A live telephone interview by Voice of America (VOA) with an outspoken Chinese professor was abruptly terminated when Chinese police forcibly broke into his home in Shandong Province on Aug. 1.
“The police came again! They came to interfere again!” Sun Wenguang, a retired physics professor at Shandong University, could be heard yelling in the interview clip that the media outlet uploaded to its website.
Sun was making comments in the interview that were critical of China’s “dollar diplomacy”—a term used to describe Beijing’s strategy of gaining alliances through giving large sums of loans and investments to foreign countries in an effort to jockey for geopolitical influence.
“The ordinary [Chinese] people are poor, and we should stop throwing money at Africa,” Sun said, continuing to talk while a commotion could be heard in the background.
Seconds later, the interview abruptly ended, with Sun shouting to the police: “What are you doing here? It is illegal for you to break into my house. This is my freedom of speech!”
VOA tried calling and texting Sun to re-establish contact, but received no response. People familiar with the situation in Shandong later told VOA that Sun had been removed from his home that night, but now has been placed under house arrest.
VOA correspondents in Beijing attempted to call the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to inquire about Sun’s situation, but the ministry’s mobile phone number open to the public was turned off and its landline was not answered. Local police stations in Jinan City, Shandong Province, the area where Sun lives, also refused to comment.
Sun, now 84, retired in 1994. Outspoken about human-rights issues and critical of government policies in China, Sun has been subjected to constant monitoring and intimidation by Chinese authorities over the years.
On Feb. 27, right before the “Lianghui,” or the “two sessions” annual political meetings of the Chinese Communist Party’s rubber-stamp legislature and national political-advisory body, Sun was taken away and detained for 40 days. Dissidents are commonly harassed and detained ahead of important Party meetings in an attempt to silence them.
After Sun returned home from detention in April, he was placed under house arrest and had his retirement pension suspended by university officials.
On May 3, Sun was again detained and “forcibly disappeared” for 43 days, ahead of the 29th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which Sun had publicly commemorated for years. Mentions of the democracy movement and the regime’s brutal crackdown are taboo subjects in China.
In July, ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s planned trip to the Middle East and five countries in Africa, Sun published an open letter that urged Xi to stop giving away large sums in foreign aid, loans, and investments, because China still has a large population of poor people suffering at home. Sun said it was unnecessary to “throw money extravagantly and put up a wealthy front” overseas.
The letter soon spread among Chinese communities abroad and has since gained tremendous attention, leading to VOA’s interview on Aug. 1, to discuss Sun’s opinions on China’s foreign-aid policy.
“I think you all have just witnessed the situation live. This is the current human-rights situation in China,” said the host of the VOA television show “Issues & Opinions.”