On July 17, reporters with Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty Television, a partner media, conducted an in-depth interview with Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, the former Chair and current Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), primarily on the subject of the persecution of Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice. The interview took place in her offices, three days before the 14th anniversary of the beginning of that persecution on July 20 of this year. Dr. Swett on July 23 published an editorial on CNN World titled “U.S. should press China over Falun Gong,” one of the rare occasions on which an official of the federal government has taken such a posture on the subject.
Sherry Dong of Epoch Times’ Chinese edition and Kitty Wang of NTD Television conducted the question and answer session with Dr. Swett. The transcript was edited for brevity and clarity.
Kitty Wang: Can you remark briefly on USCIRF’s response to this being the 14th year of the persecution against Falun Gong?
Dr. Katrina Swett: Yes, unfortunately, the 14th anniversary in this case is a very sad milestone because it’s been 14 long years that these peaceful and ethical practitioners of the Falun Gong practice have been brutally, brutally persecuted by the Chinese government. And this is a tragic situation; it’s a stain on the character of China, that they have targeted this community for such terrible abuses. We know that the Chinese government persecutes other communities as well, but I think it’s fair to say that the Falun Gong have really been on the receiving end of the most brutal treatment by the Chinese government. And we hope through our USCIRF report, and through other means, are really pressuring our government to increase its pressure on China. You know China wants to be a major player on the world stage; China is a very significant country. But we know that this is not the conduct of a superpower. This is not the way a country that wishes to be respected around the world should treat its own citizens. So we consider it to be a very sad anniversary. But we hope that through increased attention, pressure, and focus, through the truth coming out about the practices of the Chinese government vis a vis the Falun Gong community, that eventually this situation will change. And we believe that it will.
Kitty Wang: Last month, two members of Congress introduced House Resolution 281, which treats state-sanctioned forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience in China, most of whom are believed to be Falun Gong practitioners. What do you think about this initiative?
Dr. Swett: I am very pleased that two members of Congress have chosen to introduce this House Resolution 281. This is a really horrifying human rights abuse. Whenever I have the opportunity to talk about forced organ harvesting, you can tell that people literally recoil, because it is, even in a world where lots of terrible things happen, this feels like its somehow beyond the pale–and outside the bounds. And we know that there is considerable evidence out there indicating that it is Falun Gong practitioners who are a particular target and have particularly been victims of this abhorrent practice.
Some of the statements by the Chinese Government seem almost to be a tacit admission that this has been going on when they say that they are going to have greater transparency or that they are going to stop this practice… Well, that suggests that the practice has been going on. It is really an outrage against humanity, it is appalling and I very much hope that this Resolution will have overwhelming support in the Congress. It deserves overwhelming support in the Congress. It is important that our Government speaks out about this terrible abuse of human rights.
Kitty Wang: In late 2004 Epoch Times published a series of editorials called the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party. One result of that publication was to spark a movement of renouncing or quitting the Chinese Communist Party; currently the “Tuidang” movement, as it is called, which is hosted on the website of the Chinese edition of Epoch Times, has registered 142 million renunciations from the Party and its subordinate organizations, received via email, the online form, or on telephone calls. What do you think of all this?
Dr. Swett: It is very little known about in the West, and I myself thought it was remarkable, and I was fascinated to learn that that many people in China have that publicly renounced their membership in the Communist Party. That is a huge development, and I think it has real relevance and implications for the broader concept of religious freedom, and freedom of conscience and freedom of belief, because part of the ideology behind a dictatorial authoritarian like the Chinese Communist Party is that they want no rivals, no competitors, for the hearts and minds of the people in their country.
The Tuidang movement certainly is a warning sign to the Chinese Communist Party, and it does say to me that the Chinese people want to reconnect to the deeper, spiritual values of their civilization that predates communism, and that will out-live communism long after the history books have been written, and this period of the Chinese Communist Party’s dominance in China will be a thing of the past. Those ancient spiritual values will continue to guide the Chinese people and will be a great part of their civilization, their history, and their future.
Kitty Wang: Late last year, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D – MD) of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Magnitsky Bill on Russian perpetrators of human rights violations. What would you say to a similar Bill that targeted the People’s Republic of China?
Dr. Swett: I think that’s a very interesting idea. The Magnitsky Bill was a very important piece of human rights legislation, and it really could become a template or a model for similar legislation for identifying gross human rights abusers from other countries. I haven’t had a chance to study that issue in specific details as it relates to possible sanctions against individuals from China, but I think it is important — it is both concrete as well a symbolic way– of trying to hold perpetrators accountable.
Sherry Dong: Regarding the revelations that products created by forced labor in the Masanjia Labor Camp ended up in K-mart, indicating that these items enter the supply chains of large American companies, do you think the United States government should do anything?
Dr. Swett: I absolutely think that it would be very valuable for the appropriate committees of Congress to conduct investigative hearings. A newspaper report is one thing, and it very often is where that sort of process begins. But then it is necessary and important for the Congress to do its own due diligence, to conduct investigative hearings, to bring witnesses, to begin to assemble a record that can then become the basis, possibly, for legislative action. There are a large number of members of Congress who I believe, would be concerned about this issue, and there are various committees that would appropriately have jurisdiction to look into this.
Congress tends to be the body of our government that in some ways does the best job at these independent investigations. They have less of a stake in keeping relations in China smooth. The State Department, bless their heart, they want to have good diplomatic relations, and I understand that. They want to have good commercial relations, and I understand that. Those aren’t bad things. President Obama wants to have good relations with China, we all understand that. That’s fine and well and good. But we can’t give up our principles and we can’t sell our values down the river on the altar of the almighty yuan or the almighty dollar.
Sherry Dong: How do you think the U.S. government should publicly position itself on the matter of human rights abuses in China generally?
Dr. Swett: I would love to see the top leaders in our country speak out more forcefully. I would love every single time there is a press conference at the White House or at the State Department on China, to have our top leaders say, “We are not forgetting human rights in China, we are not forgetting the persecution of Falun Gong. Yes we may have business together but this has to end.” And looking Chinese leadership in the eye and saying, “This is not befitting a great country. This is not befitting a great people. You don’t need to brutalize and imprison your own citizens in this way. You need to live up to your international standards.” I would love to see that happen. I’m a realist though, I know that that’s not the way much of the world works but I think that as these smaller streams join together, there will be change. And I think it will come to China.
Speaking for USCIRF, we intend and are speaking out more forcefully, even than in the past, about the persecution of the Falun Gong. We are very pleased that the State Department mentioned in their international religious freedom report the abuses at the prison camp. I would like to see more. I’m very encouraged by House Resolution 281 that’s been introduced in Congress on organ harvesting. I don’t know that any one thing done by our government at any level, could immediately on a dime change things in China. But I think that if we continue to ratchet up the pressure, if we continue to shine a spotlight on the abuses… You know China is now a very big player on the world stage and they are a modern and powerful country. So they can’t have the excuse that, “Oh we are just a struggling, developing country. We haven’t found our footing.” They are a big player on the world stage and they will have to face the very grave criticism and condemnation of the world unless they are willing to face up to these past abuses, bring it to an end, acknowledge the mistakes of the past, and reform.