International Metropolis Conference 2020 in Beijing – Cancelled

Our petition (http://chng.it/kfzPmtVk), the issues it raised and consequent publicity seems to have contributed to the decision to cancel holding the conference in Beijing although there is still no public confirmation on the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) website.

Thanks to all who supported or shared the petiition.

Best wishes for the holidays.

Andrew

Our reply to the co-chairs: Petition to reconsider location of the 2020 International Metropolis migration conference in Beijing

Further to our petition on change.org and the email received from the co-chairs of the Conference, Jan Rath of the University of Amsterdam and Paul Spoonley, Massey University New Zealand, we have sent and posted on change.org our reply:

Thank you for your comprehensive and thoughtful response to our questions and concerns.

Under normal circumstances, holding a migration conference in China would be of interest.

Equally, in principle we do not disagree that cultural, academic and policy exchanges can sometimes be useful in generating shifts in repressive regimes and that isolation only worsens and alienates such regimes. 

However, this depends on the subject matter and country circumstances.

Is it appropriate to hold a migration conference, where so many issues are linked to human rights, in a country which does not enshrine human rights and the associated values of promoting integration, tolerance, academic freedom, multiculturalism, and protection of refugees?

While Metropolis may view itself as an apolitical network, the host organization in China, the Centre for China and Globalization (CCG), is not, as it is effectively part of the Chinese government through the United Front Work Department.

The decision to hold the conference in Beijing at a time of the repression of the Uighurs and other minorities along with general human rights abuses is in itself a political decision to turn a blind eye to those abuses. 

There can be little doubt that it will be presented as such by the Chinese government. We are also convinced, based on experience, that Chinese authorities will not permit a free and open exchange of ideas on relevant Chinese policy or practice. Foreign speakers will be discouraged from raising issues that might ‘offend’ the government, Chinese participants will be prohibited from doing so, and ‘minders’ will be present to monitor and intervene in the event of any real or perceived criticism.

While indeed all countries have “blemishes in its policies and actions,” there is a difference between China and the countries that have typically hosted Metropolis. 

Placing restrictive immigration policies among Western countries on the same level as the Chinese government “re-education” camps for Uighurs or its lack of respect for human rights and the rule of law lacks credibility.

The bilateral disputes between China and Canada have nothing to do with broader issues raised by the petition and its signatories.

To claim that “the Government of China is not involved in setting the agenda or the terms of the debate” when the host organization, the CCG, is effectively part of the Government of China, is not credible.

Once again, the decision to hold the Conference in China given the current circumstances is in itself a political decision and it is disingenuous if not naive to pretend otherwise.

Once again, grateful that you consider signing the petition (change.org) and spreading the word as the more signatures we get, and the broader the geographic coverage, the better (as of November 15, we have about 150 signatories, about 70 percent from Canada with the vast majority of the rest being from the US.

 

Response to our petition to reconsider location of the 2020 International Metropolis migration conference in Beijing

Further to our petition on change.org, the co-chairs of the Conference, Jan Rath of the University of Amsterdam and Paul Spoonley, Massey University New Zealand, provided the following response:

The International Metropolis Project has been made aware of a petition urging that Metropolis change the location of our 2020 annual conference which is  planned for Beijing in June. The argument that the petition expresses concerns about  the position and actions taken by the Government of China with respect to some of the country’s ethnic minorities and with respect to freedom of expression. Let it be said that Metropolis understands these concerns, which have long been voiced, and takes them seriously. But let it also be said that Metropolis has always been – and remains – an apolitical network that believes in the value of international exchange among a whole range of migration players and stakeholders, to enhance mutual understanding. It also believes in engagement and dialogue over isolation. We, therefore, stand by the decision to accept the offer of the Beijing-based think tank, the Centre for China and Globalization, to host the Metropolis Conference in 2020.

China has emerged not only as a major economic power in the world, but also as a country with a significant role in migration, whether in Asia or globally. For us to understand regional and global migration means understanding China’s role in migration, both as a country of origin and, more recently, a country of destination. To ignore China in the field of migration today is to have but a partial understanding of global migration phenomena. An International Metropolis Conference there offers a direct opportunity for members of the Metropolis network to meet and engage with their counterparts in that country and in the region, and vice-versa. We trust that this will foster an enhanced mutual understanding of migration developments.

The petition that asks Metropolis to re-locate the 2020 conference originates in Canada, which is now engaged in a sensitive and difficult diplomatic matter with China. This is no matter for Metropolis to get involved with. Furthermore, that Metropolis should choose to hold its conferences in any particular country is not to be taken as support for the policies of our host country, regardless of which country it is. No country is without blemishes in its policies and actions, not even those with enviable reputations regarding migration. That is why, engaging in international exchanges of the kind that Metropolis conferences facilitate is important to keep the dialogue going and to map out issues of interest  and concern in an informed manner. The 2020 Metropolis Conference in Beijing is being organized jointly by the Metropolis International Steering Committee and the Centre for China and Globalization. The Government of China is not involved in setting the agenda or the terms of the debate. As always, the program is set by the International Steering Committee, specifically its Chairs in consultation with the local host in Beijing, China. This will therefore be a regular International Metropolis Conference located in a country that, owing to its current migration dynamics, offers a range of pertinent insights for those who take part.

As we said, although we understand the concerns expressed in the petition and we take them seriously, we regard the petition as mistaken in its position that it is better to isolate than to engage.

We will, in due course, post a formal response but suffice to say, to make the assertion that:

“The Government of China is not involved in setting the agenda or the terms of the debate. As always, the program is set by the International Steering Committee, specifically its Chairs in consultation with the local host in Beijing, China.”

The Chinese host is, of course, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), part of the United Front Work Department, a branch of the Chinese Communist Party, that aims to project Chinese government influence.

Once again, grateful that you consider signing the petition (change.org) and spreading the word as the more signatures we get, and the broader the geographic coverage, the better (as of November 8, we have about 140 signatories, about three quarters from Canada with the vast majority of the rest being from the US.

 

How Change.org amplified the act of protest

For those interested in social media campaigns, an interesting article on change.org and what makes a successful campaign:

Started in 2007 as an online activism platform by Ben Rattray, a Californian educated at Stanford and the London School of Economics, Change.org transitioned to a petition-only platform in 2011. The site made world headlines when a Change.org petition started by the parents of murdered teen Trayvon Martin helped secure charges against George Zimmerman, his killer. That earned Rattray a spot on Time’s 100 most influential people of 2012. Today, the site has offices in 18 countries—and nearly 70 million users across the globe.

The site is an often-cacophonous clearing house for petitions calling for some sort of action in just about every imaginable domain. In Canada alone, there are petitions to “add women from Canadian history to Canadian bank notes”; to have fluoride removed from tap water; to have fluoride added to tap water; to have a “fully independent investigation” into the Senate scandal; to reverse Canada Post’s decision to end home delivery; to have Prime Minister Stephen Harper stop “using Sir Paul [McCartney’s] beautiful music to humanize his evil robot-man public image.” Some are successes. Most aren’t.

Successful campaigns “have two things,” Rattray says. “It has to be specific, for one, and there needs to be good reason to think that a sufficient amount of public attention around an issue can convince a decision-maker to make the choice to change.” David and Goliath narratives seem to work best, which might explain why Garrett’s petition was so successful. It spiked the contentious issue of animal rights with a dose of celebrity (Barenaked Ladies) and pitted both against a large, faceless corporate entity. Not coincidentally, animal rights is also one of 10 “cause areas”—criminal justice, environment and immigration are among the others—Change.org tends to promote on its site. In Garrett’s case, Change.org staff contacted him to help in the PR push for the petition, and emailed the petition to site users who had signed animal rights petitions in the past.

“We look at things that are most popular, that are trending, that people are interested in, and some things that are already taking off in the media or that have an appeal to a wide audience that the media might want to cover,” says Rattray. “Those are the ones where we’ll reach out to the petition creator and make sure that they’re using the tool most effectively.”

How Change.org amplified the act of protest.