President Trump has just been to China.
Just before he arrived, the trial of Taiwanese NGO worker Lee Ming-cheh was streamed online from Yueyang City Intermediate People’s Court in Hunan province. Lee had been arrested on 19 March when he crossed the border from Macau. He then disappeared into the gulag that is the Chinese judicial system. He had not been seen for 6 months before his trial for “subverting state power” under a new Foreign NGO Management Law.
It seems his crime was promoting Western democratic values and a multi-party system in China. At his trial he appeared tired and his ‘confession’ seemed to come from a prepared script.
Trump enthused about his ‘great chemistry’ with Xi Jinping. But he didn’t talk to him about Lee Ming-cheh.
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Just before Trump arrived in China, Huang Qi told his lawyer on 3 November that he had been beaten up by other detainees at the Mianyang City Detention Centre in Sichuan while prison guards watched. Huang Qi and his wife founded the 64 Tianwang website that documents petitioners’ protests in China.
Petitioners in China are people with a grievance or complaint who use a mechanism going back to feudal times to ‘petition’ officials for redress. There are millions of them and tens of thousands who get no joy from their local authorities come to Beijing to petition. Many are intercepted, spurned or even thrown into ‘black jails’ for their troubles.
64 Tianwang relies on a network of citizen journalists, over 100 of whom have been brought in for questioning or detained since Xi Jinping became President. 10 are in jail. When Huang Qi was arrested in November last year for ‘leaking state secrets’, it was the third time he had been detained that year. For almost a month, the authorities wouldn’t say where he was and he was allowed his first meeting with his lawyer only in July.
Trump called Xi Jinping a ‘very special man’. But he didn’t mention Huang Qi.
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Human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was arrested, or rather was disappeared, in July 2015, long before Trump got to China, on a charge of ‘subversion of state power’, i.e. defending people who the state does not want to be defended. And there may be those who think that anyone acting for such obvious delinquents as Falun Gong practitioners is asking to be locked up without trial.
But that won’t explain why his wife, Li Wenzu, should be placed under house arrest and heavy surveillance because ‘the US president is in town,’ as one of the guards outside her door told her.
Trump said he had ‘an incredibly warm’ feeling toward Xi Jinping. But not warm enough to talk about Wang Quanzhang.
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A month before Trump arrived in China, on 9 October, 60-year-old human rights lawyer Li Yuhan was picked up, taken to a police station, knocked about a bit, then detained for a month with no official explanation of where or why. Police told her ‘if you died, your old age would be a legitimate explanation.’ Just after Trump left, her family was informed that she was detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’.
Trump expressed ‘great respect’ for Xi Jinping. But he ignored the case of Li Yuhan
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In the months leading up to Trump’s arrival, about 30 members of the family of Uighur human rights activist Rebiya Kadeer were detained. It is thought they are detained under a ‘De-extremification Regulation’ that was passed last year where those who refuse to watch public radio and TV programmes, or have ‘abnormal’ beards, or are just too Uighur, are sent to ‘counter extremism centres’, where they are forced to study Chinese laws and policies.
Rebiya Kadeer herself was not detained. She was, from 1999 to 2005, but she is now in the US and beyond the reach of the Chinese de-extremificators.
Trump praised Xi Jinping as ‘highly respected.’ But he didn’t bring up the Uighurs’ case.
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On 4 November, Lee Tae-won in South Korea was talking to his wife on the phone, but the conversation was interrupted by what sounded like the police arresting his wife, Lee Su-jung, and their 4-year-old son. Lee Tae-won is originally from North Korea, but escaped and his wife was trying to follow him. She had got as far as Shenyang before she was arrested.
If the Chinese do what they normally do with North Korean refugees, she will be shipped back across the border and we don’t always know what happens then. Leaving North Korea without permission is already a crime, and others have been imprisoned, sentenced to forced labour, tortured and, in some cases, executed.
Trump had a 2-hour dinner with Xi Jin-Ping that he said was ‘beyond terrific’. But he failed to mention Lee Su-jung and her son.
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Just before Trump arrived in China, the family of Dong Guangping found out that he was no longer inside Chongqing Municipal No. 2 Detention Centre. It took 2 weeks to locate him in Chonging Municipal Nananqu Detention Centre. This is important because without outside help in buying basic toiletries and better food, prison life can be close to unbearable.
Dong Guangping’s case is interesting because he was outside China when he was recognized as a refugee and accepted for rapid resettlement in Canada. But in October 2015, just before he was scheduled to fly to his new home, he mysteriously disappeared, only to resurface in China.
He disappeared from an immigration detention cell in Thailand. The military government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said they didn’t know he was a refugee. The UNHCR had written to the Ministry of Justice, the Immigration Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Security Council to tell them exactly that, so of course they didn’t know.
Trump left China saying ‘It was great being with him [Xi Jinping] and Madame Peng Liyuan!’ But he omitted any mention of Dong Guangping.
And when he got to APEC, he didn’t bring it up with Prime Minister Prayut either.
He then went on to not talk more about human rights with President Duterte in the Philippines.
About author: Bangkokians with long memories may remember his irreverent column in The Nation in the 1980's. During his period of enforced silence since then, he was variously reported as participating in a 999-day meditation retreat in a hill-top monastery in Mae Hong Son (he gave up after 998 days), as the Special Rapporteur for Satire of the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and as understudy for the male lead in the long-running ‘Pussies -not the Musical' at the Neasden International Palladium (formerly Park Lane Empire).