Australia is too timid in its dealings with China, says David Shoebridge, state MP for the Greens in New South Wales. “Nobody respects somebody who doesn’t stand up for their values and we have an obligation to do that,” he said.
Mr Shoebridge was speaking as part of a panel at the Australian premier of the award winning documentary Free China: The Courage to Believe, which screened in Sydney at the Events Cinema in Bondi Junction, Nov 11, and in George Street, Nov 12, before touring to Melbourne and Brisbane.
The documentary film is an international collaboration between Australian producer Kean Wong, American director Michael Perlman and Chinese born composer Tony Chen. It documents the courageous story of two former Chinese prisoners of conscience: Jennifer Zeng, a mother living in Beijing who was arrested and tortured for her beliefs, before eventually gaining asylum in Australia; and Dr Charles Lee, a Chinese born American who suffered harsh consequences when he returned to China to take a stand on human rights.
The film raises a range of concerns including China’s brutal re-education through labour camp system, where forced labour is used to make products sold cheaply on the international market. It also explores the state’s tight control of information, including internet and media censorship, and the regime’s practice of forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
China has long taken organs from prisoners on death row, Mr Shoebridge said, but now prisoners of conscience, including Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans and Uighurs, are being used to service a flourishing organ transplant industry.
A private members bill, to be introduced to the NSW State Parliament this month, will make it a crime for Australians to travel overseas and obtain an unethically sourced organ.
“The numbers are not huge [in Australia],” he said. While there are only around six known cases of Australian organ tourism each year, “there is a whole other class where people just drop off a waiting list.” Determining the actual number of foreign transplants is difficult.
Mr Shoebridge says that politicians across the political spectrum may express their concerns in private about human rights in China, but hold back from expressing their views publicly for fear of economic retaliation.
“To actually stand up and make a political statement…That seems to be a real road block for many MPs, because they are very concerned about this trade relationship with China.
“For myself, China doesn’t buy our resources because we are nice guys. China doesn’t buy our resources because we say nice things about them. China buys our resources because we sell it to them at the right price from an international market,” Mr Shoebridge said, adding, “Nobody respects a supplicant.”
Free China director Michael Perlman and labour camp survivor Jennifer Zeng were also on the panel, joined by Zeng’s daughter, Melody.
Mr Perlman believes Australia suffers economically by not speaking out, as many Chinese products, made cheaply in labour camps or under appalling conditions, undermine local products and ultimately drive companies out of business.
“I don’t see Australians losing market share. What I do see is people losing jobs here because they can’t compete with the prison slave labour,” he said.
Communist Party fears exposed
The documentary tells the story of Jennifer Zeng, who was arrested and tortured in Beijing for practicing Falun Gong, an ancient meditation and exercise practice whose adherents must abide by three principles – to be truthful, kind and tolerant. In 1999, over 80 million people practised Falun Gong in China, a number exceeding the membership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP leadership then rolled out its strategy of brutal oppression, previously used to great effect in the Cultural Revolution and in the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Zeng, a former CCP member before her imprisonment, believes that the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China exposes the CCP’s greatest weakness.
“This party has never ever been elected by its own people. It had a very fundamental fear for its own legitimacy, so maintaining a certain amount of fear is very necessary to stop people from questioning their power,” she said. “They care very much about what the people really think and whether they have the opportunity to think for themselves.”
She pointed to the Beijing Olympics as a strategic element in that show of power. “They are always trying to tell the Chinese people, ‘See, we have the support from the West’, and to tell the West, ‘See we have the support from the Chinese people’.”
Audience members were shocked at the extent of human rights transgressions revealed in the film. Student Christina Insto and musician Benny Roe, said they were reduced to tears.
“Just incredibly well done and expressive of the awful struggles of the Chinese people,” Ms Insto told Epoch Times after the screening. “I really feel very moved to do whatever I can to change this.”
In response to a question on what actions people can take, Mr Shoebridge recommended staying informed, supporting public protests and gathering signatures on petitions.
“Politicians pay attention to numbers at the end of the day and the more numbers you have the more they are likely to actually pay attention to it is my observation,” he said.
Zeng also encouraged people to tell others about the film and what is going on in China as it is the threat to its own legitimacy that the regime fears the most.
“We think of them [Chinese regime] as very powerful but actually they are not – they fear being seen through by the world and by the people. So everything we do does matter,” she said.