Don't fear more freedom, Rice tells Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 March, 2010, 12:00am

As a former United States' secretary of state and one of the world's leading diplomats, Dr Condoleezza Rice knows better than to berate China about its people's lack of personal freedoms and civil liberties.

Nevertheless, during a lecture on the 'Future of Asia' at the Chinese University yesterday, Rice urged Beijing not to fear granting its people more personal freedoms, and a greater free flow of information in particular, albeit disguising her message in the context of reinvigorating the global economy.

'You frankly can't tell people to think at work, and not at home. And so can China find a way to give its people the space they need to be innovative and creative?' Rice said.

The 66th secretary of state yesterday gave a wide-ranging talk that included her defence concerns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, her regrets about not being able to do more in Sudan, her concerns over the state of education in the United States and her optimism over the growing international role of India and China.

However, she also recognised there was a more urgent question in everyone's minds: 'When is the global economy going to grow again at a level that will allow me to get a job?'

Rice noted that the key ingredients to growth were the willingness to let the private sector grow again, the resistance of protectionism, and the development of 'human potential' in the form of creativity and innovation in order to discover new industries and technologies.

'How is China going to give its people the freedom to be truly creative and innovative? It's not simply the ability to adopt the latest invention. It's not simply the ability to copy the latest invention. It is the issue of being the source of the latest invention. And fearfulness of information, fearfulness in the free flow of information and ideas, of people's ability to get together,' she said.

'That ability to get together is often what leads people to be innovative and creative.'

Hong Kong also had a part to play, said Rice, especially since its strong rule of law was a key asset to attracting investment leading to private-sector growth. Those who are sincere in promoting private-sector growth, 'have to be attentive to the rule of law and to the sanctity of contracts. That is indeed one of Hong Kong's great strengths. It needs to be a strength worldwide', Rice said.

At the end of her speech, a university student protested against the US' military involvement in the Middle East by raising a placard with the words, 'Stop Killing', while crying out 'life, liberty, pursuit of happiness'. Today marks the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

Rice said she wished to say to all protesters: 'This is one of the greatest privileges of living in a democracy.'