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Dear Editor,

The Alameda City Council has made a regrettable decision to establish a “Sister City” relationship with the Chinese city of Jiangyin.

We are opposed to this decision which can only serve to give legitimacy to an authoritarian police state in which free speech and freedom of association as well as freedom of religion are not recognized. Even the handing out of this leaflet would be illegal in China and its author would be subject to police harassment and punishment, possibly a long jail term.

No opposition political parties are permitted to exist. China is a one-party state. The officials of Jiangyin present today have NOT been elected in a free and open election. Non-members of the Communist Party are not allowed to run for office and organized opposition is severely punished. Mothers and fathers who have recently protested the shameful governmental mismanagement of the food supply in the case of melamine in milk which has made many children ill, have been punished for their protests and cannot organize, as they would in a democracy, to publish their indictment of government officials for this crime nor plan to replace them.

There is, it is important to note, a great deal of opposition to the government, including, presumably, to the officials of Jiangyin and very slowly, with great difficulty and danger, the elements of civil society and freedom are struggling to emerge in China. There are thousands and thousands of protests and strikes, all of them unofficial and subject to severe government repression. Peasants whose land is seized by the government for redevelopment have demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands, and hundreds of unofficial strikes are a daily occurrence. Unofficial because free, independent labor unions are not permitted by the regime. Religious groups like the Falun Gong are persecuted and the Catholic Church is severely restricted.

We began this statement by saying that we support the Chinese people. The question that the citizens of Alameda have to ask themselves is whether the act of recognizing the local government helps or hinders the emergence of the forces of democracy and freedom in China. We think that it does not — even the “people to people” element in this relationship is strictly controlled from above by the Chinese secret police. When the delegation from the city government returns to China they will be able to say to the ordinary people “see – we are recognized as legitimate even in a democratic society” thereby making it harder for these citizens to organize themselves for the attainment of genuine democracy.

This is not a theoretical point: I saw it for myself in the totalitarian countries of Eastern Europe where I traveled to meet with the unofficial democratic opposition during the cold war. Naïve people may have thought that doing the equivalent of the “sister cities” tactic would forward the cause of peace and democracy but the only result was to demoralize and disillusion ordinary people and to temporarily strengthen the legitimacy of the dictators – as it will in China. This was a point made to me very forcefully by Vaclav Havel, then in the unofficial opposition – who later became the President of the Czech Republic – when I met him in the 1980s in Prague. As the opposition grows in China, I would not like to meet a future Vaclav Havel in China (perhaps even in Jiangyin!) who would recall how this visit to Alameda “honoring” their illegitimately elected officials in October 2008 had undermined their struggle for democracy.

And, no less importantly, by giving legitimacy to a dictatorship it sends a message to the American people about democracy, undermining their understanding of what is at stake in America under a Presidential regime which spies on its citizens and uses torture and adopts repressive anti-democratic laws (the “Patriot Act”) – increasingly closely resembling the regime in China – a point made with great effect by respected former LA Times columnist, James Mann in his book “The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression” (2007). It’s a book I would recommend to the members of the Alameda City Council.

We urge the people of Alameda to protest this decision to establish a “Sister City” relationship and to call for the Council to rethink its position. We DO need unofficial “people to people” relations and friendship between the people of China and the people of the United States but this is not a way achieve this this goal.

–Dr. Arthur Lipow, co-Chair Alameda Public Affairs Forum, a project of the Center for Global Peace and Democracy (

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