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China’s Continuing Suppression of Human Rights By: Ronald Radosh
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, August 07, 2001


I argued that it was foolhardy to cut China off, that the hope for liberalization and an exit from Communist rule lies in continued cooperation, the integration of China into an international market economy, and the extension of normal relations with the People’s Republic of China. These relations, I argued, would help those Chinese seeking democracy to gain allies in Western visitors who regularly present their own view of the world. I was frankly sympathetic to the Nixon-Kissinger view of China, whose exponents argue that in the long run, a growing market economy means the liberalization of the Chinese political system.

The rub is the term “the long run.” In the short run, however, as China’s rulers see that growing contact means the introduction of ideas and concepts subversive of their continued political power, they seem to be taking more and more steps to curb those who would act upon the democratic seeds slowly being sown in China. The August 3 edition of The New York Times features a revealing report from correspondent Craig S. Smith, who writes about the growing “heavy-handed Chinese government campaign to monitor the activities of Chinese scholars living abroad.” Smith candidly notes that while many people think what he calls “the Orwellian tactics of China’s past are subsiding” as the country opens up, émigré and expatriate intellectuals are pointing out that in fact “intimidation has increased in recent years and is much broader than previously thought.”

We have, indeed, seen many examples of the Chinese Communist leader’s behavior. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent comments, phrased carefully in the form of rather gentle criticism of Chinese human rights violations, were left out of the television coverage of his remarks, despite promises beforehand that his entire speech would be televised uncensored. The official Chinese “explanation” that it was simply a matter of having to fit in other news coverage that led to the exclusion of his remarks, and not a desire to prevent China’s citizens from hearing Powell’s words is so lame that no one takes it seriously.

It is, perhaps, not a surprise that the Chinese government is acting with impunity. They have been awarded the Olympics eight years hence, and the Bush administration is continuing to move forward with economic policies favored by the Chinese regime. In the eyes of the Chinese government, their tactics have worked. The regime has continued to abuse human rights, censored the Secretary of State, and in return, the United States has given them what their government wants. They convict a US citizen and a legal US resident of Chinese descent on phony charges of spying for Taiwan, when all they did is collect research as any free scholar does. They intercept our EP-3 spy plane, and bill the US government for the plane, the crew’s return and its housing while imprisoned. And then, after Colin Powell leaves, the US resumed US trade development assistance to Beijing, originally suspended after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. This effectively gives China $180 billion in foreign reserves. The Chinese Politburo must be smiling, as they reflect upon how successful their tough measures have been.

Indeed, what Craig Smith reveals is that thousands of scholars living abroad have been harassed by China’s Ministry of State Security, and their threats have even caused non-Chinese American scholars to remain silent about anything they have found in China that would seem to upset Beijing. As Smith writes, “China’s sense of national security appears to be so fragile that the country’s equivalent of the K.G.B. expends vast amounts of time and resources to track the activities of innocuous individuals living far from China’s shores.” State Security laws prohibit the “production, distribution or reading of materials that endanger state security.” In practice, this vague and innocuous wording means that virtually anything the government objects to, cited and quoted by independent scholars, can be considered a state “secret.” Thus Kang Zhengguo, a senior Chinese language teacher at Yale University, has had his ties to his homeland come to an end. After a visit to his aging mother, he was detained and interrogated for mailing material to a retired Chinese friend with an interest in international affairs. Kang was released only after he signed an affidavit confessing to violation of State Security laws.

Smith also reports that some of the surveillance of overseas Chinese is carried out by government spies sent in to the United States as students and faculty members, who write reports on their fellow academics for State Security. Some even warn dissenting Chinese students abroad to end their activities, and threaten them with retaliation if they do not. And when prominent Americans go abroad, State Security makes visits to Chinese dissidents impossible to arrange, by seeing to it that their homes are surrounded by agents, who refuse permission to Western visitors who might seek to interview them.

Clearly, in the short run, the growing ties between the US and China have to go beyond extending economic and political ties between our two governments, and must include new and tough measures letting the Chinese government know that their continuing suppression of human rights is not acceptable, and that the suppression and/or arrest of American scholars of Chinese origin for exercising academic freedom will not be tolerated. This should be easy enough to do. The next time an academic is arrested, interrogated and accused of spying for carrying out valid research and exercising academic freedom, the US response should be simple, direct and immediate. Since we know that Chinese spies are planted among Chinese foreign students and faculty at American universities, for each person arrested in China, the United States should expel and send back to China a foreign student and faculty member from China, until such time as the Chinese government ceases to carry out its repressive measures.

In last week’s Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Robert Kagan present a toughly worded editorial against what they dub the “appeasement” policies of the Bush administration towards the Chinese Communist government. I do not agree with their be all or end all policy recommendations towards our relations with China and their implicit emphasis upon a no-holds-barred hard-line policy towards China as the only one with any chance of success. In the long run, I still think that the Nixon-Kissinger argument has logic on its side. But as I stated in the beginning of this article, it is the short-run where the problem lies. To stand by as China increases its arrest, torture and re-education of the Falun Gong, increases repression of political dissenters, and even extends its repressive security measures to American citizens of Chinese descent, is to give the current regime the message that as long as trade continues and our corporations get their Chinese market, anything the regime seeks to do is permissible. We can make clear our desire for continued contact and political relations, while firmly insisting upon a quid pro quo by China that its government honor international standards of human rights protocols. To give China what it seeks without any demands of our own, is to let its leaders know that their repressive measures do not concern us. With a policy like that, it will be a very long run before any change at all comes to China.


Ronald Radosh, Prof. Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, is an Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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