Bush's chance to confront China

By Cao Chang-ching 曹長青

The Taipei Times
Friday, January 19th, 2001

There will be many knotty foreign policy issues facing George W. Bush immediately after his inauguration tomorrow, among them his China policy. The newly revealed Tiananmen Papers, which swept the Western media two weeks ago, show the intense power struggles among China's top leaders, especially during a time of important decision making. Bush's father failed to persuade Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) to relinquish the use of force in Tiananmen Square 12 years ago when he was US president. It is debatable how effective his son will be should China's capricious dictators attempt other outrageous moves, such as military action in the Taiwan Strait or massive oppression of religious groups in China.

The first irksome problem Clinton left for Bush to deal is the case of Zhang Hongbao (張宏堡), the founder of Zhonggong (中?, China Health Care and the Wisdom Enhancement Practice, who is now seeking political asylum in Guam. His case is to be heard at the Federal court in Hawaii today.

Zhonggong is a religious group similar to Falun Gong in that it aims to improve people's physical and mental health. The group was founded in 1987, according to interviews with Zhang by World Journal, a Chinese language newspaper based in New York, and apparently had expanded to an organization of about 40 million members by 1990. Faced with the rapid growth of this group, the Chinese authorities began to fear its influence and decided to crack down on it in 1994. Zhang was forced to escape from China immediately. After six years of hiding in Thailand, Zhang entered Guam in January of last year, seeking political asylum.

Another key member of Zhonggong who accompanied Zhang to Guam was granted political asylum shortly after the case was brought to court. However, since the Chinese authorities have indicted Zhang on criminal charges and have demanded the US extradite him, Zhang's case has come to a standstill.

In September, the US immigration court in Hawaii granted Zhang "protection status," which is not political asylum but allows Zhang to live in the US. Immediately, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Sun Yuxi (O玉), made a strongly worded speech criticizing the US immigration court's decision "to let a criminal shake off justice and punish-ment." Beijing asked the US to "correct its mistakes and repatriate Zhang as soon as possible" and threatened not to cooperate with the US on international indictments and not to extradite US criminals should Zhang be set free.

Therefore, despite the court's decision to grant Zhang "protection status," the police in Guam are still holding him in prison, obviously following orders from Washington, which is under pressure from the Chinese authorities.

Although the handling of this case may affect the relationship between the US and China, the new US justice department should comply with the ruling of the Immigration Court in Hawaii and the Bush administration should stand tough in dealing with its first case related to China.

The nature of Zhonggong is very much similar to Falun Gong. Its members mainly consist of the old, the poor and the sick -- the weakest class in China. There has never been any political pursuit to topple China's communist government in either the teaching or the practice of qigong organizations. It is preposterous for the Chinese authorities to consider these kinds of organizations dangerous and to persecute them.

Now the Chinese authorities have accused Zhang of committing rape in the early 1990s and have provided the US with testimonies from three women. However, only the surnames of the alleged victims were given and no home or work addresses were provided. Even general information about the women's whereabouts, such as cities or provinces, was not given. There are also no locations or specific times given for the alleged rapes.

During the US presidential election, many newspapers contemptuously quoted a famous saying by Stalin that the number of people who vote is not important, it is who counts the vote that matters. Likewise, the kind of evidence given in China is not important, it is who makes the decision about the evidence that matters.

It is impossible for Zhang to receive a fair trial in China -- even if the Chinese authorities' accusations have some foundation -- for it is well known that China has no independent justice system or free media. Party authorities will make decisions in any case that has the slightest political tinge, and the courts usually carry out a "quick trial and quick verdict" to punish somebody as a warning to all. Laws are made, explained and carried out by a single authority: the party.

In addition to its pseudo-justice system, all of the 2,160 newspapers, hundreds of magazines, and TV and radio stations belong to the communist government. With no supervision by an independent media, it is inconceivable for any politically related case to be conducted in a reasonable manner.

According to the Hong Kong media, among the more than 600 followers of Zhonggong that have already been arrested, none have been brought to public trial, let alone fair trial. Under such circumstances, there is no doubt Zhang's case would be conducted like all the previous political cases. It would be dealt with inside the authorities' "black box." And like all the thousands or millions of political prisoners, Zhang would be silenced by the totalitarian machine.

The manner of handling Zhang's case in the US will be Bush administration's first answer to China's threats and challenges.
Cao Chang-ching is a writer and journalist based in New York.


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