U.S. chemical producers discussed how to keep the chemical on the market in the U.S. Lyndsey Layton, Industry Lobbyists Devised Strategy to Protect Use of BPA, Wash. Post, May 31, 2009. The strategies mentioned included a $500,000 public relations campaign where their 'holy grail' spokesperson would be a 'pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA’." Also mentioned were “using fear tactics [e.g., Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?’).”
Last Monday another round of preparatory talks for the all-important Copenhagen COP-15 climate conference in December convened in Bonn. Updates are available at: http://unfccc.int/meetings/sb30/items/4842.php. All eyes are on the Chinese delegation, which has been calling on developing countries to slash their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 40% by the year 2020 and to contribute between 0.5% and 1.0% of their annual GDP to a fund to compensate developing countries. Fiona Harvey, Climate Focus Turns to Beijing, Financial Times, June 2, 2009.