China's conference jitters inflame women's groups

CHINA is used to doing diplomatic battle with foreign states, but it may have met its match with a different kind of foreign power - angry women activists around the world. They are exerting strong pressure on the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to force China to change its arrangements for the World Conference on Women in Peking this September or face the prospect that the event might go to another country.

There is fury among non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which plan to attend the gathering, over an 11th-hour decision by China to accommodate their forum in a dusty tourist centre at Huairou, 54km from the site of the official conference in central Peking. The move is seen by many as a ploy to keep activists away from the main action.

"We just cannot take it," said Joan Ross Frankson of the International Women's Tribune Center. "We have to stand very firmly and not take the dregs that the Chinese are offering." Bella Abzug, a veteran pioneer of women's rights in the US and former member of Congress, said the NGOs intended to fight China until a settlement was reached. "In recent years, the NGOs and the governments have had a terrific partnership at these meetings and then, at the last minute, the Chinese say they are changing the site. I think they are afraid of the strength of the NGO community, because we are independent, free-thinking and free-wheeling," she said.

Until a month ago, the NGO Forum on Women was due to be held at a central Peking stadium and gymnasium, a huge compound which would have provided a single site for the estimated 200 activities a day. It was also within easy reach of the venue for the UN World Conference on Women.

Then a month ago, on 4 April, the NGO Forum in New York received a fax from its Chinese counterpart announcing that the site for the forum had been switched, citing "structural problems", but no one believes that. The Chinese government seems to have belatedly woken up to the reality of what 25,000 NGO women in central Peking could mean. Several groups have specific agendas, embracing human rights, abortion, prostitutes' rights, Tibet, and lesbianism.

The trip by Li Peng, the Prime Minister, to Copenhagen in March for the UN Social and Development Conference, where he saw NGO groups in action on the streets, appears to have been the final straw.

The dispute is extremely delicate for both sides. For China, attracting the women's conference to Peking was a significant step out of the diplomatic wilderness it has been in since the Tiananmen clampdown. To lose it would mean deep humilation. For Mr Boutros-Ghali, however, the prospect of challenging China - a permanent Security Council member - will be far from appealing. But he cannot easily ignore the NGOs.

Most serious, China could find itself accused of breaking the terms of the formal agreement signed between itself and the UN last October - a so-called "Host Country Agreement" - stipulating what it must provide to ensure the conference's success. In that case, loss of the conference could be almost automatic.

Leaders of the NGO Forum meet in New York tomorrow to adopt a resolution demanding Mr Boutros-Ghali and all UN member states require China to reconsider its plans or forfeit its right to stage the conference. A spokeswoman for the NGO Forum, Nell Merlino, expected a deadline to be set at tomorrow's meeting for Peking to respond to the demand.

A visit to the Huairou site yesterday revealed the disarray the Chinese are in. Next door to the Kang De Le Bodybuilding and Relaxation Centre is a large building site ringed by a corrugated-iron fence. Behind it two huge holes in the ground with cement foundations are all that can be seen of the planned four-star, six-storey "Member's Club Hotel" to house the better-heeled NGO delegates. At the back of the compound, the planned main meeting venue is still an old gravel athletics track around an oval dirt pitch.

No matter how much effort the Chinese government puts into Huairou's face-lift, two problems are insoluble. With a round-trip of at least two hours by car between Huairou and Peking, free exchange between the two conferences will be a logistical nightmare. Media coverage will be greatly hindered by transportation difficulties.

Huairou also lacks what the NGO Forum calls a single "coherent" site, where delegates can easily mingle and wander between events. There are also rumours that the 5,000 Chinese NGO delegates may be housed even further afield, in line with Peking's wish to minimise contact between its own women's movement and radical foreign groups.

The question now for the NGO Forum is whether there is any hope of China changing its mind. The edict clearly came from a high level in a government obsessed with maintaining social stability as it faces the impending death of its paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping. High-profile petitions in the near future could prove counterproductive, by forcing China into a corner where any compromise would be seen as yielding to foreign pressure.

Driving out of Huairou, one passes a sign: "Wish you to love Huairou." No one will, of course. But this dismal saga might teach a world which almost gave Peking the 2000 Olympics that China is not yet a suitable host for important international gatherings.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried