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Why the Chinese Regime Can’t Reverse ‘Zero COVID’: Tiananmen Square Student Leader Fengsuo Zhou

Many people cite the high-rise fire in zero-COVID locked-down Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, as the proximate cause of the unprecedented mass protests happening across China today. But before the Urumqi fire, there was another first: The Bridge Man protest. On Nov. 2 of this year, Fengsuo Zhou, a student leader during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, sat down with me for an interview, where he presciently explained the significance of the Bridge Man, and why he expected that this protest was the beginning of something bigger.

What was it like being at the center of the Tiananmen Square protests? Why can’t the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) back away form its disasterous Zero-COVID restrictions, even now? And what are the greatest existential threats to the CCP?

This interview with Fengsuo Zhou, who was number five on the CCP’s most wanted list at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, was originally live-streamed as part of the National Security C.L.A.S.S. (Cyber, Land, Air, Sea, & Space) Summit. You can watch the whole Nov. 2, 2022 livestream here.

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jan Jekielek:

Hello everyone. I’m Jan Jekielek, senior editor with The Epoch Times. We’re absolutely thrilled to have this collaboration with the America’s Future Series, the National Security Class Summit. We’re going to do an American Thought Leaders episode here, live to you as part of the America’s Future Series. I’m absolutely thrilled here to have Fengsuo Zhou, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 here to discuss.

Fengsuo Zhou:

Thank you for having me. It’s my honor.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Let’s jump right into it. There was the National People’s Congress summit. Xi Jinping is now in his third term. This is unprecedented in Chinese history, and there were even some theatrics in the hall, which we know were deeply choreographed as things work at the NPC. Why don’t you tell us what you think happened over there?

Mr. Zhou:

I think what is clear that Xi Jinping has consolidated his power. That was demonstrated at the end of the meeting with the humiliation of the previous leader, Hu Jintao, on stage, removed definitely by force against his will. We don’t really know the reason. But it’s a great signal that now Xi Jinping is the one person who has absolute power over this party and the country. But Hu himself was not a reformer by far. Actually, he made his name in 1989, as part of his crackdown in Tibet. That’s how he was promoted, handpicked by Deng Xiaoping, the butcher of Tiananmen, to be the next leader after Jiang Zemin.

What’s important in what happened today is not just Xi Jinping and his personal ambition. It is a trajectory that was set from 33 years ago when tanks rode on Tiananmen Square to kill innocent people who were calling for freedom and democracy in China. And that’s a challenge for China’s future as well, and we must confront it as a center issue for foreign policy against Communist China. We cannot avoid it like we did for the most part these last 33 years.

Mr. Jekielek: 

That’s really interesting. I actually want to dig into that. There was a precedent set in terms of how the West responded to Tiananmen Square. I want to talk about that. But before we go there, you were actually there. Just tell us about that moment when you realized that the tanks were coming and the CCP was going to do this dirty work.

Mr. Zhou:

I was there during the whole night of June 3rd, and I was the last one to leave on the morning of June 4th. It was like a war zone. Tiananmen Square was at the center and we were protected by Beijing citizens from all directions. The troops were pushing in with machine guns and tanks. We are hearing gunshots from every direction and the military flares were lighting up the sky. It was like a war.

Later we knew that about a quarter million troops were deployed in this massacre, and unknown number of people, probably in thousands, were killed. Even today that remains a secret. I was really shocked at that time. I couldn’t believe this was happening while the world was watching, and that it’s happening in the capital city of Beijing. For me, that was the beginning of my journey as an activist. And to date, I’m still proud of my role as a student in this protest.

Mr. Jekielek: 

So, a little bit more from history. After the massacre, you actually made it to America, but there was a few steps for you to get there.

Mr. Zhou:

After the massacre, I was number five on the most wanted list of 21 students leaders. For me, that was a shock. That was also a source of pride, because this was the most inspiring experience for me as a Chinese to witness such hope and such devotion from so many people. It was like a volcano eruption, so spectacular, but it ended so tragically. I see it as my duty to carry on as a survivor.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Let’s jump back to the way the West responded to this. There were some people, some leaders, that expressed that they had some issue with what was going on. We know that behind the scenes George Bush said, “Well, actually, let’s keep relations going as usual.” We know we have that information now. But in general, pretty quickly there seemed to be little actual serious response to such a terrible event from the rest of the world.

Mr. Zhou:

Right. I think Deng Xiaoping and the communist government, they were very afraid at that time. But President Bush gave him what he needed within a month of the massacre. He sent a special envoy to Beijing to tell him that he was just doing a show. They wouldn’t cut off China. And that’s what gave a much-needed lifeline to this monster who survived, and survived until today with the help of American technology and the free trade that has hurt America for the last 33 years.

Mr. Jekielek: 

And when you say monster, are you talking about the Chinese Communist Party?

Mr. Zhou:

Of course. Yes. It’s a monster that thrives on fear and violence and it has no regard for human life. And that I think was manifested on Tiananmen Square, but the United States didn’t do what it should do. Instead, such a regime was embraced and given the most favored nation treaty for trade, and later allowed to enter WTO. And especially now with global reach of digital technology, they are even forcing multinationals like Facebook, like Zoom, like LinkedIn, to follow their orders.

I was censored on LinkedIn. We were censored on Zoom and many other places, because it’s a message that Beijing doesn’t like, the message of freedom for China. That’s what we are fighting against. At that time, we were all hoping that technology and free trade will change the communist regime. But now it’s the other way. They are changing the world and there’s no going back. Xi Jinping is their best person for this expansion globally. That’s why they have this policy on Taiwan. That’s why they have this One Belt One Road Initiative. That’s why they are trying to control technology.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Yes. We’ve been in the middle of the COVID pandemic for several years now, and we saw how the Chinese regime, essentially one way or another, weaponized this virus, and let it out into the world while locking down internally to try to stop it. You would think that the world would notice that this was a problem.

But as far as I can tell, and I’ve been talking with a number of experts on this show and personally, and people are telling me that foreign direct investment is increasing into China even as we speak, even after all of this, even after Tiananmen, even after the genocide documented by many, many entities in Xinjiang and possibly two others, against Tibet and against the Falun Gong practitioners. How is this possible?

Mr. Zhou:

For now, unfortunately, the United States has no restriction on investment in China, even in very key areas. The recent policy on semiconductors is a good initiative to cut off supplies from investment technology to China. But there are many areas, for example, artificial intelligence, big data technology, where we are still supplying China with much needed power. 

Eventually every trade with China done now with the help of this firewall that separates China from the world, that basically enslaved Chinese people spiritually, morally, and politically, is providing this regime with blood and with power to conquer the world. So, that’s where we must awaken and must confront this reality. Now, I’m glad that for last few years the policy has changed to the right direction, but there’s a lot more to be done. I hope it’s not too late.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Well, this is the question. What would it take for there to be the Pearl Harbor moment or the Sputnik moment, however you want to call it, that would help American society or Western society collectively understand this threat that you’re describing?

Mr. Zhou:

I hope we will never see that kind of moment. I think we were talking about history and the strategy of Communist China regime today. Pearl Harbor, that actually in a way was fortunate for America, because it didn’t really hurt United States fatally, but if in the future this happened to United States we may not have such opportunity to push back. That’s what we are facing.

Because today China is the top trading partner for probably most countries in the world and in many areas it’s very advanced, not only in controlling people, but also in weapons like hypersonic missiles. That’s a combination of nuclear and space technology. It seems that they are even ahead of United States now. That’s the kind of reality we must see clearly right now. No delay.

Mr. Jekielek: 

There are lots of people in China that don’t like what the regime is doing. Most recently, we saw, also unprecedented because it was so public, what’s been called the Bridge Man protest. They are big banners put up very explicitly criticizing Xi Jinping. And the guy very smartly created this smoke that actually prevented people from taking them down too quickly. It was a very interesting and sophisticated protest. I have the best person in front of me to tell me what’s going on here, and what the significance of this is.

Mr. Zhou:

This is amazing story that the world has to know, The Bridge Man, the Tank Man reincarnated after 33 years. And even the bridge itself has a deep connection, because it’s the bridge that was built by the company, which was the most active company on Tiananmen Square in 1989. And I’m just glad that this bridge still exists. And what this guy, I think his name is Peng Lifa, did was just truly amazing.

Not only he created this spectacular protest while the world was watching in the center of Beijing’s political seat while the meeting was going on, with all the high tech surveillance cameras, and he could do it. It’s so inspiring. He also has a full blown platform of his policy that address the concerns of people. He wants democracy. He wants freedom, dignity, citizenship against the arbitrary confinement that’s going on now and the forced starvation of people. 

That’s why his story quickly spread, even within China. There are many people who were arrested, I believe in the hundreds, simply for trying to spread his message. But still his message was shown within 24 hours at a few miles just from where the CCP was having their meeting, and all over China from the north, Heilongjiang, to the south, Shenzhen. People as young as high school students, they were spreading his message. What’s extraordinary also is that outside of China, this is the first time after Tiananmen protest that hundreds of universities have seen Chinese students protest, spreading his message. This to me is the hope of China.

This is the voice of people that was repressed for so many years now, and all of a sudden it erupted in this person. Of course, where he is now, we don’t really know. I hope more people would follow his whereabouts, and we want the whole world to rally to his support every day. To me, he will be like the future representative or the future president, even though we have no connection with him. But his ideas, his thinking, and the way he planned everything is exactly what we want. That’s the citizen for a free democratic China. And people will win this over from communist regime. That’s the kind of hope that this guy ignites there.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Kind of amazing, the ingenuity. We’re of course talking about a technocratic totalitarian state that the Chinese Communist Party has created. All cell phone activity is monitored and text messages. It’s very, very difficult to basically even communicate with the long arm of the regime studying everything you’re doing. I know that people have been using this airdrop, for example, on subways and so forth to surreptitiously pass on the message. Even in this climate there’s ways, and I find that incredibly inspiring. 

But this is a crazy world. We’re looking at, everyone in these cities that are locked down needs their green pass updated every two days. They get charged for the tests they have to take. If their green pass isn’t green, they can’t do many things. They might not be able to work, and it’s all basically digitally managed AI control. It’s a crazy dystopia we couldn’t even imagine. Why are they still locking down in all of this? This doesn’t make any sense to me.

Mr. Zhou:

Because just like any dictators, they live in fear. They are fearful of people walking freely, and that’s the main reason. They are fearful of losing control and losing their credibility. That’s the main reason. But in China, what happens that once Xi Jinping has made his mind, there’s no turning back. And people would push to extreme. His underlings would use their power to brutalize people in many ways just to show their loyalty to this one person.

That’s exactly what happened in Shanghai, the most prosperous city in the country, probably one of most prosperous in the world, and people were starved to death. These are well to do, wealthy people. They are imprisoned in their own home with barbed wire and starved to death. And for that, Li Qiang, who was the mayor, who was the leader of the party in Shanghai, was promoted. Now he’s the secondhand person to Xi Jinping. That was my prediction then. I said, “The bad publicity, the outrage against Li Qiang, will become his credit in the eye of Xi Jinping.” That’s exactly what happened. That’s why this kind of policy could be implemented because of this mechanism, this perverse mechanism that rewards personal loyalty against people’s wellbeing.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Well, and apparently brutality.

Mr. Zhou:

Definitely. Yes. Just senseless. Beyond the imagination. We are seeing just recently, there are such disasters everywhere, in Xinjiang, in Jinzhou, in Tibet. A mother and possibly her kid, they fell off the building and crashed because he was so hungry. They didn’t have food. That’s the kind of thing that’s happening everywhere.

But because of the digital totalitarianism, we don’t really see it every day. We can only have a glimpse of it from the people who briefly broadcast the message. And that’s the kind of model they want to have. Not only in China, but in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, and all over the world. Because eventually it’s their end goal to be the engineers of the souls of human being, every human being in the world. That’s explicit in the party’s ideology.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Everything you’re talking about now makes me understand better what happened at the consulate in Manchester when the protestors were basically outside peacefully protesting. The consulate people come out and basically brutalize them, and then you have the consul on record basically saying, “I’m proud of this.” I’m embellishing it a little bit here, but he’s basically saying, “I’m proud of this.”

And now from what you’re saying, this is because he’s showing his loyalty and he’s showing his brutality. It’s a chilling thought. Given all of this, okay, given everything we’ve just talked about, we’re going to be closing fairly soon, what is your advice to free world leaders in terms of engagement with China?

Mr. Zhou:

We must confront the link, the couple. Business as usual cannot keep going. That’s my advice. We must cut off China from key technologies, investments and human capital. That’s very important on every aspect. That’s why I think the recent semiconductor act, it’s a good model. We should follow up on that on many industries.

Mr. Jekielek: 

But there’s still, as we’re speaking, there’s still a huge push to put more money into China, even as we know there’s all these structural problems in the economy. We know the housing market is collapsing. We’ve got all sorts of evidence of that. But the CCP somehow still finds a way.

Mr. Zhou:

Well, they are masters of lies and they are very skillful at buying of the elites of Western society. That’s why we are keeping hearing this from the policy circle, the appeasers who want to embrace such a brutal regime. And that’s where we must change. 

We must confront this. There’s a Chinese saying, “You’re drinking poison to quench your thirst.” That may have some temporary effect, for example, for inflation or environmental issues. But this is existential enemy that just thrives on violence and lies and controlling.

Mr. Jekielek: 

We have just maybe half a minute left. Any final words for just the typical person that might be watching about how to approach? This is a very difficult reality.

Mr. Zhou:

China without democratization cannot be a force of peace and priority in the world, and we must center in our policy around China’s democratization. That is China’s future.

Mr. Jekielek: 

Fengsuo Zhou, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show, and we’ll send you back over to the American Futures Series.

Mr. Zhou:

Thank you. 

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