What does the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hope to gain by the arrest of prominent human rights attorney, Gao Zhisheng on August 15? Gao is well-known internationally, and even the U.S. Congress passed a resolution in April 2006 urging China to reinstate Gao's attorney license. It's a sure bet then that his arrest would arouse a lot of opposition and protest from high places.
Yet, Beijing defied public opinion and announced the arrest on August 18 in the state-controlled news agency, Xinhua, in an act sure to draw fire from both at home and abroad.
Observers of China from a variety of standpoints met on August 25 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to discuss the arrest of Gao to not only condemn it, but to try to understand the deeper meaning behind its timing and the manner in which it is being well-publicized by the CCP.
A crackdown on Gao and other human rights activist attorneys would not appear to be in the best interests of the CCP. The CCP is working to improve its public image prior to the 17th Conference of the National People's Congress and the scheduled 2008 Olympic Games.
The Communist Chinese rulers make a high priority in controlling the news broadcasted and printed in the Chinese media and overseas. Why then would they want to draw attention to their abominable human rights record?
Five speakers—two international human rights attorneys, a renowned Chinese democracy advocate, a quiet victim of the CCP, and a Chinese writer—discussed the priorities of the current Communist regime. The picture that emerges is a regime coming apart at the seams, an internal crisis and struggle for power as the Party officials strike out against opponents and can't be bothered as much by the Party's image.
These speakers agree that the arrest was intentional for the effect it would bring.
The large number of arrests—not just Gao's, but several others, is an indication of a worsening of conditions, said Wei Jingsheng, one of China's best known democracy advocate. He noted the long-term prison sentences for political dissidents being meted out as compared to 5 years ago. He described the political strategy of China's leader, Hu Jintao, as an “attacking policy” inside China as well as outside China, being forced upon him by the dire situation of the CCP.
The Chinese airline pilot Yuan Sheng, who flew into Los Angeles on August 8 seeking asylum, supported this discussion of the deterioration of human rights by saying that returning to China would not only mean he would be persecuted, but that he would “disappear.” He said that for his “crime” of talking to an airport worker about quitting the CCP, the police were “very rude and violent with me.”
International human rights attorney Morton Sklar sees an escalation of persecution in China with the defenders of human rights, China's lawyers, now under attack. He said the Chinese leaders are “turning their backs to the rule of law and any semblance of legality.” Sklar said the United States is complicit in this escalation of human rights abuses. The U.S. “relies on China economically and politically,” and needs China's vote on the UN Security Council where China has veto power on matters like Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, North Korea, and Iran.
To prove his point, Attorney Sklar referred to his case against Minister of Commerce, Bo Xilai. The U.S. government came to the aid of Bo who is being sued for his “forced labor and persecution abuses” while he was Governor of Liaoning province (2001-2004) in China. The U.S. government is intervening in the case to argue that Bo Xilai has diplomatic immunity when the defendant is only a member of a “special delegation” on economic matters. “The U.S. government is pushing the law in an unlawful direction to support the CCP,” said Sklar.
The consensus of the panel then is that the frequent complaints by the U.S. and free nations on human rights abuses in China are of no particular concern for Chinese leaders as long as they don't harm “business as usual” between the nations. The Chinese leaders are convinced that U.S. officials are not really serious about human rights, and so they don't worry about formal complaints such as Lawyer Gao's arrest and similar human rights complaints they receive.
Currently, the greatest threats to a continuation of “business as usual” and the CCP retaining its power are: (1) the persecution of Falun Gong and having the crime of organ harvesting of thousands of live practitioners coming to light; (2) the “Nine Commentaries” by the Epoch Times and the mass resignations from the CCP. The CCP wants to suppress the news of the organ harvesting crimes which is damaging to their public relations and hopes of being accepted as a “normal” nation. The CCP also needs to suppress the Nine Commentaries, which is causing a mass exodus from the Party.
Based on this understanding on what the CCP fears the most, their motives become fully transparent. “Lawyer Gao's troubles started from his involvement on investigating the persecution of Falun Gong,” said Epoch Times writer Tianliang Zhang. Gao praised the Nine Commentaries and quit the CCP and eloquently explained why he advocated quitting the CCP, “to make China peacefully transit to a free society.”
Zhang produced a timeline of events which showed the escalation of surveillance and harassment of Lawyer Gao as he became more engaged with the two issues cited above. The surveillance began last October when he published his first study of a victim of the Falun Gong persecution. The surveillance increased in December 2005 when he wrote of the barbaric tortures of Falun Gong practitioners in general. At the same time, he renounced the CCP, declaring it “the cruel, untrustworthy, inhumane, evil party.” Later, when he met with UN Special Rapporteur on anti-torture investigator Manfred Nowak, CCP agents tried to crash his car to create a fake automobile accident. In the next three months, the CCP tried two times to assassinate Gao through fake motor vehicle accidents.
However, the conclusion of the panelists is that the timing of Gao's arrest was to take the focus away from airline pilot Yuan, who had defected a week earlier. The CCP has always been able to handle human rights complaints and Gao's arrest is just going to be a little more embarrassing. On the other hand, the defector Yuan calls attention to the Nine Commentaries. Yuan had urged an airline worker to quit the CCP and that had touched a raw nerve of the CCP. There have been China defections before, but never for this reason. The CCP fears that Yuan's case will become better known.