WASHINGTON—On the eve of the 60th anniversary of the take over of mainland China by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill, September 29, focusing on the recent upsurge in human rights abuses in China. Meanwhile, China’s rulers were making preparations for a huge celebration parade in Beijing and festivities globally. The Commission took a dim view of the celebration with all their state controls.
“…in two days the Chinese Communist [regime] will mark the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China with massive but highly choreographed celebrations—and a massive ramping-up of police control, and round-up of dissidents,” said Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ). Quoting from AsiaNews, Rep. Smith said that the people residing in Beijing have been “invited” to stay home. While the name may be the “People’s Republic,” the people are told to stay inside and not come out on balconies to watch the ceremony.
Both Representative Smith and Co-chairman of the Lantos Commission, Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), spoke of their great disappointment of the Obama Administration and what they regarded as its cautious and too tepid response to the human rights abuses in China.
“I was deeply disappointed to learn that President Obama will not meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he visits Washington next week,” said Wolf. He said this is a “near repeat” of the time during the Ford Administration, when dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn was not permitted to see President Ford.
Rep. Smith said the Obama Administration has “lost its voice or has no voice” on the human rights problems caused by the PRC. Smith said China was helping the genocide in Darfur to flourish by supplying weapons to the Janjaweed among other aid to the Bashir regime. He said he reads the American version of the People’s Daily—the CCP’s controlled newspaper—and how they like it when human rights are “off the table.”
Smith asked rhetorically, “Why wasn’t President Obama in Washington on June 4th (the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre), but in Cairo?” Smith noted that the president could have scheduled his important Cairo speech at another time and been here “when all the dissidents [from China] converged on the Capital” and shown that he “had not forgotten the bloodletting 20 years ago. The Chinese [rulers] were applauding [his absence].”
Both Reps. Wolf and Smith asserted they were not criticizing the Obama Administration because they are Republicans. Both said they were also very critical of the last Bush Administration, especially during the last year when President Bush attended the Beijing Olympics and, still worse, didn’t boycott the opening ceremony, which was a kind of anointing of the regime. Both Congressmen are well known for strongly identifying with human rights issues.
Negotiating With the Chinese Communists
Testifying before the Commission was political dissident and democracy advocate Wei Jingsheng, 59, who Congressman Smith met in 1993 when Wei was freed temporarily during the period the PRC was seeking to host the 2000 Olympics. Wei told Smith that when there is much concern for human rights abroad, they beat the dissidents less, and conversely, when there is less criticism, they beat them more. Smith said at the hearing that this was a lesson he never forgot.
When the PRC lost their bid, Wei was soon rearrested and sent back to the labor camps and solitary confinement and torture. Wei spent a total of nearly 18 years in China’s prisons before an international outcry led to him being sent out of the country in 1997 to the U.S. for medical treatment.
Later Rep. Smith traveled to Tibet in 1997 where he heard many accounts of violent oppression by the Chinese regime. He said he personally spoke to Buddhist monks and nuns who recounted their experiences of torture and imprisonment in Tibet's notorious Drapchi Prison. Smith said that when the U.S. Government ignores these human rights atrocities, and others such as those inflicted on the Uyghurs, and Falun Gong, for fear of offending those in power, it indicates to the Communist rulers that “the U.S. doesn’t care.” As a consequence, the political and religious dissidents are treated worse, and have less hope, Smith said.
Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director from Human Rights Watch, picked up on Rep. Smith’s rationale. She testified that the way the U.S. is negotiating with the PRC is not fruitful because they put Human Rights (HR) aside and instead want to deal with the PRC representatives on technical issues. She said they are putting HR in a little box as if it were just the affair of some small office in the State Department.
But Richardson said that any agreement we enter into with the PRC is not effective unless the human rights component is addressed. For example, product safety agreements. The Chinese press was about to reveal the tainted milk formula in June 2008, when the Propaganda Department stopped them. As a result, thousands of children worldwide got sick, and some even died.
Richardson said we need to address the need for a free press (i.e., a human rights issue) to make progress on product safety. The same is true of trade, military, and environmental agreements. She said, “We need the free flow of uncensored information" and a “non-political judicial system” and laws that “guarantee peaceful dissent.” In other words, there should be a conscious connection made between all bilateral agreements and human rights, she said.
Workers Living on the Edge
Over the last several years there has been a surge in protests demanding workers’ rights, says the Lantos Commission in the announcement for this hearing. It cites the 2008 State Department Human Rights report, which states that “workers and their advocates suffered harassment and intimidation by criminal elements often hired by employers.”
“The super low priced products made in China are based on the prerequisite of exploiting workers’ rights and interests…Because workers are generally living at the edge of poverty, they really need to create organizations that will strive for their own interests, thus they need independent labor unions,” said Wei Jingsheng.
Because the Chinese Communist regime uses its official power to suppress the formation of labor unions, a lot of “underground labor unions have emerged. Wei said these labor unions, underground or in disguise, are like the religious and rights-defending groups and together these groups function to “organize the people” and are behind the large-scale protest events being reported on by the news media. The leaders of these underground unions, however, are inexperienced and not connected well with others and with overseas help, and so become ripe targets for the police and government espionage, says Wei.
The extreme conditions under which the people are living explain the high interest in religious and belief groups, says Wei. People join these groups because they “are living in an unsafe environment” and have “no trust” in the regime and society. Wei used Falun Gong as an example.
“[Falun Gong] practices, which are beneficial to people’s health, have attracted a large group of people to join. Their moral standard is obviously in conflict with the Communist’s anti-human culture, and thus they have formed a huge group of people beyond the Communist Party. To the Communist Party, it is damaging to the social base of the party, thus the suppression.”
But the “cruel torture to Falun Gong practitioners and members of religious groups to force them to give up their beliefs” have been met with strong resistance. The organized groups of “mutual help” that include workers constitute a powerful challenge to the CCP, said Wei.