For decades, both Democrats and Republicans have argued that by opening trade with China, China would gradually become more like the West and adopt liberal, democratic values.
But some knew better.
I sit down with Congressman Chris Smith, a representative of New Jersey’s 4th district. For the past four decades, he has been one of Congress’s most vocal critics of the Chinese Communist Party, as well as the U.S. policies that enabled the regime’s abuses—from forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners to genocide of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
“They threaten everybody else, whether it be Taiwan in the short term, Japan, Korea, Philippines, and over time, the entire world.”
Jan Jekielek: Congressman Chris Smith, it's such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Rep. Chris Smith: Jan, thank you so much for inviting me. Appreciate your show and I appreciate your leadership.
Mr. Jekielek: Let's talk about human rights in China. I'm going to offer a bit of an anecdote here. I remember when I first met you back in 2005 at the UN Human Rights Commission, I think it was still called.
Rep. Smith: That's right.
Mr. Jekielek: There are a few things I remember. I remember how few people there were advocating for prisoners of conscience in China: Christians, Falun Gong practitioners, and others. I remember one of them, Bob Fu entering the chamber where all the delegates were, and somehow getting a Chinese electric baton into that room. I don't know if you remember this.
And brandishing it, actually hitting the button and causing quite a scene, and being ejected. But making a point that this is something that's actually really being done to people right now. These tools are being used to suppress people.
I want to talk to you today about how we got to this place where China, the Chinese regime has hosted the 2022 Olympics, has hosted the 2008 Olympics. And, ostensibly to my eye, is laughing at the world when it comes to the egregious multiple genocides human rights violations there. It wasn't always like that.
Rep. Smith: No, you're absolutely right. There was always an understanding of the human rights abuses being committed, for example, by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact. But when it came to China, there was always a double standard. There was this inability to understand—I think it was by design, not by mistake—that the Chinese Communist Party is vicious. It is cruel. It uses torture as an element of ensuring people's compliance; but just punish, kill people by torture.
You mentioned Bob Fu with the cattle prod that is routinely used by Chinese torturers, Chinese Communist Party apparatchiks. And frankly, I had a hearing on Tibetan Buddhism, and the fact that we had a guy named Palden Gyatso, who was a Buddhist monk. He brought one of those cattle prods into my hearing.
When he tried to get through the police at the entrance downstairs in the Rayburn building, he was stopped. I had to go down and escort him in and said, "He's coming to tell us exactly what the Chinese Communist Party does to people behind those closed doors. They put those cattle prods on the genitals, in the mouth, under the arms, all places where there's extreme sensitivity, and they torture people to the point of brokenness and death."
They use it against the Falun Gong, the Christians, the Buddhists, the Uyghurs, any political dissidents. It is routine. It's how they are able to get people to cough up names because who can endure that, really? None of us can. They use it and they just break people. And it's all Xi Jinping and all of his predecessors who were masters of torture. I've chaired several hearings exclusively focused on the use of torture by the Chinese Communist Party.
As their means to an end, they beat people senseless. Even Wei Jingsheng, the great father of the Democracy Wall movement. I met with him when they let him out in the early 1990s, they get Olympics 2000—he was such a high-value, political prisoner.
They let him out and he asked to see me. So we went out and had dinner in Beijing. Secret police were just a couple of yards away and he wanted it that way. We all did. Then when they didn't get Olympics 2000, they rearrested him and beat him almost to the point of death.
He came here, and the first place he came was to my office. I invited him to testify. He talked about the torture. He also talked about what the westerners—including and especially United States diplomats do—and that is by kowtowing and coddling the dictatorship. They see that as nothing but weakness and they exploit it. When you're tough, predictable, and consistent, they treat even the prisoners better inside the laogai system: the huge concentration camp network.
We've gotten here through enabling. China has been misperceived to some extent. I'll give the benefit of doubt to some people who just didn't get it. When you go back, Jan, to the whole issue of trading with China after Tiananmen Square, which they still don't acknowledge even happened, and all the bayoneting and killing and the like, that should have been the pivot point for the world.
Especially the United States to say, “human rights, rule of law, or you're not going to export all of your products to the United States without huge barriers to that trade in the position of duties and tariffs.”
We gave all that up. Bill Clinton on May 26th, 1994, de-linked human rights from trade. That's when the Chinese Communist Party said, “these guys are bluffers. They are fake.” I put that right at Clinton's foot because he de-linked it. That's when they said profits trump treating their own people with basic human rights. Again, torture is the means by which they do everything.
If you or I are arrested as a political prisoner in the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Communist Party will torture you and me, and that's what they do. It's routine, it's systemic, and it's absolutely pervasive.
Mr. Jekielek: That's a very important date you mentioned because I guess things didn't have to be this way. Since 1994 and my own analysis, the US and others built the world's greatest dictatorship effectively.
Rep. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Willingly and with great fanfare almost. Speaking of consistent, you've been consistent on these things. Let's roll a clip from C-SPAN from a while back.
[News Soundbite/Rep. Smith, 5/26/1994]: Mr. Clinton once said that in foreign policy, one has to have "great personal strength to make the right decision.” However, it takes little personal strength to turn one’s back on millions of prisoners of conscience and people in slave labor camps, especially when profits are involved. It takes little personal strength to close your eyes to the millions of women and children, victimized by draconian population control policies which include forced abortions and the brutal murders of babies who are born, but don't meet standards of health or ability, or just happen to be baby girls.
Despite the soothing rhetoric, the administration has chosen to ignore the millions or denied the right to practice their faith. Religious repression is up significantly, especially since Li Peng's two new decrees were signed in January. Let me just finally say that Harry Wu, as some of you may know, just a week ago, made a very compelling case that the use of Gulag labor-produced goods continues unabated.
It has not been investigated the way we would like to see it investigated. And the so-called memorandum of understanding is very weak and flawed, and we have every reason to believe that our markets are receiving these goods that have been made by prisoners of conscience and by prisoners, religious prisoners, and by regular inmates.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems like a lot of what you said here has actually come to pass.
Rep. Smith: Yes, and it absolutely has. I offered the first amendments in the early '80s to highlight and combat the use of forced abortion and forced sterilization in China as part of the one-child per couple policy, which made brothers and sisters illegal and coerced women to abort. And they had no say. They were told, "The baby is dead because you didn't get permission and you're not part of the quota system” that they established.
I can't tell you how disappointing it was to see so many Sino hands—people who were supposedly experts who just looked the other way, as all of these women were being exploited. So I offered an amendment. It was backed and won, and Ronald Reagan certainly did it through his executive orders as well. They said no funds to any organization that allows coercive population control to happen. No direct funding to China, for sure.
The UN Population Fund was found to be the major contributor and enabler of the Chinese Communist Party's war on women and their babies. The catastrophic impact was—it's arguably the worst crime, certainly in numbers ever committed against women. At the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal, forced abortion by the Nazis was properly construed to be a crime against humanity. Well, it's no less a crime against humanity when the Chinese Communist Party uses it.
They use it with telling effect against targeted groups, whether it be the Falun Gong or the Tibetan Buddhists, or the Uyghurs, or Christians to keep their numbers down; and that is genocide. That's one of the five pillars of what constitutes genocide. Reducing the births through this coercive means by design, in order to have fewer of that ethnicity or that group, or that religious denomination in China or anywhere else.
Their disparity is unbelievable. They're missing some estimates—60 million females—women who systematically were exterminated by the Chinese Communist Party. Because if you can only have one in a society where there's a boy preference, the girl is sacrificed and killed. So the girl child and women, many of whom are not there, men can't find wives to marry because they've been destroyed by the Chinese Communist Party.
Now they're trying to reverse it with a three-child per couple policy. But the damage and the atrocity have been done to countless numbers of Chinese women; so that's just one. All the other human rights abuses—the crackdown on the Falun Gong, the organ harvesting—outrage that is an everyday occurrence in China. There's a parade of horribles here the likes of which we saw in Nazi Germany and other dictatorships.
The excesses, the outrages of Stalin are undoubtedly being committed by Xi Jinping. He needs to be seen for that; what he did to Hong Kong. In 2014, I introduced the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and all the big know-it-alls said, "Oh, don't do that. He'll never go after the basic law or the UK-Sino treaty. He won't undermine the special nature of Hong Kong."
I said, "Yes, he will. You don't understand Xi Jinping. He is a dictator with few equals in the world." Again, Stalin comes to mind, Mao Tse-tung comes to mind, Adolf Hitler comes to mind. That's how egregious his behavior really is. Sure enough, they have crushed the Hong Kongers. It is no longer a bastion of freedom. And our bill—and Marco Rubio did it on the Senate side—became law, but it was years too late.
We could have done it in 2014 with the beginning of the Umbrella Movement. That's what I keep saying all these years. I had the hearings on World Trade Organization accession allowing China into the WTO. I said, "Don't do it. WTO and the world community won't change China. They'll change the WTO." And that's what they've done ever since. They gamed the system. People are afraid to stand up to them.
So it's been all these years systematically making things worse, particularly for people who have a faith or a spiritual discipline because they can't be controlled. Now, Xi Jinping is pushing very hard. I wrote a Washington Post op-ed saying the world leaders have to speak out against what Xi Jinping is doing to faith.
He calls it sinicization; sinicization being that everything has to comport with his Marxist principles or else you're gone. You're in jail or your church or whatever it might be is crushed. Surveillance gets put up so that everybody is being monitored all the time. So it's the ultimate police state, and yet they still export so much to this country which enables their military.
One other thing, Jan, I had a hearing. I've chaired 75 congressional hearings on human rights abuses in China. One of them was with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Cisco. It took a while to get them to come. They did come. I swore them in and what they were doing on surveilling as well as censoring people on the internet, people who go onto Google, Google Search. They said they were just following orders.
This is Chinese law. Again, the reminiscence that this brings to mind, remembers—I should say— of what people said after Nazi Germany's demise. I even read a book prior to the hearing called “IBM and the Holocaust” and talked about how IBM had so enabled the Gestapo to know where the Jews were so they could round them up and slaughter them in Auschwitz-Birkenau and all the other terrible concentration camps.
Now, you have big tech enabling this dictatorship in the cruelest of fashion. I argued—unsuccessfully as it turns out—that if you protect human rights, please buy into that everyone, including big tech. Rule of law and copyright infringement, intellectual property rights will also be more likely to be protected. But if not, they'll just steal everything you have. And that's what they've done. And they've used it for military purposes.
They have a blue navy, blue water navy, and all. You look at a lot of their jets and everything else; they look just like ours. They either stole or we sold them the capability to build this. And who's their natural enemy over there? Who threatens China? They threaten everybody else. Whether it be Taiwan on the short-term, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and over time the entire world.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems like such a simple principle that you would expect a regime that treats its people a particular way to maybe treat you in a similar way. Not suddenly become all benevolent in foreign relations. Why is it that you think that we don't get this simple principle?
Rep. Smith: Well, I think money talked in a very real way. Many people in the business community said, "If you just trade more, the Chinese Communist Party will matriculate from a cruel dictatorship to a democracy."
Where's the example of that in history? Again, that's why you condition trade. If there's serious and sustained progress in the area of human rights, the trading relationship proceeds. If not, you shut it down. We never had enough people, either Republicans or Democrats, who took that view. Again, Bill Clinton, in my opinion, his gross capitulation in the face of a dictatorship—May 26th, 1994—that's when we lost China.
Mr. Jekielek: Let's talk about 1994.
Rep. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely. I see that as this pivotal date. Now, this is five years after Tiananmen Square. This is where the world, everybody knows exactly what the Chinese Communist regime is capable of. Tell me a little bit about how this happened? I mean, you were in the middle of this, and you were very clearly and vocally against it.
Rep. Smith: Yes. Bill Clinton pulled a fast one on the Congress. We think we had the votes to end or at least seriously condition Most Favored Nation status for China on human rights principles conditionality. And he said, "Well, wait a minute. I'll do an executive order. Give them a year to see how they do. If there's progress—serious and sustained progress—we continue it, but we keep that focus.”
I remember thinking that sounds like a reasonable idea, and it was a farce. Every month, I would hold a press conference and talk about the different areas of persecution and human rights abuse, and how it was getting worse. They were testing the White House; Bill Clinton.
Midway through, I put together a letter signed by a hundred members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, that I brought over to Beijing; went and met with the foreign ministry and said, "We stand with Bill Clinton. You're going to lose Most Favored Nation status if you do not make serious and sustained improvements in human rights observance."
I was pretty much laughed at. I was told by the foreign ministry that they're getting it. So I came back, contacted the White House and State Department, and said, "They think Bill Clinton is bluffing." I was very concerned. On May 26th, 1994, turned out he was bluffing. He took his executive order and ripped it to shreds, and said, "No conditionality on human rights and trade."
He did it on a Friday afternoon when most people had left Washington. I left later on that night, but not in the afternoon, late afternoon. So I did a press conference and pointed out that this was a betrayal of the good people of China. We stand with the oppressed, not with the oppressor. Bill Clinton had sided with the oppressor.
Interestingly enough, years later on her first trip to China, Hillary Clinton en route, and it was carried by the wire services. She says, "I'm not going to let human rights get in the way of other issues, climate change, and other things and trade." She was on her way to China to talk about it.
Get in the way? Human rights are the core! If you can't treat your own people with respect, if you're going to butcher them and kill them, and take their organs and horrible other things, forcibly abort their women—that's where it starts. That's where the conversation starts and it has to be pervasive in that dialogue or else and has to have linkage to things like trade.
Mr. Jekielek: The mantra you often hear is these are cultural differences, right?
Rep. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: You've heard that how many times?
Rep. Smith: I think when people suggested that Barrack Obama, in a famous meeting with the premier of China at the White House—Hu Jintao was asked the question and all of a sudden Hu had some problems with understanding what the question was, which was nonsense. So Obama weighs in and says, "Oh, they have a different culture and different political system." He was giving them cover for their horrific abuse.
It was so bad that the Washington Post did a huge editorial that said, "Obama defends Hu Jintao on rights." And it just took Obama to task for enabling. What a place to have said, “You have Liu Xiabo in prison who won the Nobel Peace Prize and Obama won it too.” So you could say, “one of my fellow Nobel laureates, and I'm standing with the man who has put him in prison.” Liu Xiabo, they wouldn't even let him go to the ceremony.
I was there. I was one of those who nominated him for that prize, but long story short, he had such an opportunity, and he just quit. He enabled. So that's the kind of thing they get used to. When the chips are down, the American politicians—particularly Obama, Bill Clinton more than anyone else, Joe Biden—they're weak and feckless.
Again, just what Wenjing Zhang told me, and I'll never forget it. Here's the guy who spent so many years being tortured in prison. “You got to be tough.” That doesn't mean you're belligerent. That doesn't mean you don't believe in constructive engagement, which I've often been accused of not believing; I believe in it. Just make sure the conditions are respect for human rights.
Mr. Jekielek: I noticed you didn't mention George Bush in your talk.
Rep. Smith: Well, George Herbert Walker Bush; honestly, I think Bill Clinton accused him of coddling dictatorship when it came to his treatment post-Tiananmen Square. That was not our finest day as a country.
We should have been so strong about aligning with the aspirations of the people who wanted democracy and human rights, similar to what we did in the Warsaw Pact countries and in Soviet Union during those heady days when the Wall was coming down in Berlin, and when Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev tear down that Wall."
We should have had a serious, similar type of reaction to Tiananmen Square. Whatever reason I think it was because he was ambassador to China, I thought he had a better handle on it. You're never sure. Brent Scowcroft went over and talked to the Chinese. I think mistakes were made. So when Bill Clinton said he coddled dictatorship, it was hard to argue with that.
So in comes Bill Clinton who then as tough as nails for the first year, and then coddles dictatorship like no one else on the face of the earth. They had to have taken notice of that, just like when years later Chi Haotian, the butcher of Beijing, the operational commander who sent in the tanks and killed so many people.
Now, he's defense minister. He comes here to Washington and he gets a 19-gun salute and all the military honors. He should have been sent to the Hague for crimes against humanity and should have been prosecuted. Not treated.
He's the one who said at the Army War College, "Nobody died at Tiananmen Square." When I heard that, I put together a congressional hearing in a couple of days while he was still here and had people who witnessed death and destruction, including the Time Magazine correspondent who saw it from his balcony—saw horrible, horrible violence committed by the Chinese Communist Party by Chi Haotian, the operational commander.
We had an empty seat for him. We invited anybody from the embassy to come and give an accounting for such a ridiculous lie. How big can the lie be? “Nobody died at Tiananmen Square.” So it was really, but Clinton had him.
Not too many years later, Christopher Cox, a member of Congress did a tremendous analysis, and it was bipartisan to talk about how the transfer of technology—particularly dual-use technology—was being used to make the police as well as their military weapons system far more lethal than they would ever been had that not come from us.
So all of these weapons that are just incredibly lethal, many of them, including command and control, came courtesy of the United States enabling; especially through our big corporate leaders in high tech. God forbid they go to Taiwan, which I think is a very real possibility. The troops that are in Xinjiang, where do they get all that capability? Much of it came courtesy of us and the Europeans.
Mr. Jekielek: A couple of things just come to mind, I'll mention. One of them was, you'll probably remember this. There was a court case. I don't know what happened to it at the moment. Maybe it's still alive somewhere, but about Cisco kind of selling itself to the Chinese regime. This was what the court case alleged its technology, very early. I mean, this is like the early 2000s.
I think the PowerPoints that were in the documentation showed how they were saying, "We will help you apprehend the Falun Gong. We will help you apprehend these people." So there was a question whether this is an okay way to market yourself.
Rep. Smith: Well, Jan, I actually had a hearing and they were one of the—I invited Cisco and they came. I held them to account for Policenet—one of their products which was being used to give the Chinese secret police and the ubiquitous People's Liberation Army, the capability to track down and find and coordinate with each police station, and all of these thugs to go after the Falun Gong, and to go after democracy activists and people of faith.
I couldn't believe that they would sell that capability to a dictatorship. This isn't a police force like we have in my state in New Jersey or elsewhere where if somebody goes awry, of course, you got to hold that police officer to account. But the police administer and help bring in criminals. Here, they're bringing in democracy activists and Falun Gong practitioners. So I did have that hearing, and it was outrageous in my opinion.
Mr. Jekielek: The second thing that occurred to me talking about police, I remember a few years back, we learned that the Chinese head of Interpol disappeared in China. I think never to be seen again, actually to this day. The story just kind of died. And the first thing I was stunned at was when the head of Interpol was Chinese. Really? Who made that decision?
Rep. Smith: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Right? And second of all, the head of Interpol can be disappeared without too many people having an issue with it because it happens to be in China. I just remembered this as a kind of case in point. This is obviously not America we're talking about, but the influence that the regime clearly had.
The coddling of the Chinese regime, as you describe it, has been an enthusiastic bipartisan thing for certainly as long as you've been in Congress, which is many decades. 1994 MFN (Most Favored Nation) status and then, I guess, it's 2000 or 2001 WTO (World Trade Organization), right? The permanent trade relations, and then WTO’s access without any change, and without any reason other than we want the market. Do you agree with that?
Rep. Smith: Oh, no doubt about it. It's beyond just being naive about whether or not they had been changing course or getting better. Anybody in the know would know that's not the case. I remember I met with a number of businesspeople on one of my trips in the early '90s who told me, "Oh, anybody can go. I'm happy to be a Catholic. Anybody can go to mass."
I said, "No, they can't." There are some patriotic, Catholic churches, very few of them. The government runs them and they really do. So don't think that this couple of showcase churches somehow constitutes religious freedom.
That was the kind of either willing or naivete. But I think it's more a willingness to believe a big lie because you are making a lot of money. There are no labor unions in China. There's a state-run one which is a farce. They don't have OSHA—Occupational Safety, and Health standards the way democracies do; like we do in the United States to protect workers from accidents that could be prevented. They have large numbers of deaths attributable to that.
Supply chains? We have no idea, supply chain-wise, what the feeder parts are. One of the big jokes and cruel jokes of the Clinton administration was that they always talked, and I had hearings on this too about an MOU with China. That if we suspected something was made in the laogai, the reform-through-labor camps; which is there's no reform through labor, it's coercion. But we could bring that to their attention. They will investigate and then tell us what they find.
So I went to a labor camp with Frank Wolf. It was called Beijing Prison Number One. While we were there, there were 40 Tiananmen Square activists. How we got in is still baffling to me. But we asked for their products—a sampling, and we took them. We brought them back. We got an import ban on everything coming out of that Gulag.
And when we saw the people there, it was heartbreaking.Gaunt, shaved heads, all men. These men just look like you see in the news reels about the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
But we got the products. Clinton's people would come up and say, "But we've got this MOU, memorandum of understanding that says we can investigate." So how many are being investigated? Well, you can never get the proof of origin unless you have onsite—like us taking it, literally, out of the building—who can go and get the feeder parts if it's a supply chain. And most things don't; they have an origination. We have no way of doing it.
So I met with the customs people in our embassy in Beijing, and there's an old ad. It used to be called the Maytag repairman. I mean, they make their washing machines and everything else so well that they never have to be fixed. So they have nothing to do. I remember talking to these two very nice men, customs officials. I said, "How many cases did you get?" Zero.
They were like the Maytag repairman. They had nothing to do, because who can originate it? Who can say with any credibility this came from this supply chain, which was made by Gulag labor or by forced labor?
That's why with our new bill that's now law; I hope it's implemented by the Biden administration. I was the chief Republican sponsor of it. It says anything coming out of Xinjiang, the presumption is that it was made in concentration camps; although unless they can prove that it didn't. So we reversed the proof standard. We should do that with the rest of China.
I'm going to introduce legislation soon. It basically takes the idea of serious and sustained progress in the area of human rights and applies it to all goods coming out of China. We have leverage; they're an export economy. Without that, the economy grinds to a halt. Frankly, if that's what it takes to protect their people from the slave-like conditions, then we have to do it. I think if we implement the Xinjiang law well, and if we do my bill, I think we're going to see reform.
Mr. Jekielek: I'm remembering prior to PNTR in 2000, the Permanent Trade Relations, and then WTO accession. I remember in 2009, New York Times’ Thomas Friedman wrote an op-ed; it's hard to get me angry. This one made me quite angry because essentially what he wrote was that, this is my take, but there are things to admire about the Chinese regime. It's very efficient, and so on and so forth. They are some sort of model to be looked at and considered.
Just as we're talking today, I can't help but wonder if that wasn't more of a representative perspective at the time. Not just this one columnist which resulted in PNTR and WTO accession. I admired a lot of the legislations that you put forth.
The question is if there isn't a will among, let's say the Americans with the money—the Americans who have the deals, the large banks that have huge investments, and so forth. How can legislation like this actually have teeth and actually be enacted meaningfully?
Rep. Smith: Great question. The law is a great teacher. If the law says clearly and not ambiguously that human rights are at the core of that relationship; well then, good things follow. It's interesting that both vis-à-vis America and the rest of the world, the Chinese government, Communist Party that is, has no Foreign Corrupt Practices Act like we do.
I mean, if you bribe somebody somewhere in Africa, Central and South America, or anywhere else in the world; boy, can you be held to account under US law. They have no such thing like that.
The temptation and the actual bribing of people happen all the time by the Chinese Communist Party. So that's already a problem. I do think, again, for a while you could say maybe people were naive. But I think the profit motive just elbowed out a concern about human rights and this false belief that they would somehow evolve. That's another thing that Obama said that the Washington Post took him to task for. Evolve?
When you're getting tortured, you're saying, "Oh, someday that government is going to evolve and they'll respect human rights." No, they won't. That doesn't happen in cruel dictatorships. They get stronger; they consolidate. Their colonels become, by day, businessmen. By other times, the colonel in the army. And they're making money hand over fist. You think they're going to give that up? Not anytime soon. So that's why we need to be very strong. We have not been.
And we just keep misperceiving their true intent. Their true intent is to constantly consolidate and strengthen their power. And then to expand that.
Confucius Institutes, and I've had hearings on those, which are a farce. They give all this money to a college. They seemingly handpick teachers from mainland China, make their way to the United States or somewhere else. And it's soft power; sending a line. Try asking a question about the Dalai Lama or Falun Gong which are so hated by the Chinese Communist Party. Try asking a question at Confucius Institute about that.
I held hearings when New York University, NYU was building a campus in Shanghai, and they were getting pretty much the place courtesy of the Chinese Communist Party. So I had a hearing. The chancellor came and testified.
I said, "What happens if somebody starts talking dissent here? Starts talking about the unmentionables about human rights? What about women who might become pregnant? Students? Are you going to facilitate the forced abortion policy on campus?"
I didn't get good answers. It was very cordial with them. I invited myself. I said, "I'd like to come and give a speech in Shanghai on human rights at NYU." They accommodated. That actually broke the ban that was on me to travel to China. I'm on a hit list by the Chinese Communist Party. They've announced it; I've been briefed by the FBI to be very careful.
But at that point, because I fought against the 2008 Olympics being held there, and then went there right before they actually occurred because they rounded up all the dissidents, they couldn't talk to the journalists or to the athletes. That was the summer Olympics, in that case.
I went and spoke. They treated me cordially. The Chinese Communist Party hated it. But now I'm on this list that is a target list. So I say that academia needs to be more forthright and say, it's not about access. It's not about the guy that broke the story on the forced abortion policy who, into Stanford, was going for his doctorate.
Steven Mosher broke this story about the use of forced abortion to implement the one child per couple policy. What did Stanford do? They cashiered him out of the program because they wanted to keep their access to China. It was so bad that the Wall Street Journal did a tremendous editorial called “Stanford Morality” and defended Steven Mosher against the fact that they sided with the dictatorship over one of their students. But he broke that story.
A year later, I'm offering an amendment on the floor pursuant to the information that we were able to glean from his work. Then, of course, the Washington Post did a three-part series by Michael Weiskopf about the dark side of family planning in China. He had about 200 interviews and it was very; he should have got the Pulitzer for it, and he didn't because it wasn't politically correct.
But he talked about what the Chinese government was doing to its own women—forcibly aborting and breaking them emotionally as well as physically, and stealing their babies, and butchering them.
That said, when there was a hearing in 1985 run by the Democrats, I was at it in which they had people saying, "It's all over. The forced abortion policy is over." That's a little bit of an overstatement, but not much that it had abated. I said, "No, it hasn't. They go high tides. When the quotas aren't being met, they mobilize with a tremendous amount of resolve to get those numbers down because kids are seen as pollution by the Chinese Communist Party.”
All these people went along with it. Always gave a good word for the Chinese dictatorship. Again, let me make it so clear. I stand with the Chinese people who are being oppressed, not with the oppressor. And the oppressor is the Chinese Communist Party.
They deserve democracy. They deserve everything that's embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is they've acceded to. They all are for it and other treaties that they say they're for. But then they don't really carry them out under the UN auspices. They say all this, and then they crush their people, and they crush, like I said before, the Falun Gong and a few other groups with especial impunity and vengeance.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk a little bit more about the Olympics. But before we go there, you mentioned this particular hatred that the Chinese regime has for Falun Gong. Why?
Rep. Smith: Well, I think part of it is they didn't see it coming in the beginning, and when the Falun Gong practitioners pretty much encircled a key part of Beijing, they didn't see it coming. They saw that if a group can organize like this, and we don't know about it the way they know about everything it seems, they need to be crushed. If there's independent thought, they want to crush that as well.
So there was a particular hatred towards the Falun Gong practitioners, especially with the use of torture and murder by the Chinese Communist Party. And of course, organ harvesting became not just a way of repressing, but also a way of making huge amounts of money for the dictatorship by literally stealing their organs, and selling them.
Mr. Jekielek: So we're definitely going to talk about organ harvesting because you have a bill up. I mean you've had multiple bills over the years, and that's another thing we need to mention. But briefly let's talk about the Olympics.
We just finished the 2022 Olympics. In 2008, everyone said, "Oh, this is China's opportunity to show that it's going to be good on human rights and join the world community." Of course, as we know, and as you and I said at the time, that didn't happen. It went the other way. And here we are again in 2022. How do you see that?
Rep. Smith: Well, the fact that in 2014, the IOC, the International Olympic Committee chose and the vote was 44 to 40 against Kazakhstan. The others all dropped out. I wonder if they were kicked out in any way, pressured out of the contention for the 2022 Olympics. But China got it. They made promises.
At the same time, Xi Jinping's government was making promises that they did not keep and are not keeping on human rights. They were simultaneously planning the genocide against the Uyghurs. Simultaneous. I mean, that's when it all was being pushed and Xi Jinping himself said, "Show no mercy. Crush them." And he has.
There were even some police that didn't want to go along with it. So they cashiered them out of work and did horrible things to them. So Marco Rubio and I; I was chairman, and he was chairman as well; co-chairs of the China Commission. We did write to the IOC. One of those letters was in 2018 saying, "Don't go to China. Find a different venue; move the venue. You can't do this in a country that horrifically oppresses its own people and is committing genocide.”
I mean, that's the worst crime on the face of the earth and they're doing it. And it's all at Xi Jinping's lead. He's going to be there smiling for the cameras at the opening ceremonies while simultaneously butchering people. That can't be done. I pointed out, and I'm not the only one that is very reminiscent of the 1936 Berlin Olympics with the Nazis. But in a way, worse, because we know even more now about what's going on in China.
There's been one catastrophic abuse after another; so it just never ends. How could you reward them with a PR victory? Again, I love the Olympics. I love sports, the athletes, nothing but respect for their capabilities and their training. They're the best of the best. But don't send them to China. Go to another venue; there are other venues. That should have happened.
We had a woman testify who talked about how she had been—electrical shocks were run through her. Mother of three; one of her children died. And that's just a typical Uyghur. And again, while all of that is going on, the Olympics are going on.
I think from Xi Jinping's point of view, and maybe even NBC's point of view, these were not the Olympics they expected. I think they were greatly undermined by the human rights abuse. I mean, I saw one reporter as he was talking who was literally taken off.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes, a Dutch reporter.
Rep. Smith: A Dutch reporter. I mean, but that's what they do. Usually, they wait until the light goes off and then they do it. They did it while he was still on camera. That's what these people are; they're bullies on steroids. And when they get into the back room, they show absolutely no mercy with their torture. That's what I think most people don't realize.
So the Olympics, I think, were not the political PR stunner that they thought it would be at all. A lot of people didn't watch, maybe because they were distracted by other things; but maybe it was because these are the genocide Olympics. We haven't had a genocide Olympics since Berlin. And now we have one again.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. I mean, it's an interesting point you make that what we knew of about what the Chinese regime has been doing, that we know a lot more now than people even knew in the 1930s.
Rep. Smith: And, Jan, getting the corporate America; one of the hearings, because I chaired them. We also had the China commission chair them, and I'm the ranking member there, so I was a part of that. We had some of the corporate sponsors there like Coca-Cola and others. I've never been more disappointed in people in my life who couldn't say “Yes, they are committing genocide, and this has to stop.”
They want to keep their market share. They want to be able to make money. I'm all for making money. I'm a capitalist; I believe in making money, but with conditions. You can't make money on the backs of people who are being repressed.
Mr. Jekielek: Let's talk about this issue which you've been certainly on top of for at least 10 years—the forced organ [harvesting]. I like to call it the murder-for-organs-at-scale industry in China. It was 2006 when I first realized it wasn't a conspiracy theory. When you first hear things like this, you think to yourself, "Okay, this is too much, right?”
But sure enough, I mean, there's this report in 2006—David Kilgour, David Matas put something there that looked really interesting. They did some research; I became convinced. Now, let's talk about the bill you have out right now, and then let's talk about what it took to get to there.
Rep. Smith: Sure. Well, Jan, in the mid-1990s, Harry Wu made me aware of the killing of prisoners to take their organs. We actually got a Chinese policeman who defected to testify. We actually cloaked him so they wouldn't know who he was; although they might figure it out to retaliate against his family.
He brought documentation that was very, very credible—including pictures of how they would shoot, but not kill, immediately take out organs, and then finish the job. And even make the families pay for the bullets that were used to execute.
So they were focused on prisoners in general, political prisoners mostly. Then, as the Falun Gong emerged as a target of Chinese Communist Party hatred, the whole idea, and to scale like you said, it's a huge scale of repression. They started going after the Falun Gong especially; others too, but with a singlemindedness to kill and take their organs.
It's very lucrative; lots of money is made. If somebody wants to donate an organ and give their consent, that's certainly ethical and should be permissible in any society. But there's no informed consent. These people are perfectly healthy.
They happen to be a Falun Gong practitioner or some other faith that is being targeted, and they just take their organs. It could be very painful. They don't execute them and then take it. They take them so that they're as fresh as humanly possible. Then they sell them. People come from abroad and get their organs.
It's a nightmarish abuse to think that you could be losing major parts of your body with the intent that you die at the end. So I have a bill and Senator Tom Cotton has the companion bill. We're working hand-in-glove together. He's a great human rights leader. Behind it is to hold to account all those who are part of this process.
Back in 2004, I authored the Belarus Democracy Act. At the core of that bill were sanctions against the individuals, and the inability to, in any way, be involved with trade. That then became law. Then we did it with the Magnitsky Act, and I was the House sponsor of that bill. So we take that whole concept of holding individuals to account—no visas, and an inability to, in any way, shape, or form—do business with the banks, and the rest, with us as a sanction.
So at the core of it is that idea of personally sanctioning the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. We have not been able to get the bill marked up or voted on, which is unfortunate. We're trying; we're going to keep trying.
Mr. Jekielek: But you've had variance of this. I mean, I've looked at this most recent legislation and it frankly goes just beyond China when it comes to its rules, which makes a lot of sense to me. But of course this is the place where it is the biggest issue, and it's a state. This is the important part too, to mention it's a state-sanctioned thing. It's not some kind of black market underground operation that happens despite the state.
Rep. Smith: Well, the state is a hundred percent behind it—Chinese Communist Party. Nothing happens, particularly something like this, without the full assent by the Chinese Communist Party. So Xi Jinping no doubt knows all about it, and gives the thumbs up to do these things. Just like he does everything else.
I mean, the lack of respect for human life by the Chinese Communist Party knows no bounds. I've never seen; he reminds me of the Nazis and I'm not. You look at what Stalin did when he was killing people left, right, from the middle. Human life has no value. Crush, crush, crush, destroy. That's what Xi Jinping is doing. This is just part of that apparatus. But in this case, they make a lot of money doing it.
Mr. Jekielek: I'm going to go back to my original question. You're having trouble having this bill being voted on. I mean, why do you think it's so hard at this point?
Rep. Smith: It's a great question. I don't think the White House wants it. The White House we believe didn't even want the bill that said; the presumption is that anything coming out of Xinjiang was made with Gulag labor. They deny that, but there's a lot of evidence suggesting otherwise. When it finally broke into the mainstream media, it helped us to get that bill onto the floor and pass. It's the same thing here.
I mean, I've lost track of the number of times on a Chinese human rights bill that I've been told “not going to happen”. In Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act during the Obama administration, 2014, when I introduced it was another example. "Don't bring that up. You're a solution in search of a problem." No, we're not.
After a while, you get tired of being right about these things. Why don't you get in the mind of what the Chinese Communist Party wants to do to its own people and others? There's no kindness or graciousness there. It's malignant. It's a malign influence everywhere they go.
Mr. Jekielek: I was just speaking with a friend a couple of days ago as it would happen about this idea of sanctioning Chinese companies for being complicit in forced labor, for example. That's very far away. The question is why not actually sanction, or something comparable, the individuals or the companies in the US that are actually doing the investment; that are actually profiting from the whole enterprise?
Rep. Smith: It's a great question. When it comes to the genocide being committed against the Uyghurs, both at hearings, and we believe the executive branch is serious about sanctioning Thermo Fisher Scientific which is helping with the surveillance. We do have a bill that's pending, and I'm the lead Republican on it that would ensure that certain devices and means for the police to crack down on individuals are not sold.
I don't think we should sell anything to the Chinese police. They're not a police department as most people think of a police department. They're thugs, so you're right. More needs to be done in that area. We can't even get our companies to criticize the genocide. I mean, think about that.
There are one or two who will say something they don't like. But they're so afraid of losing market share. Then they claim, “we don't know when it comes to supply chains.” How does that product get to the factory for final assembly? What were the feeder industries and what happens in those factories? There's a great deal of willful ignorance on the part of our companies.
Mr. Jekielek: You made a good point earlier. You can flip it around. Why not do it across the board? Right?
Rep. Smith: Well, I do think, again, that's what my new bill, which we've drafted—I haven't dropped it yet—would do. It would basically unless there was serious and sustained efforts or a record of human rights protections, Most Favored Nation status which is now called Permanent Normal Trading Relationship, PNTR, so we don't even do an annual review anymore, would be gone.
Mr. Jekielek: How realistic is a recoupling of human rights with trade and economy?
Rep. Smith: Well, it's a big fight. We lost it in the '90s with Bill Clinton's terrible leadership in the opposite direction. I would hope that an added dimension to all of this is the military threat now posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
I raised with Al Haig in 1980; remember he was our Supreme Allied Commander for NATO, and he was the featured speaker at a group of the new members of Congress. I was a new member of Congress; got together, and I raised China as being a serious threat to world peace—particularly countries in the ASEAN region that are in proximity to China; a serious threat.
He laughed at me, I'll never forget it. It was kind of rude, but he goes, "No, there's no problem there." Years later, because he did testify at another hearing, Tom Lantos and I were at that hearing and I asked him those same questions again. This was after Tiananmen Square, and talked about how serious this is that Chinese; they don't think in terms of a year or five years or 10 years. They think very long-term with plans to get them from here to there.
And regional dominance is absolute in their plans. That means a lot of our allies are very, very worried about what their designs are. All of that has been changed by the reality of their military capabilities, satellite busters. Bill Clinton, I'll never forget this, Hughes Aircraft was a contributor to him. And when there was an effort to help them with their satellites, so putting them on top of their ICBMs, these were ostensibly for peaceful means, that type of thing.
Some of the companies in the United States helped them to be far better at satellites. What do you think a satellite does for a military? It's surveillance, command and control, moving their ships around, moving everything around, and we helped that. I find that appalling.
The whole idea of dual-use material that flew off our shelves, of technology at a price. So people made money on it, into the coffers of the Chinese Communist Party to build a military that is threatening to the world.
Mr. Jekielek: You would think at this point that there'd be general realization that there really isn't much that China does that isn't what's called dual-use.
Rep. Smith: Yes, that's true.
Mr. Jekielek: As a junior member in 1980, what did you know that no one else knew?
Rep. Smith: Well, I read a lot and I did get very involved with the fight against forced abortion in China. And of course, that opened up even more vistas about what they were doing on other human rights abuses. Everybody, I think, knew of the Cultural Revolution, and the terrible excesses of Mao Tse-tung. But there was this sense that they're modernizing. They're moving in the direction of a capitalist society.
I thought it was all, frankly yes, they might build some factories and do some things along those lines. But again, you’ve got to understand communism. Whether it be the Marxist-Leninist views that were espoused by Marx himself, and then, of course, Lenin. There's a fundamentalist misunderstanding about Marxism. It is not benign. It is egregiously flawed and it is all about control—control, power, dominance, and torture.
Every way you look with the communist society, whether it be Cuba, whether it be the Warsaw Pact nations or Romania. I did a lot of work. The first book I read on religious freedom was “Tortured for Christ” by Richard Wurmbrand, a pastor in Romania who had been tortured horribly as were the other Christians and some other faiths as well, but mostly Christians.
He made this appeal in the book, “Tortured for Christ”, "Why are you enabling Marxism? Don't you understand what they do?" And I read that book. I read Solzhenitsyn’s books. And one thing that jumped off the page in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” was communism isn't against God. It doesn't say there's no God; it hates God.
It's militant atheism. It hates God. And in 1982, I was in the Soviet Union on behalf of Soviet Jews. We went to Kazan Cathedral where they had these little young pioneers, little kids walking in with their kerchiefs on, and all orderly walking through, mocking the three major religions of the world. We got a little translation from the person we were with as to what the tour guide was saying.
Mocking all three of them like you couldn't believe to little kids that were very impressionable. They had museums on atheism all over the USSR. I wrote an op-ed about it once, about that. But my point is, that's the same with some variation that the Chinese Communist Party does in China. They hate God. They don't say he doesn't exist. They hate him. And therefore they hate the creature. They hate the human being unless they can control them.
Mr. Jekielek: The Olympics have passed. Maybe they weren't the big propaganda victory they were supposed to be for the CCP. Certainly weren't as big as Xi Jinping would've liked; as the Chinese regime would've liked. But nonetheless, the Olympics were held there.
I'm not aware of a single protest by an athlete. I think there were even human rights organizations that advised the athletes not to, because something might happen to them. Just the concept of that, I just find the brain starts misfiring. What happens now?
Rep. Smith: Well, I think we need to, we double our efforts on human rights abuse exposé of China. Be very, very proactive on trying to stand in solidarity with Taiwan. The deep concern is that is Taiwan next? I mean, Hong Kong has fallen. Is Taiwan next?
The threats the Chinese Communist Party has made against us, against Japan, and others in terms of being for Taiwan are unconscionable. What are they going to do? Taiwan is a wonderful country where democracy is flourishing.
Of course, they have their flaws. So do we. But it's not a dictatorship, and that's what they want to impose if they were to move against it. So these global designs and regional designs on other people's property, we've seen it with the expansion in the South China Sea, and those islands that were manmade so they could extend their claim to territorial areas, water, in many cases.
The Philippines are worried, as they should be; as are other countries in the area. So we need to be, very robustly use diplomacy to the greatest extent possible. But I think we have some flaws now in terms of recent actions that hurt what we're trying to do. I think the horrific exodus out of Afghanistan sent precisely the wrong message to every dictatorship in the world— from North Korea to Iran, to Putin, to Xi Jinping—that we left Americans there, and it's more than 150.
We left a lot of our allies there who God knows what's going to happen to them. And of course, we're still in South Korea. That is a protection that helps mitigate territorial designs by Kim Jong-un. We're still in Europe as part of NATO, which is hopefully a deterrent against Russian aggression to other countries; not certainly Ukraine. There is no NATO per se because they're not part of NATO.
So I think we're bearing some very bitter fruit from the egregiously flawed departure from Afghanistan. I mean, there should have been conditions that were well adhered to before we left.
Mr. Jekielek: So if there's one, let's say, piece of legislation for lack of a better idea that you think would be the most important thing right now to do to counter China, is it recoupling human rights and trade? What would that be in your mind?
Rep. Smith: Well, I think all the bills, including our legislation on organ harvesting, they should all pass. I mean, they should be no-brainers. They should be on the floor. They should pass and go down to the president, and then, God willing, faithfully implement.
But that said, if we were to reconnect human rights with trade and say, "We're not kidding. Stop grossly abusing your people. There needs to be serious and sustained efforts to protect the human rights of your own people," I think we would, there are people who might emerge as more moderates in the Chinese dictatorship. You never know.
I mean, where did Gorbachev come from? He made some serious mistakes, but he also did some very good things with Ronald Reagan. So you want to see not the Xi Jinpings of this world who do terrible things to their own people, but something that's much more moderate and moving in the right direction.
Nobody expects nirvana and peace to break out overnight in terms of human rights observance or compliance with international norms, it's the direction. The direction is all in the wrong direction now.
It is worse and it gets worse and worse. More victims, more victims, more victims. And we need to turn that ship around and use every lever possible. Trade is our most potent means to try to get them to change.
Mr. Jekielek: Are you concerned that what's happening in Central and Eastern Europe, Russian aggression against Ukraine, that that's going to distract from the focus on the Chinese regime?
Rep. Smith: That's a great question because I do think it already is distracting, but we have bureaus for Asia. We have bureaus for Europe. The State Department is very diversified, as is Congress in terms of all of our subcommittees that have different focuses. We don't have to take our eye off the Chinese Communist Party and their horrible abuses, and the threat to Taiwan while simultaneously dealing with Ukraine. I mean, there's no reason for that.
There's enough, I think, personnel focused and deployed to all the crises around the world. That would include Iran as well. I mean, to think that this administration is trying to reconstitute the flawed nuclear deal with the Ayatollah when they have not been faithful.
I mean, it's still in effect with the Europeans. So where's the faithfulness? The money that they have used and diverted to terrorism is astronomical. It came from sanctions relief and my money that was sent over; far less than the sanctions relief in planes, in small bills to the dictatorship in Tehran.
So there are multiple crises. But again, I think, and I hope it has a short shelf life, but the debacle in Afghanistan has sent a very serious message to dictatorships all over the world. Kim Jong-un had not been firing off his missiles, particularly during the Trump administration.
There was some, but not in any way; he's setting records now for the type of missiles that they're firing off—tests. And that is provocative, but it's also indicative of a sense that who's going to hold them to account? The United States? The UN?
So there's an unleashing, I think, of very destructive forces and part of it; I'm not going to blame it all on Afghanistan. That would be, where's the empirical proof for that? But I think just knowing the way things are happening and what that was perceived as. There was an article in one of the Chinese papers, and I read the English versions all the time, and it talked about how, to Taiwan, "Don't think the Americans have your back. Look at what they did in Afghanistan."
So they're saying that in their publications, Global Times, and other propaganda. They put out how, almost like an admonishment to the people of Taiwan, "Don't expect the United States to have your back. Look at what they did in Afghanistan." It was a long op-ed or editorial, and it's not the only one. So they're spreading that message aggressively to diminish opposition to anything Xi Jinping might be planning.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts?
Rep. Smith: No, I think, I am a praying man. I do think we need to pray for the people of China. As I said before, we stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor. I mean, they have suffered so much for so many decades. I mean, the loss of life on Mao Tse-tung is right up there with Stalin and maybe even more. And they crush people with the bayonets and with the barrel of a gun, and now increasingly through torture.
So to pray for them is needed as never before, in my opinion. And we need to be wiser as policymakers and play more chess and less checkers. Think what the next moves will be by these dictatorships, and just don't go back to unwittingly enabling them or not caring.
For a long time, there was such a sense of China as what a wonderful culture. I agree. What a wonderful people, but not a good government. A terrible, despotic, human rights-abusing government and the people of China deserve better.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Congressman Chris Smith, it's such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Rep. Smith: Thank you. Thank you, Jan. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.
Mr. Jekielek: We live in an age of censorship and disinformation where some of the most prominent voices, most important voices aren't actually being heard because they're being suppressed. I invite some of these people onto the show, onto American Thought Leaders. So to stay up to date on the most recent episodes in our exclusive content, you can actually sign up for our newsletter at theepochtimes.com/newsletter. Just hit the checkbox for American Thought Leaders.
This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
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