Brutality in China

At the same time that President Bush is speaking up against Saddam Hussein’s human rights atrocities, he is appeasing China’s octogenarian leaders on the very same issue. In order to persuade China to cooperate in the United Nations actions against Iraq and on Cambodia, China’s foreign minister was invited to Washington in November and a vice-minister of trade was invited in December 1990. The United States has acquiesced in the World Bank’s renewal of loans to China Except for the international ban on military shipments to China, the US, its European allies, and Japan have returned to business as usual with China just a little over a year after the June 4, 1989, crackdown.

The administration said last year that it would lift diplomatic and economic sanctions against China only if China improved its human rights record. It has not kept its word, for in recent months China’s record has actually become worse. China has claimed to have released over 850 political prisoners in response to America’s demands, but fewer than eighty released prisoners have been verified, and most of the released prisoners are under surveillance by the Public Security Bureau. Among them is the elderly Shanghai writer Wang Ruowang, who has been in and out of Nationalist and Communist jails during the last fifty years, and has long been known for his courageous willingness to speak out. After his release he refused to talk with a journalist and he must report to the Public Security Bureau once a week. Meanwhile, hundreds of intellectuals and students and thousands of workers are being kept in China’s prisons under terrible conditions as punishment for participating in the 1989 protest. A member of Amnesty International’s China Coordinating Group recently wrote that “torture during detention is commonplace, especially in cases involving workers and less well-known political activists.”

Most disturbing of all, while much of the world is distracted by the Gulf crisis, China’s leaders have finally taken formal legal action against the so-called black hands, whom they claim were behind the prodemocracy demonstrations. Thirty-three people have been charged with spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda, including the literary critic Liu Xiaobo, and the student leader Wang Dan, an historian at the Academy of Social Sciences, Bao Zunxin. The leader of the Autonomous Workers Union, Han Dongfang, is still being held in a prison for ordinary criminals.

Two intellectuals, Wang Juntao, thirty-two, and Chen Ziming, thirtyeight, are charged with seeking to overthrow the Communist system and engaging in counterrevolutionary activities, charges punishable by death in China. Their trials have not so far been held, and when they are they may not be open to any journalist or relative. In any case the sentences, which many suspect will be very long prison terms, have already been decided by the Party leaders.

Wang and Chen are much less well known internationally than older intellectuals such as the fifty-five-year-old physicist Fang Lizhi and the sixty-three-year-old writer-journalist Liu Binyan. China’s leaders apparently …

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