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Universal values know no borders

  • The essence of speech freedom is not confined to the right of expressing oneself, but also our respect for the rights of individuals sharing the same living space, country, or planet with us. Photo courtesy: AFP

By TAN LEE CHIN
Sin Chew Daily

“Look! My friend told me to delete the post!”

The day Hong Kong's pro-establishment camp suffered the thumping electoral defeat, a young colleague showed me her phone, crestfallen.

It shocked me that even a young journalist much more passionate about entertainment news than politics would get swept by the tail of Hong Kong's pro-democracy typhoon.

Indeed we are living in a “Great Era” that would not even spare a young lass.

She was targeted by her Chinese friends for supporting the position of a Korean artist supportive of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protestors on social media. A friend even told her in private to delete the post.

When she showed me her conversation with that friend, I got instantly enraged, wondering why wealthy citizens of a global power could be such mean-spirited and vulnerable.

Her Chinese friends might think they have the right to demand that she delete her post without making an attempt to understand or even accommodate people holding divergent political views. They claim to be patriotic and have the slightest tolerance for acts deemed disparaging to their country.

On the same day, another friend from China came up to me and told me China embraced very different “universal values”. He said the people in Hong Kong had to be responsible for the choice they made, adding that democracy was not suitable for China as the people there were less matured.

Indeed, Chinese netizens can call for a boycott against an artist -- and his fans as well -- for his political stand.

When talking about “universal values”, the Chinese will invariably label them as products of the decadent West.

The aforementioned Chinese friend even explained to me that China had a longer history than the West, and very much more so than Southeast Asia, which explains why people in this region are so impressionable and easily led by the nose by Western values.

Aren't there any similarities between the Oriental and Western values at all?

The history of Southeast Asia, along with our cultural diversity and spirit of inclusiveness mean we are not completely devoid of moralistic principles, as evidenced by our constant denunciation of colonialist pilfering and exploitation.

Some Chinese scholars are of the opinion that universal values are nothing more than a discourse of the Western capitalist society. Interestingly, the Trump administration is embracing protectionism which starkly contravenes Western capitalism, while socialist China is advocating free trade.

The right of survival, freedom and equality which are enthusiastically pursued in the name of universal values have all been assimilated into China's so-called socialist core values. But, why such disparity in their real-life manifestation?

Can we establish a completely new set of benchmarks for equality and justice by branding others unjust for holding values unsuited in our society? Or that China's definition of freedom differs from what we have come to understand all this while?

A Chinese leader once said his country had no intention of establishing an American-style hegemony anywhere in the world, but what do people in places across the world from Africa to Southeast Asia feel about a growingly powerful China under a new leadership today? What about the demand to get a young lady to delete her FB post?

As a matter of fact, the essence of speech freedom is not confined to the right of expressing oneself, but also our respect for the rights of individuals sharing the same living space, country, or planet with us.

While you can tell me to shut up based on your moral yardstick today, I can do the same to you tomorrow. Do you call that freedom?

Is there anything the human race can look forward to for our common future if we define a country's success as its ability to accumulate phenomenal wealth?

To be honest, some of the values are neither Western nor Oriental, but humanistic. Such differentiation aside, hegemony, injustice and inequality can happen anywhere, East or West; so can virtues universally pursued by mankind.

 

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