The Long Reach of China to Silence Its Critics
WASHINGTON—China’s repressive methods at home are well documented and embedded in our memories. The 27th anniversary of the student-led protests on Tiananmen Square and the bloodshed that followed will be upon us next Saturday, June 4. What is much less well known is the long reach of the Chinese communist regime beyond its borders to intimidate and suppress criticism of its human rights record and policies.
Today, China is in a strong position to employ its diplomatic relationships and economic and trade powers to persuade its critics to back off or self-censor.
Among the most disturbing examples of likely PRC interference in free societies concerns the American Bar Association (ABA), which had made a formal offer to well-known China human rights lawyer Dr. Teng Biao to write a book about his work in China and the country’s judicial system and the future. Although the publishing contract was signed, it was soon rescinded because of fears that Teng’s book would offend the Chinese regime.
Teng quotes the correspondent from the ABA with whom he had been working. “There is concern that we run the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by publishing your book, and because we have ABA commissions working in China, there is fear that we would put them and their work at risk.”
The source for the above quote is taken from Teng’s written testimony prepared for a congressional hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) held on May 24. The hearing’s aim was to learn firsthand from Teng and other witnesses residing outside China’s borders, who have been targets of China’s intimidation. The ABA declined the Commission’s invitation to answer questions, but sent a letter that the Chair entered into the hearing record.
Teng began testifying orally via satellite from London, when the Chair stopped his speaking because the communication became too garbled.
In his written testimony, however, he says, “For my activism, I’ve been banned from teaching, been forced out of a job, had my passport confiscated, been disbarred from practicing law, and have even been jailed and tortured.” He writes that he is one of many Chinese activists, who he says must make sacrifices for the sake of the country’s future.
Tiananmen Square Massacre Information Suppressed
“China has long used its visa denial and censorship policies to muzzle discussion of the Tiananmen protests and their violent suppression by punishing and marginalizing the former student leaders and encouraging self-censorship among academics and foreign journalists,” states the introductory description to the hearing.
Twenty-seven years after Tiananmen, “the methods used by Beijing to enforce a code of silence have gone global,” said Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.), Chair of CECC. “The long reach of China extends beyond its borders to Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Kenya, at the U.N., and in the U.S.,” he said.
Smith said that last year, California-based LinkedIn blocked articles related to Tiananmen that were posted inside China or by members hosted on its Chinese site.
The Cochairman of the CECC Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said that dissidents living in the safety aboard “regularly report that their family members who remain in China are harassed, detained and even imprisoned in retaliation for their truth-telling about the regime’s abuses.” Rubio was incensed that “some of the witnesses that the Commission sought to invite to testify declined based on very legitimate fears about what would happen to members of their family who remain in China.”
Daughter Misses Her Father
The hearing discussed the disappearance and alleged abduction of five Hong Kong booksellers. Angela Gui, a 22-year old undergraduate student at the University of Warwick, UK, testified regarding her father who is one of the five. She said she always had regular communication via Skype with her father, bookseller Gui Minhai, until October 13, when communication was broken off. Later she learned from one of her father’s colleagues (who would later be abducted himself) that three others who worked at the same Hong Kong bookstore and publishing business were also missing. Her father was last seen at his vacation home in Thailand. Finally, the Chinese acknowledged they had her father but they claimed he came to China voluntarily.
“In November and in January, [my father] sent me two messages in Skype telling me to keep quiet. As his daughter, I could tell he sent these under duress,” she said at the hearing.
She didn’t hear or see anything about her father until three months after his disappearance on a “clearly a staged and badly put together confession video of him aired on Chinese state TV in January.”
Her father is a Swedish citizen—the only citizenship he holds. He could not have left Thailand voluntarily because there is no record of his departure, she said. So, here is a Swedish citizen abducted by the Chinese state agents from a third sovereign country, in violation of international and China’s own law.
After eight months, “I still don’t know where he is [in China], how he is being treated, or what his legal status is,” which is especially troubling because he is Swedish citizen.
Although Dr. Teng Biao was unable to testify orally, his written testimony was especially cogent and powerful.
“The ABA is just one of the major Western institutions attempting to promote change in China—on the Communist Party’s terms,” he writes.
He said that the ABA and other Western organizations’ training programs for Chinese judges, prosecutors, police, and lawyers associations might be in jeopardy if sensitive topics were not avoided, such as the persecution of Falun Gong, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Party’s politics in Tibet and Xinjiang.
“So without realizing it, Western institutions end up helping the Chinese government to silence and marginalize the individuals and groups it finds most troublesome. Self-censorship has become instinctive, and now characterizes the very basis of their interactions with the regime,” he writes.
Teng said that nearly all the funding of Western programs intended to support the rule of law and human rights wind up lining the pockets of government departments and scholars with state connections. Resources intended to further the rule of law and human rights have fallen into the hands “whose job is to trample human rights,” such as the courts, Procuratorates, public security departments, and government lawyers associations.
China’s Pressure on German Broadcaster
Su Yutong, Chinese journalist and human rights activist, was kept under surveillance and periodically placed under house arrest, according to her bio, because of her activities in the commemoration events related to the Tiananmen massacre. In June 2010, her house was ransacked by the police after she made public the personal diary of former Chinese Premiere Li Peng. She was then forced to leave China. The same year she became a journalist with the Chinese section of Deutsche Welle, a German international broadcaster. She wrote nearly 1,500 articles which often included reports about Chinese dissidents.
In 2014, a Beijing media consultant claimed that some Western media, including Deutsche Welle, were unfair in their criticisms of the Chinese regime’s crushing the Tiananmen protests, she said. Deutsche Welle came under new management that wanted to take more “guidance and direction” from China, she testified. Su Yutong was outspoken in opposing this change in policy and the whitewashing of the 1989 events. She was fired in August 2014.
Pressures on Family in China
China has punished the political activities of Ilshat Hassan by making life difficult for his family. Hassan was born in Xinjiang, China, which he calls East Turkistan. He taught college in Xinjiang for 15 years, but had to flee China in 2003 due to the constant “harassment, threats, and persecution from the regional government’s secret service agency.” He left behind his wife and child, parents, sisters and brothers. He eventually came to the U.S. as a refugee. He currently is very politically active and president of the Uyghur American Association.
“In the beginning, the Chinese government held my family members hostage, denying my wife and son passports.” This was when he was hoping to resettle his family in Malaysia, before he came to America.
After seeing that his wife would never get a passport, and also to protect her “from constant harassment from the Chinese government and secret agents,” he made the “painful decision” to get a divorce. “But that didn’t stop the Chinese [regime] from continuing to harass and threaten my ex-wife, and she was constantly under surveillance and threats,” he said.
More recently, on Aug. 17, 2014 around 1:30 a.m. Chinese authorities suddenly entered his elder sister’s house, searched the house, seized her son’s computer, and held her without charge in an undisclosed place for around nine months.
“Even though she was released, she still has to report to the local police regularly, and has to get approval even to visit her parents,” he said.