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By Mark McDonald - International Herald Tribune - The Global Edition of the New York Times
October 18, 2012
China was at the center of one of the harshest exchanges during the U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday night, with President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, both flashing their tough-on-Beijing credentials. But the politician who really knows about China was not on the stage, although he had tried to be.
Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who campaigned for the Republican nomination, has solid connections to both candidates: He served as the U.S. ambassador to China under Mr. Obama until April 2011, and when Mr. Huntsman abandoned his campaign in January, he immediately endorsed Mr. Romney.
As they prep and do role playing for their final debate, both candidates might do well to recruit Mr. Huntsman for a lay of the land on China. The debate, set for Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, will focus on foreign policy issues, with China one of the selected topics.
In a fascinating new interview with Isaac Stone Fish of Foreign Policy magazine, Mr. Huntsman was asked about the differences between the two candidates in their approach to China.
"Well, they differ in some senses in the levers of power that are being pulled," he said. "I think Obama has chosen more the soft levers of power, and Romney is at least articulating some of the hard levers of power, where in reality, we need a combination of both.
"During campaign season, you never want to talk about anything except the hard levers of power. But we're also trying to get over 10 years of war in the Middle East that have set us back enormously economically and diplomatically, and in terms of loss of life. And that's a reality that we're not having a conversation about."
Beijing canceled Mr. Huntsman's visa last month, he told Mr. Stone Fish, as he was preparing to travel to China to make a speech. (This probably has not happened very often in peacetime diplomacy, a country refusing entry to a former ambassador, especially for fear that he would give a speech.)
"Why? Because I talk too much about human rights and American values, and they know that," said Mr. Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin. "And at a time of leadership realignment, the biggest deal in 10 years for them, they didn't want the former U.S. ambassador saying stuff that might create a narrative that they would have to fight. I understand that.
"But when the transition is done, the crazy American ambassador will be let back in, and I can say whatever I want. As they used to tell me when I was over there was 'Women zhongguo ye you zhengzhi' -- 'We have politics too in China.' "
Mr. Huntsman said he was subsequently approved for entry -- to attend a board meeting. No speechmaking.
A condensed excerpt from Mr. Stone Fish's interview:
Put yourself in the shoes of the moderator at the upcoming foreign-policy debate on Oct. 22. What do you think he should ask about China?
What are the core philosophical drivers that inform the thinking of the candidates? What are our national interests at play? How do we maximize our position in the Asia-Pacific region, understanding that China is the centerpiece geographically. And fourth, given that it is the relationship of the 21st century, how do we intend to sustain the cyclicality that is inherent in a large, complicated relationship?
Are you surprised that China hasn't become a bigger issue in the campaign?
Beyond it being used as a political tool rhetorically, we've had very little talk of China at a time when we ought to be having a substantive conversation, because it is the relationship that will matter the most in the 21st century.
What's your understanding of what Chinese officials think about all this rhetoric and what's behind it? Do they see this as one of the downsides of democracy, or of Americans playing into the fears of American decline?
I think it's happened for so long that they've grown to expect it during the election season. I think it affected them more in the earlier years, but now they've grown accustomed to the political cycle, just as we've grown accustomed to the leadership cycles in China, where they do the same thing to us. We just have a bigger megaphone. And they tend to be a little more sensitive, because face still matters a whole lot in terms of human interaction.
The current U.S. ambassador to China, Gary F. Locke, revealed Wednesday that he had traveled last month to a Tibetan area of western China where "dozens of Tibetans disaffected with Chinese rule have set themselves on fire," as my colleague Edward Wong reported.
Mr. Locke visited two Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in Aba Prefecture of Sichuan Province. He went there, he told The Times, "to see it for myself."
The visit, which came during a wider trip to Chongqing, was noteworthy if only for the fact that Beijing permitted it. The area is tightly controlled by Chinese security forces and the issue of Tibetan autonomy and Buddhist activism is a highly sensitive one for Beijing.
Mr. Locke only revealed his trip on Wednesday. And for those belonging to the there-are-no-coincidences-in-politics school of thought, it was five years ago on Wednesday -- Oct. 17, 2007 -- that the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington.
The award was met with fury and outrage from Beijing, and one senior official called it a "farce." The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile since 1959, is particularly reviled by the leadership in Beijing.
President George W. Bush attended the elaborate ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda and called the Dalai Lama "a man of faith and sincerity and peace."
By Damian Grammaticas | BBC World News
October 08, 2012
China's Communist rulers are trying to force the country's jailed Peace Prize laureate into going into exile by putting pressure on his wife, who is not well, the BBC has been told.
A source close to the family has told us that Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China as that would lead to his voice being marginalised.
But the source said that Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia is "suffering mentally" because she has now spent two years under illegal house arrest and continues to be detained.
It was exactly two years ago when Liu Xiaobo, a soft-spoken academic, won the Peace Prize for his calls for peaceful political reform in China.
He never collected it as he was already in a jail in China, where he remains, convicted of subversion.
His wife Liu Xia, an even softer-spoken poet and photographer, has been similarly silenced. She's being held in her own flat in Beijing.
She's been there for two years, detained just a couple of days after her husband was announced as the 2010 winner.
And Norway too is, it seems, still being punished. The prize has nothing to do with the Norwegian government.
But China continues to snub Norwegian ministers, diplomats and politicians, according to other diplomats in Beijing.
But the BBC has spoken to an individual in contact with Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's families, who has given some new insights into the couple's situation.
The individual asked that we don't name them, and told us that Liu Xiaobo is in reasonable health, but his stomach problem "is getting worse".
China's authorities allow only three people to visit Liu Xiaobo in Jinzhou prison where he's being held: his two brothers who can see him about once every six months, and his wife who sees the Nobel Peace Prize winner every two to three months, the source said.
They have to ask for permission in advance and wait for notification.
"They are not allowed to go and visit him together. Only one person is allowed each time. And the police watch them during the entire meeting," our source told us.
"They are forbidden to talk about anything else other than family matters. The police don't want the family to bring in any information from outside to Liu Xiaobo."
The two brothers did visit together once, in September last year. That was to inform Liu Xiaobo that his father had died. He was then allowed a brief visit home to pay his respects before he was whisked back to jail.
His wife, Liu Xia, meanwhile, has not committed any crime in China but is being held in her home.
"There are two policewomen living with her in her apartment. And lots of plain-clothes police watching the compound constantly," our source told us.
"Liu Xia's health is not very well. Mentally she suffers a lot because of the loss of personal freedom and the worries about her jailed husband."
"She is allowed to go out and visit her mother and meet one of her best friends roughly once a month, escorted by policewomen the entire time. Other than visits to her husband, that's it.
"She is not allowed to go anywhere else, not even to the park or shop. And no-one is allowed to even approach her compound, let alone visit her."
The individual added: "What the government is doing to Liu Xia is illegal. They do this routinely to dissidents in order to prevent them speaking to the press and tainting the government's image.
"Her husband is currently the most famous dissident in China, so she suffers tighter control than other dissidents."
His view is backed up by Joshua Rosenzweig, a human rights researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who said he was "not aware of any legal authority for restricting Liu Xia's liberty".
"Her relegation to this ambiguous zone appears to be deliberate, because if you can't treat [her detention] as something sanctioned or even covered by law, then how do you begin to challenge it? Liu Xia effectively ceases to exist, both as a human being and as an issue," he said.
China's government insists Liu Xia is not being held against her will. But Mr Rosenzweig says its aim is to silence Liu Xia, her husband and their families, so there is no news about the jailed laureate.
"One of the few ways the outside world has to learn anything about individuals who have been imprisoned in China is through what their relatives learn and observe during periodic prison visits," he says.
"I don't know the last time that Liu Xia was able to visit her husband, but I am fairly certain that any interaction she has been able to have with him has been under the precondition that she remain silent.
"To the extent that this reflects an official strategy to counter Liu Xiaobo's influence, it would have to be deemed successful. There's only so much interest that can be sustained by a person's continued absence.
"That's why you don't see too many headlines proclaiming 'no news of Nobel laureate again this month'."
And the friend of the family who spoke to the BBC says that, by being so harsh on his wife, China is trying to pressure Liu Xiaobo into cutting a deal to go into exile.
"The government is trying to force Liu Xiaobo to leave China by taking his wife's personal freedom away. At the same time, the government threatens both their families, saying if they try to speak to the media or leak any information their right to visit Liu Xiaobo will be taken away.
"This is very cruel. It has forced the family to keep quiet."
But, the family friend added, Liu Xiaobo will not agree to leave China, despite the fact that his prison term lasts until 2020.
"The government has always wanted Liu Xiaobo to leave China because the fact that a Nobel Peace Prize winner is in jail, is a constant reminder of China's poor human rights situation.
"When previous dissidents have left China their voices gradually fade and their influence disappears. That's why Liu Xiaobo insists he'll stay even if it means staying in jail. Remaining in China is what's significant for him."
By Marc Santora and Jeffrey E. Singer | The New York Times
September 01, 2012
A year ago, Cao Erxing and his wife, Chen Zengrong, both 56, were killed in a high-speed train crash in China. But it was not until Saturday that their relatives in New York City were finally able to gather to mourn their loss and bury their loved ones.
And though the accident was in 2011, the pain was fresh at the memorial service for the couple in Elmhurst, Queens.
"They are gone, they are gone," one relative cried. "We will never see them again."
The memorial and burial service seemed to offer some dignity in an ordeal that began with one of the biggest rail disasters in China's history, which left 40 people dead and 191 passengers injured in July 2011.
The accident rattled the Chinese government and raised questions about the safety of the nation's high-speed rail system, an ambitious public-works project that has been used as a symbol of China's emergence as a global power.
Yet for the Cao family, the accident was only the beginning of the tragedy.
For more than a year, the Cao sons -- Henry, who was severely injured in the crash, and Leo -- have been caught up in a confusing and often maddening bureaucratic nightmare. They have raised questions about their mother's treatment immediately after the accident, and fought government officials for adequate compensation and to bring their parents' bodies home.
"I don't want them to go down in history as just anonymous Americans who died," Leo Cao said. "I want people to know these people lived. Their lives meant something."
Cao Erxing and his wife left their home in Fujian Province for New York in the 1980s. For the couple, equipped with only middle school educations and no English skills, life was a struggle from the start.
Mr. Cao worked as a dishwasher but was felled by mental illness. To support the family, his wife took a job as a seamstress, working grueling hours for little pay.
With their parents, who were naturalized American citizens, doing all they could to scrape by, the Cao brothers were often left on their own.
Still, Leo said, he was able to enroll at Stony Brook University when he was 16 and graduated when he was 19.
His brother, Henry, was also forging ahead in his career in the import business.
The family worked hard and was eventually able to buy a house in Queens.
The trip to China was the first vacation that the parents ever took, their first chance to return to their birthplace and reconnect with relatives they had not seen in years, their family said.
But what was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned to disaster when the train in which they were riding rear-ended another train in the eastern city of Wenzhou, sending several cars careering off the tracks and plummeting off an overpass.
Henry, who was traveling with his parents, had to have his spleen and a kidney removed as a result of his injuries, which also included a broken ankle and ribs.
"I can't keep going on like before," he said. "Before the crash, I used to play with my children often. No more."
While Henry recovered, Leo began to wage what turned out to be a lengthy battle with the Chinese authorities.
Immediately after the accident, victims' families were warned against holding public memorials. The Cao family wanted to hold a ceremony in its ancestral village, but the authorities forbade it. Instead, the family had to settle for a ceremony in the city where the crash took place.
But it was not until 150 friends and family members gathered at the Gerard Neufeld Funeral Home in Elmhurst on Saturday that they could mourn properly. Last month, the brothers went to China to collect the remains.
Many of the relatives in America were able to come here with the assistance of the Cao family, and many were inconsolable in their grief.
While the brothers' struggle with the Chinese government has garnered wide attention, the comments at the service were focused on the moment: paying tribute to the dead and offering blessings.
"It's been a very bad year," Leo said after the service. "The reason we need to get this over with is for my family, my brother."
Still, he said, he anticipated more fighting with Chinese officials over compensation claims.
"My brother, his family, my parents, we lost so much," he said. "We can't just lay down."
But Henry said, "I just try and forget."
By Andrew Jacobs | The New York Times
August 28, 2012
Henry Cao has stark memories of the moment the high-speed train he was riding rear-ended another last summer in the eastern city of Wenzhou: the pleasantly hypnotic rocking that gave way to a jolt he likened to an earthquake, followed by blackness and the sensation of falling as the car plummeted 100 feet off a viaduct.
"We were flying like rag dolls," he said.
The crash killed 40 passengers, injured 191 and shook the nation's confidence in its ambitious high-speed rail system. Mr. Cao, 33, a Chinese-American importer from Colorado, barely survived; he lost a kidney and his spleen, and head injuries have left him mired in a perpetual daze, unable to stay awake for more than an hour or two. His parents, naturalized American citizens taking him on a triumphant tour of their native land, were killed.
As Mr. Cao has struggled to recover over the past year, he has found himself drained by a different sort of battle: trying to wrest compensation from the Ministry of Railways, an unbending government behemoth unaccustomed to dealing with determined foreign citizens.
This month Mr. Cao returned to China for the first time since the accident. He and his brother, Leo, came to collect their parents' remains and to press negotiations with the ministry. "They know how to wear you down," said Leo Cao, 30. "First they let you scream and yell, then they stall you, and finally they tell you vague and empty words. Now they say, 'You're lucky you're getting anything.' "
Their painful and politically fraught odyssey has highlighted the workings of an omnipotent ministry that employs more than two million people and rivals the Chinese military in size and influence. The experience has been disorienting for the Cao brothers, who left China as adolescents two decades ago. "This place is not how I remember it," said Henry Cao, speaking faintly as his eyes flickered and lost focus. "Everyone is rushing around to make money. Life here is cheap."
The ministry, which runs its own court system and is largely impervious to oversight, has long been dogged by accusations of corruption. A former rails minister, Liu Zhijun, who was fired five months before the accident, is expected to go on trial next month for charges of taking millions of dollars in bribes and other unnamed "disciplinary violations."
Zhang Kai, a lawyer who represented a passenger sentenced to three years in prison for slapping a train conductor, described the ministry as a "monster left over from the planned economy era" that resists reform or challenges to its authority. "It is common knowledge that the ministry is responsible for generating maximum profits while supervising itself," Mr. Zhang said.
In a report released in December, government investigators placed the blame for the Wenzhou accident on flaws in signaling equipment. Investigators say the ministry bypassed safety regulations in its haste to create the world's largest high-speed railroad network.
For the brothers' parents -- Cao Erxing and his wife, Chen Zengrong, both 56 -- the return to China was a capstone to lives of toil in New York City sweatshops and restaurant kitchens. The father and mother, neither of whom studied beyond middle school, had left Fujian Province with their boys, taught themselves English and earned enough money to buy a house in Queens. At the time of their death, they were custodial workers at La Guardia Airport.
"They finally felt financially secure enough to take their first vacation," Leo Cao said.
His father died at the scene, but his mother survived for two hours, leaving haunting unanswered questions. Did she receive adequate medical care? And who was heartless enough to swipe the $10,000 from the fanny pack fastened to her waist?
In the parlance of Communist Party euphemisms, July 23 has become a "sensitive anniversary" -- a day for newspaper editors and columnists to ignore. After a blizzard of coverage in the days after the crash -- including reports of a botched rescue and efforts to bury one of the train carriages -- the censors blocked discussions of the topic on microblog services. Last month, victims' families were warned against holding public memorials.
But the Cao brothers, ignoring such admonitions, have become thorns in the side of the government as they seek financial assistance.
In a series of meetings, ministry officials have offered them $280,000 for the death of their parents and $85,000 for Henry Cao's injuries, the brothers said. The Caos have requested a total of $5 million, based on what they say the three would have earned over 20 years of working in the United States.
Their lawyers say the ministry is ignoring a national law that bases compensation on accident victims' earning power in the area where they lived. The ministry is citing its own regulations that rely on prevailing wages in the province where the crash occurred.
"The representatives tell us there is no room for negotiation," said a lawyer for the brothers, Tian Jie. "Even they admit they don't know who makes the decisions."
Officials did not respond to a faxed request for comment, and repeated telephone calls to the ministry's office of public information last week were not answered.
Leo Cao said that his brother was too disabled to work and that the offered compensation would not go very far in supporting his four young children and paying for his medical expenses. "From the outside, my brother looks somewhat normal, but he's half the man he used to be," he said.
The ministry's minders stay in the same hotel as the brothers, paying for their accommodations and carrying their luggage. But they frequently call to find out where the brothers are. Negotiators have warned of "troubles" that might result from talking to journalists.
This month, as the brothers wept over their parents' coffins at a funeral home in Wenzhou, ministry employees huddled awkwardly. "If they lose track of us they get scolded," Leo Cao later said with weary resignation.
In the hours after the accident, ministry negotiators descended on morgues and hospitals even before the surgeons had finished stitching up the injured. Working in teams of four or five, they separated victims' families into different hotels and relentlessly hammered out deals that in the end were nearly the same: about $140,000 for each fatality.
For the past year, the Cao brothers have angered officials by refusing to remove their parents' bodies from the morgue. Leo Cao, who was completing a doctorate in information sciences at the time of the crash, said he had been partly overwhelmed by the medical needs of his brother.
But he also came to hope the delay might help persuade the ministry to compromise, and also allow a funeral service in the family's ancestral Fujianese village. Officials refused, perhaps fearful it would draw other disgruntled survivors.
Still, the brothers held a makeshift memorial service at the funeral home and then stopped at the site of the crash. Last Wednesday, they arranged for the bodies to be shipped to New York. The funeral, scheduled for Saturday in Queens, is expected to draw hundreds of Fujianese immigrants.
As the talks dragged on, Henry Cao became increasingly withdrawn, saying he was no longer interested in the money and wanted only to return home. He spent most of his last days in China in his hotel room, reading biblical stories that touch on suffering and redemption. "I want to move on," he said, staring at the floor.
But for now, his brother is determined to keep fighting and says he is prepared to file a lawsuit in Chinese court, even though several lawyers have advised him it would be futile. "It's not only about money," Leo Cao said. "I want justice."
Among the hundreds of photographs recovered from their father's iPhone from his first and final vacation in China, one image stands out: a shaky snapshot of the LED monitor that graced the carriage of their train boasting that it was moving at 303 kilometers an hour, or 188 m.p.h.
"My father was so proud of China's progress," Leo Cao said. "Unfortunately it was China's progress that killed my parents."
Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.
By Radio FREE Asia
August 22, 2012
One member of a Chinese Christian summer school is beaten and others have to undergo a 'political' probe.
Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui have shut down a Christian summer school run by an unofficial "house church," beating at least one of its members and placing others under "political investigation," a church member said on Wednesday.
The educational camp, which was being run by a Protestant church not formally registered with the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Anhui's Linquan county, had 82 students enrolled from local primary and secondary schools, organizer Lu Gensheng said.
Lu said he was beaten by a government official after the teachers and student volunteers from the camp were taken to the local government office building in nearby Jiangzhai township. "They were swearing at us, and one guy came out and starting beating me; he said he was beating us Christians to see how we liked it," he said.
"It was in the courtyard of the township government, and there were 50 or more officials present...so I ran out of the main gate...where they beat me another time," Lu added.
He said police then bundled him in a car and took him to the township hospital.
The action came as Chinese authorities intensified their harassment of Christians, cracking down on unofficial worship across several Chinese provinces.
Lu said officers from the Linquan county police department, police from Jiangzhai township, and officials from the township government raided the camp at the weekend.
"They burst into our classroom [on Aug. 19] and took all of our teachers and students from a Beijing university to the township government offices," Lu said.
"Everyone was interviewed separately and had to sign [a guarantee statement]," he said. "They also made everyone leave Linquan county immediately, although we told them we hadn't broken any laws."
He said police had warned the church members during their interviews that they were attending an "illegal gathering."
Chinese authorities have recently moved to increase restrictions on the activities of China's house churches, whose members are estimated to number about 40 million according to government figures.
An officer who answered the phone at the Jiangzhai township police station denied that police had neglected to help Lu during the attack.
"How did we ignore him? We listened, and we dealt with the case," the officer said. "We investigated it."
But he declined to comment further. "This matter has been reported back to the county police department," he said.
Meanwhile, one of the student volunteers who was sent back to Beijing after the raid said that police had stormed into the classroom while he was giving a piano lesson to a student at the camp, which offered revision classes in key academic subjects, as well as cultural activities.
"They burst into the classroom suddenly during a piano lesson," said the student, who asked to remain anonymous. "They didn't knock, and they asked us what we were doing."
"They started filming and taking photographs of all the teaching materials we were using, and then they asked to see our ID," he said. "They told us to go home the very next day."
He said the volunteers had been enrolled by the state-backed Protestant group, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, in Beijing's Weigongcun district, and that their universities had been informed of the raid by Anhui police.
"My school told me that we had been accused of carrying out missionary work elsewhere...and they said we would have to undergo a new political investigation," the student said.
"I don't know what sort of impact this whole affair is going to have on me," he said. "Four of my classmates have already been investigated."
'Three-Self' state church group
Earlier this month, members of an unofficial Christian group in the eastern province of Jiangxi said they had come under strong pressure from local authorities to join the Three-Self church group backed by the Communist Party, and to hand over confidential lists of members.
House churches, which operate without official registration documents and without the involvement of the local religious affairs bureaus, come in for surveillance and repeated raids, especially in the more rural areas of the country, according to overseas rights groups.
The State Department's 2011 Religious Freedom Report that reviewed the situation across the globe last year slammed China, saying there was a "marked deterioration" in Beijing's respect for and protection of religious rights in the world's most populous nation.
It cited increased restrictions on Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns and clampdowns on religious practices as well as "severe" repression of Muslim Uyghurs in the volatile Xinjiang region.
Officially an atheist country, China nonetheless has an army of officials whose job is to watch over faith-based activities, which have spread rapidly.
Party officials are put in charge of Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, and Protestants. Judaism isn't recognized and worship in nonrecognized temples, churches, or mosques is against the law.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.