Chinese Military Ordered to Exit Its Business Ventures, Including Hospitals

New notice will likely limit the Chinese military's involvement in organ harvesting
April 18, 2016 10:01 am Last Updated: April 25, 2016 5:27 pm

A recent order by the Communist Party will force the Chinese military and the Party’s paramilitary forces to remove themselves from business ventures—most prominently hospitals.

Hospitals run by the military and paramilitary are widely used by Chinese for health care services, and are often amply funded and well-equipped. The Chinese paramilitary forces are officially known as the People’s Armed Police, and they are used for suppressing riots, disaster relief, and other tasks.

The order that the forces would get out of business—”paid services” to the public—was given by the Central Military Commission and was reported in early April in the Chinese press. The Central Military Commission is chaired by Chinese leader Xi Jinping and is the Party’s organ for controlling the armed forces. Details of the notice, and the specific means for devolving control of hospitals and other businesses, were not immediately clear. A three-year timeline for the implementation of the plan was given.

Chinese media outlets and official statements said that the purpose of the order was to increase the fighting ability of the forces. “The mission of the military is to fight battles, and fight successfully. Anything that interferes with this mission must be eliminated,” said a commentary in the Guangdong newspaper Southern Weekend, summing up the official thinking.

A major consequence of the order, unremarked in Chinese reports, is that it will likely extricate the Chinese military from the organ harvesting and transplantation industry.

This is difficult to trace as an impetus for the rule, though it is an inevitable and significant consequence of it. Removing the military, in particular its extensive logistics departments, from running hospitals will likely lead to the military’s role in organ trafficking being phased out.

Organ Trafficking

The Chinese military and paramilitary run an extensive system of hospitals, among the most well-appointed and staffed in the country. Since 2000, many of the facilities have gone through extensive remodeling or had added to them large wings dedicated to fields of medicine that integrate transplantation surgery.

Since 2005, Chinese officials have said that the vast majority of transplant organs come from death row prisoners—though this explanation fails to account for a vast industry that sprung up after 2000, as the number of death row prisoners was declining. Chinese hospitals have for the last 15 years performed a far greater number of transplants than death row prisoners could possibly supply.

The real source of the vast majority of organs is said by an increasing number of researchers to be prisoners of conscience: Uyghur Muslims, who have vanished in large numbers after 2009; other religious minorities or marginalized individuals; but primarily practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that has been targeted for elimination since 1999.

As evidence continues to emerge showing that the scale and organization of the transplant industry in China is far greater than had been previously understood, it has become clear that the military-medical complex is a nexus for transplant activity.

Donor Warehouse

There are circumstantial indications that the military has played a key role in warehousing organ donors—prisoners of conscience ready to be killed on demand.

The evidence suggesting this possibility is primarily in the form of secretly recorded telephone calls with Chinese doctors and nurses. Amateur investigators overseas have for several years been placing calls to Chinese military and civilian hospitals masquerading as either doctors in China or relatives of a patient in need of a transplant. They engage in sometimes lengthy phone conversations with health workers, who sometimes note that the military holds their organ supply. In some conversations, they speak of guaranteeing organ quality by being able to go to the “source” controlled by the military and performing extractions themselves.

Epoch Times has spoken extensively to the investigators making these calls, has listened to the audio files, reviewed the calling logs produced by the software that made the calls, and  has verified many of the phone numbers dialed. Most of these investigators work under the aegis of the nonprofit World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong, a network of researchers based primarily in the United States.

Lucrative Industry

Jiang Yanyong, a former chief physician of the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing, said in an interview with Hong Kong’s Cable Television last year that military hospitals are deeply involved in harvesting organs from prisoners, and that their organ transplant centers are a lucrative source of income. An individual in Jiang’s position would not normally be able to accept such an interview, on a highly sensitive topic, without approval.

There are many indications of the spread and profit involved in the organ transplant industry in China. One of the most emblematic is the case of the People’s Liberation Army’s 309 Hospital.

The top doctor at the hospital, Shi Bingyi, was said to have himself performed at least 2,130 kidney transplants and 380 liver transplants by 2011, according to an account by the Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation, a Hong Kong-based NGO.

The 309 Hospital’s website said that its transplant center revenue grew eightfold in five years, from 30 million yuan ($4.6 million) in 2006 to 230 million yuan ($35 million) in 2010, according to archived websites.

Given the indications that practitioners of Falun Gong have been relied upon as a chief organ source, this vast industry has led to the deaths of over 100,000 Falun Gong adherents, according to recent estimates by Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, a medical advocacy group.

Some health workers around China have been looking forward to the military’s exit from the hospital industry for the last six months or so, according to interviews with their relatives in the United States. If military hospitals are devolved to local government control, military doctors and researchers will be reclassified as civilian and be given passports, allowing them to travel overseas. Military personnel in China are forbidden from traveling except under controlled conditions.

‘Supreme Command’

The removal of the military from running hospitals is the latest sign of what appears to be a quiet cleanup of a profitable industry predicated on killing, since Party leader Xi Jinping came to office. If the Party is quietly ceasing the activity, there are no indications that it intends to take responsibility or provide accountability for what researchers have said is a mass slaughter.

A number of other indications of this trend include the statements by Jiang Yanyong, which confirmed what had been widely known: the involvement of the military in organ harvesting, and even in organ procurement before the death of the donor.

There were also the comments by China’s chief organ transplantation spokesperson, Huang Jiefu, who blamed the abuses of transplantation in China—without, of course, mentioning prisoners of conscience—on the deposed and disgraced former security czar Zhou Yongkang.

Zhou, a loyalist of former leader Jiang Zemin, who launched the persecution of Falun Gong, was one of the most powerful officials in the Chinese Communist Party until being purged for corruption in 2013. Since then, he has been attacked in the state press as a plotter against the leadership.

An exit from running military hospitals—and the other remaining business sectors identified, including communications, personnel training, warehousing and storage, and so on—would be a further and perhaps final step in removing the military from nonmilitary tasks.

The first time such a reform took place was in 1998, when the enormous and massively corrupt business empire of the People’s Liberation Army was dismantled, after having been given free reign for the previous decade under Party leader Jiang Zemin, a move seen by analysts as a means of buying loyalty.

The order about military businesses comes soon after an amendment to the People’s Armed Police Law, introduced by Sun Sijing, the political commissar of the armed police, during the recent meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing.

The amendment would put the paramilitary forces—composed of around one million troops, the size of a standing army—under the control of the Central Military Commission and make it much more difficult for local officials to mobilize them.

A number of Chinese analysts with state affiliations spoke to the Chinese edition of the South China Morning Post, putting the amendment in the context of the political conspiracies that took place in 2012 between Bo Xilai, the Chongqing chief; Wang Lijun, his deputy; and Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief. The analysts gave credence to rumors of a March 19 coup attempt in 2012 and added that the amendment would prevent such incidents in the future.

Sun Sijing was quoted as saying that the amendment will “guarantee that Party Central, the Central Military Commission, and Chairman Xi Jinping firmly maintain supreme command of the armed police forces.”