US Urges China to Free Tiananmen Protesters

The United States has called on authorities in China to release all prisoners who are still being held for their participation in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and do more to protect the universal human rights of its citizens. In a State Department statement Sunday, deputy spokesman Mark Toner, said the U.S. also encouraged China to provide a full accounting of all of those killed, detained or missing during the violent suppression of the demonstrations. It also called for an end to what it described as the continued harassment of participants in the protests and their families.

On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops backed by tanks moved in to crush a student led demonstration centered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The crackdown triggered worldwide condemnation and estimates of those killed range from several hundred to several thousand people. China still considers the incident a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" and has never admitted any wrongdoing in its handling of the uprising. The topic is banned from state media and while the subject is taboo in China, some activists have gathered to mark the anniversary. The overseas dissident website www.molihua.orgwhich in Chinese means Jasmine, recently urged those who are opposed to the crackdown to dress in black and "stroll" in public places in China on June 3 and 4th to mark the anniversary.

Hu Ping, the chief editor of Beijing Spring, a Chinese-language magazine that focuses on the promotion of human rights, democracy and social justice in China. He says that one of the lessons he learned from the Tiananmen protests was that popular social movements need to have the capability to push ahead at times and pack up when necessary. If not, he said, they are like a car with only a gas pedal and no brakes. “China’s authoritarian rule is a reality and it’s under that reality that protests take place there. The only thing that we can do to improve social movements is look to ourselves and find what works and what does not. Although China is a very different place now than it was 23 years ago, the question of how one can make social movements, street protests, or any other type of social movement more effective is one we continue to face," he said.

Wang Dan, a student leader during the Tiananmen protests, marked the anniversary of the crackdown on Saturday, along with Hu Ping and other well Chinese activists. Wang says that if something similar were to take place in China again, more support from within the Communist Party is needed. "When we were students, when we launched the student movement, we really wanted the movement to be very pure, we didn't want any interference. But I think this is a lesson we should learn. Next time, if we have a second chance, I think we need more cooperation with insiders, with reformers inside the Communist Party. That's very important," he said

China Rejects US Call to Release Tiananmen Prisoners

China's foreign ministry has expressed "strong dissatisfaction" with a U.S. call for Beijing to free all those still imprisoned for the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters that the U.S. State Department call was a gross intervention in China's internal affairs and a groundless accusation against the Chinese government. “I knew you would ask this question for sure. There has been a clear conclusion by the Chinese government and party over that incident. Over the past more than 20 years China has witnessed continuous economic development, democracy and rule of law and prosperous cultural programs," said Liu Weimin."All this is reflecting the common aspiration of the Chinese people." "The statement you mentioned is released by the U.S. side year after year in disrespect of facts," added the spokesman. "It is a gross intervention in China's internal affairs and groundless accusation of the Chinese government. China expresses it's strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to that."

The Chinese rebuttal comes as tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong gathered for a candlelight vigil marking the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and the deadly government crackdown that followed. On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops, backed by tanks, moved in to crush a student-led demonstration centered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. The crackdown triggered worldwide condemnation, with estimates of those killed ranging from several hundred to several thousand people. China still considers the incident a "counter-revolutionary rebellion" and has never admitted any wrongdoing in its handling of the uprising. The topic is banned from state media and, although the subject is taboo in China, some activists have gathered to mark the anniversary.

Meanwhile, Chinese microblogs buzzed with conspiracy theories Monday, after censors moved to block access to Shanghai's benchmark stock index. The censoring occurred after stocks closed 64.89 points lower, matching, in apparent coincidence, the calendar numbers for the June 4, 1989 crackdown.

China’s Corruption: A Reporter Looks Back

A commentary by Dan Southerland

Nearly three decades ago, an up-and-coming provincial Communist Party chief stood out as the type of young new leader that the Party was trying to promote at the time. At age 39, the university-educated Li Changchun had become the youngest mayor and Party secretary of a major Chinese city, the industrial city of Shenyang. When I met Li, he was 41.

Li assured me that the Party was dealing with “unhealthy tendencies” that seemed to be spreading throughout the country, such as corruption among officials. It was doing so, he said in an interview in the summer of 1985, through its own internal disciplinary measures. Li was saying in effect that the Party itself would take care of everything—without any rule of law or checks and balances that would hold it accountable.

Corruption persists

One might wonder why an interview back in 1985—that was 27 years ago—would be relevant to today’s China. First, because Li is still around and now holds one of China’s highest positions. He’s China’s propaganda czar and a member of the ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo. Yet he and other top leaders have done little to halt the corruption that he talked about 27 years ago.

Second, the much-publicized ouster of Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai in April this year blew the lid off a mostly taboo subject—the specifics of widespread corruption among high-level Party and government officials. This became possible only because one of Bo’s top aides, his former police chief and chief enforcer, Wang Lijun, made a sudden and unauthorized trip to seek protection in the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. He had had a falling out with Bo.

Several corruption cases involving Bo should have exploded into a full-scale scandal years ago when Bo was a mayor and later a provincial governor in Northeast China. Jiang Weiping, a Chinese investigative reporter, had documented Bo’s misdeeds at the time. He spent five years in prison as a result. While Bo’s case is the most sensational to surface in recent years, it is by now evident that corruption is embedded in the Chinese political system. It has become a way of life for many officials.

In the meantime, many of China’s “princelings,” the sons and daughters of top Party officials, have risen to positions of wealth and power thanks to their parents’ positions. Bo Xilai’s father, for example, was a revolutionary comrade and leading aide to Mao Zedong. This gave Bo easy access to high-ranking military officers, some of whom were involved in profitable Chongqing land takeovers and business deals arranged by Bo and his team. Bo’s links to the military were apparently one of many causes for concern about him among the top leaders in Beijing who removed him.

Web versus censors

The Party’s censors and propagandists, including Li Changchun, must now try to control the Bo Xilai story before it raises too many questions about how corruption has grown within the Party’s ranks. In the past when high-ranking officials have been ousted for corruption, often because their actions had become too open, the Party has used the state media to demonize the individual involved. That individual is then treated as an exception to the norm.

According to Li Honggu, a prominent Chinese editor, “As soon as a political figure falls from his post, the rationalizing mechanism of the State ideology kicks into action, expending great effort to show that the fallen official is congenitally flawed and no reflection on the system.” But given the public’s current skepticism about how the system works, it might now be hard to sell the idea that Bo Xilai is a real exception.

Making matters even more difficult, the Party must now also try to control the spin on yet another major story: the dramatic escape from house arrest and flight to U.S. embassy in Beijing of blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Chen’s escape highlighted the abuse of power in Shandong Province, where Chen and his family were kept under guard by local thugs and denied access to a normal legal process. The thugs were working with local officials who resented Chen’s attempts as a self-trained lawyer to defend women facing forced abortions and sterilization under China’s family planning program.

As China’s propaganda czar, Li oversees the government’s attempts to exert media controls on any discussion of these issues. When the Bo Xilai scandal erupted, netizens were able to use the Web to spread reports of the most sensational aspects of the case, including abuses of power and a possible murder perpetrated by Bo’s wife. Many microbloggers also expressed anger at the Communist Party elites who have managed to enrich themselves and their children.

Li’s rapid rise

Li Changchun started out as the type of new leader who was supposed to fix these kinds of things. Trained as an engineer like many of his colleagues, Li became the youngest member of the Politburo in 1998 and a member of its nine-member Standing Committee in 2002. Standing Committee members are the top decision-makers in China. Its members are overwhelmingly technocrats, like Li, who have replaced the first generation of revolutionary leaders headed by Mao Zedong and later Deng Xiaoping.

In 1988, several years after I first met Li, he had become the youngest member of the Party’s Central Committee. I met him once again during a National People’s Congress meeting in Beijing. Then he was surrounded by half a dozen other officials and was less talkative than during our previous interview in Shenyang. I found it difficult to extract anything meaningful from the interview. But I came away with the impression that Li was more firmly embedded in the system and would keep moving up, which he did.

Li rose despite doubts

Once Jiang Zemin became China’s Party chief in 1989, Li appeared to benefit from Jiang’s support—and protection. In the 1990s, Li became the governor of Henan Province where, during his tenure, an AIDS scandal erupted.

The provincial government had encouraged farmers to sell their blood to plasma businesses, but tens of thousands of rural people became infected in an HIV epidemic. Li, with top security officials, became part of the ensuing cover-up. Although an ex-official and AIDS experts pointed to Li as among those responsible, he survived the scandal and kept moving up.

He then went on to become Party secretary in the key southern province of Guangdong, where the official Xinhua News Agency reported that he was cracking down on corruption. But a $12.2 billion tax scandal in Guangdong brought into question Li’s anti-corruption credentials.

Meanwhile, in Shenyang, where Li first gained a reputation as a “reformer,” things turned sour when two of Li’s protégés in Shenyang, the post where he launched his high-profile career, were forced to resign due to an organized crime scandal. According to a blog last month published by Evan Osnos, the New Yorker correspondent in Beijing, the executive deputy mayor of Shenyang, Ma Xiangdong, lost $4 million of public funds in 2002 at casinos in Macau and Las Vegas. His boss, the mayor, “was found to have six million dollars worth of gold bars hidden in the walls of his houses and a hundred and fifty Rolexes.”

Hope springs eternal

But by 2002, Li had become the fifth-ranked member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, China’s nine-member ruling power organ. He appeared to be untouchable, and hopes that Li would become a “reformer” surfaced again.

As Vivian Wu reported in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, when Li took over as China’s propaganda chief in 2002, “there were high hopes that Mr. Li would invigorate the media industry through progressive reforms.” But in early 2003, “Mr. Li ordered the domestic media to stay away from reporting sensitive issues or any negative views that might embarrass the leadership….”

In March 2003, Li oversaw a crackdown against newspapers in south China that were aggressively pursuing investigative stories that offended local officials. Li has kept a tight lid on the state-run media ever since, although online critics act as a counterweight.

What now?

Experts are divided over the impact of the powerful Bo Xilai’s downfall. But they seem to agree that it has triggered a power struggle among Party leaders. Bo’s accumulation of wealth—and his use of military and billionaire connections—has raised questions among ordinary citizens about the breadth and depth of corruption among the Party elites. Some experts have now raised hopes that a “moderate” leadership faction, or coalition, will open up the system and introduce democratic reforms. But forces within the Party elite favoring the status quo appear to be far from defeated.

Dan Southerland is RFA's Executive Editor.

Chen: China's Communists Must Obey Own Laws

NEW YORK -- Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who recently arrived in the United States, today called for government and party officials in China to honor the country’s constitution and laws. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, his first formal speaking engagement since arriving on U.S. soil, the blind lawyer said the problem in China is not the absence of laws, but lack of respect for laws already in place.

Speaking through an interpreter, he said rule of law begins with its observance by senior Communist Party officials, including President Hu Jintao. “You are supposed to be in charge of law and order -- the party secretary -- and if you are not going to observe the law, how do you expect people to observe the law?" he said. Chen, who is expected to study international law at New York University, said its rules and principles should apply to China if its leaders exhibit inappropriate behavior toward citizens. As an example, he described a vicious physical attack on his brother and nephew in his native Shandong province after he had fled their home. Although central authorities promised to investigate the incident, he said, they never did.

Responding to a question about possible democratic models for China, Chen said that while it is true China cannot simply copy Western democracy, it can look to other models of democratic rule. “We also need to learn Eastern democracy," he said. "Japan, South Korea and China, what is wrong with having our own democracy? Taiwan has democracy, too. I still remember, there is an ancient Chinese phrase, ‘We learn from what is good, and what is bad we try to avoid.' "

The self-taught lawyer spent four years in a Chinese prison and had been under house arrest for two years before fleeing to the U.S. embassy in Beijing in April. In 2007, Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience who had been incarcerated for angering Chinese officials by opposing the country's strict population control laws, and for helping people fight government abuses. After weeks of negotiations last month, Beijing allowed Chen to come to the United States to study at the New York University Law School. His wife and children were allowed to come with him, but his mother and other relatives remain under tight security in China.

In his Council on Foreign Relations appearance, Chen said he has not had a free weekend in seven years and needs some rest. But having been isolated from the world, he explained that he must replenish his knowledge of current developments. "I want to know, what are the differences between English and American law versus continental law, so I can have some comparisons," he said. "And also, what role does law play in a society? Why is it that while everybody has laws, in some societies law does function, [while in other] societies, [people] act as if [they] can do without it.”
China, he predicted, will change very quickly because of information technologies, which have developed to the point that "if public officials do not want others to know about their misdeeds, they better not do them."

Hong Kong Leads Tiananmen Remembrance

HONG KONG - This week marks the 23rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. With the social and political freedoms Hong Kong enjoys as a special administrative region of China, the city remains a cradle for democracy activists seeking to preserve the spirit of the 1989 student protests - despite Beijing’s growing influence over the former British colony. June 4, 1989, the student democracy movement in Tiananmen Square was crushed by the Chinese military. Twenty-three years later, the symbol of China’s democracy movement survives in Hong Kong.

Opened in April by the Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, this is the first museum in the world dedicated to the memory of the Tiananmen massacre. "We hope the artifacts can really help get the emotion across to those who visit the museum, so they can really understand what happened and will continue to struggle for democracy and human rights in China," said lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, co-chair of the pro-democracy Alliance. The Chinese government forbids discussion of the Tiananmen crackdown. But, Lee says, some of Hong Kong's 30-million annual tourists from mainland China are now visiting the museum to learn more. "Of course, China will not allow the words ‘June 4th’ or ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ to appear on the Net - never. [So], this can be really a focal point where mainlanders can understand what happened June 4th," said Lee.

The museum is just the latest example of Hong Kong's unique ties to the June 4th Movement - an involvement that goes back to 1989. This week, the 6/4 theater company performs a play called Yellow Bird. In the days after the Tiananmen crackdown, Hong Kong activists helped smuggle students out of Beijing, through Hong Kong and on to the United States and Canada. The secret program was code named Operation Yellow Bird. It ran for eight years, until 1997.

Despite Hong Kong’s freedoms, producing a play about Tiananmen is no easy proposition, says director Lo Ching-man. "You want to book a performance venue, but nobody will let you. If you want to book an ad on a bus, the bus company will say no to you. There is some interference, but you do not know where it came from. This is something really horrible," said Lo Ching-man. Sheena Yu was just a toddler when the Tiananmen crackdown occurred. She considers June 4th increasingly relevant to Hong Kong as Beijing’s control over the city grows. "Those students in Tiananmen, they are protecting their county; their love and their belief in the future - they fight for it. I appreciate their behavior and their action, and their love," she said. Almost a quarter of a century later, although the Tiananmen Square crackdown is shrouded in secrecy in mainland China, many in Hong Kong continue to honor the sacrifice of the protesters killed that day.

Bloggers Warned Over 'Sensitive' Posts

China's hugely popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform has stepped up controls on what its users can post online, warning that anyone posting too much "inappropriate" content could be banned from the Twitter-like service. From Monday, Sina Weibo users who post five items of "sensitive" news could be barred from posting for 48 hours, while anyone judged to have posted "harmful information" could have their accounts revoked "in serious cases," the company has told its users. "We began to implement the investigative arrangements on May 28," said an employee who answered the phone at the Sina Weibo customer helpline. "Sensitive words are judged according to Sina's rules and regulations and Sina's specific [requirements]," he said. "There will be investigations, but the results will vary from person to person," he added.

The move, which will target information deemed harmful to national security, junk advertising, and pornographic material, drew condemnation from veteran Chinese bloggers. Blogger Wen Yunchao, known online by his nickname Beifeng, said Sina was responding to increased pressure on service providers from China's ruling Communist Party. "I think Sina is doing this for the benefit of the government, because the government is currently awarding points for service providers' performance," Wen said. "They want Internet portals to carry out their own checks, and if they don't score enough points their licenses could be revoked." "All Sina is doing here is transferring some of that pressure onto its users, forcing them to censor themselves," he said.

Process 'more obvious'

Citizen journalist and veteran blogger Zhou Shuguang, known online by his nickname Zola, said China had imposed controls on microblogging services all along, but that now this process was becoming more obvious. He called on service providers to hold a debate with netizens to avoid losing public trust. "This is Internet surveillance in a black box," Zhou said. "This sort of surveillance lacks transparency." "The only surveillance I would accept would be transparent surveillance, in which every rule and regulation had been subjected to [public] debate."

Wen said he had opened a Sina Weibo account earlier this week, only to have it immediately deleted before he had a chance to tweet anything. "Sina deleted an account I had only just opened and hadn't even used yet," said Wen. "Once you are on the blacklist or the list of dangerous persons, then they will delete you anyway." Chinese computer experts say the government has continually sought ways to limit freedom of expression on the Internet since people started using it, and that controls on the nation's 250 million microbloggers are only the latest step in that process.

Struggle for balance

According to Jia Xijin of the school of public management at Beijing's Qinghua University, many Internet service providers are struggling to find a balance between their users' demand for nongovernment news sources and the tight information controls required by the ruling Communist Party. "A lot of online services, especially microblogs, don't entirely abide by freedom of expression," Jia said. "But this rule of Sina's will affect the way people view freedom of expression, in the event that netizens get overexcited, or start talking about various matters of public interest."

He said the new rules could well mean that microbloggers begin censoring their own online comments. "In the long run, this won't have a beneficial effect on the liberation of new truthful reporting about society," Jia said. Beijing-based microbloggers have been prevented since March from registering an account on one of the country's hugely popular Twitter-like services in anything but their real name, verified by their national ID card.

Exposing misconduct

The move has been slammed by netizens and rights groups alike as a huge blow to freedom of expression in China, where 513 million netizens rely on forums, social media, and bulletin boards to find news and views that have been censored out of the tightly controlled state media. However, authorities have detained a number of netizens and online editors over retweeted material that was deemed controversial under new guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of online "rumors."

Earlier this year, authorities in Guangdong province detained Web forum editor Shang Laicheng after he reposted an Internet forum message alleging that local prosecution officials had used the services of prostitutes. In March, the overseas China Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) group called government controls on microblogs "the most alarming development" on the Chinese Internet of the past year. "The thriving domestic microblogsphere has proved highly effective in exposing government misconduct during the past few years, but it is now threatened with curtailment," the group said in its annual report.

Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by He Ping for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

The International Tibet Network is a global coalition of Tibet-related non-governmental organisations. Its purpose is to maximise the effectiveness of the worldwide Tibet movement, which is dedicated to ending human rights violations in Tibet and to working actively to restore the Tibetan people's right under international law to determine their future political, economic, social, religious and Cultural status.
The Network pursues its goals by working to increase the capacity of individual Member Organisations, through the coordination of strategic campaigns and by increased cooperation among organizations, thereby strengthening the Tibet movement as a whole. See for more information.

The International Tibet Network is a global coalition of Tibet-related non-governmental organisations. Its purpose is to maximise the effectiveness of the worldwide Tibet movement, which is dedicated to ending human rights violations in Tibet and to working actively to restore the Tibetan people's right under international law to determine their future political, economic, social, religious and Cultural status.
The Network pursues its goals by working to increase the capacity of individual Member Organisations, through the coordination of strategic campaigns and by increased cooperation among organizations, thereby strengthening the Tibet movement as a whole. See for more information.