Mr. Baker: Don't Give China Media Victory
Beijing's crackdown on journalists and other advocates of free speech and democracy continues unabated
WHEN Secretary of State James A. Baker III visits Beijing tomorrow he will be the highest-level American official to do so since the government's June 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. China's geron- tocracy hopes the visit will mark a return to business as usual: trade ties mended, diplomatic relations restored, human rights trangressions conveniently ignored.This is the interpretation that will be presented in the official media to hundreds of millions of Chinese who have access to no other news. For this very reason, Secretary Baker must do everything possible to correct the impression that all is forgiven. Since June 1989, there has been a systematic and chilling suppression of all forms of dissent in China. Dozens of publications have been closed by the government, including ones that called for bold economic reforms in the late 1980s. According to research conducted by the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 20 journalists have been arrested; while a few have been released, others remain imprisoned without charge. Many more journalists have been suspended from work and are under official investig ation. They have no means of support and can't seek other jobs. At People's Daily, the party's flagship paper with a circulation of 5 million, at least 50 editors and reporters have been fired, demoted, or ordered to distant provinces. The new editor-in-chief, Shao Huaze, gained his journalism experience as head of a People's Liberation Army propaganda unit. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists have been jailed for crimes that range from shouting slogans to painting banners. Two of the most famous political prisoners, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, are serving 13-year sentences. Wang, editor of the now-banned Economic Studies Weekly, and Chen, its publisher, had organized a march in Beijing by journalists calling for a relaxation of rules that curtailed press coverage of student demonstrations. During their trial, which human rights critics decried as a mockery of justice, the two were vilified as the "black hands" behind the 1989 demonstrations at Tiananmen Square. China's government exerts stringent ideological control over those journalists they do not jail or fire. In a manner eerily reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, journalists are forced to write self-criticisms. This year, in fact, the All-China Journalists Association reaffirmed the need for a press that upheld Marxist-Leninist thought. The propaganda function of journalism is emphasized again and again in political study groups that reporters and editors are required to attend. In recent months, government delegations from Australia, Italy, Poland, and Great Britain have attempted to raise the issue of China's human rights record. Chinese officials have been quick to cry "foreign imperialism" and "interference in domestic affairs." Yet upholding internationally recognized human rights standards is everyone's business, and history has shown that, even in China, it does work. For example, through former President Jimmy Carter's appeals, Li Lin and Li Zhi, two brothers lured back to China from Hong Kong with promises of amnesty, were released from jail in July. International pressure also forced Beijing to acknowledge that jailed editor Wang Juntao was ill, and led to his transfer to a hospital where he received much-needed medical attention. Immediately after June 4, 1989, the United States condemned China's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators. The US Embassy in Beijing provided sanctuary for dissident astrophysicist Fang Lizhi and his wife. This past summer the State Department voiced its concern for the treatment of Wang Juntao. But more can and should be done. Rather than be appeased by the few token steps taken by Beijing, the US should press for consistent adherence to international human-rights standards. The administration's approach to China traditionally has relied more on the carrot than the stick. The argument runs that continued exchanges with the West will have a moderating influence on the excesses of the communist dictatorship. Recent history demonstrates the futility of such policy. In the late 1970s, when China began implementing its "open door policy," a number of daring underground journals with names like Responsibility and Exploration appeared. Wai Jingsheng and Xu Wenli, two journalists fr om the short-lived Democracy Wall period, subsequently were condemned to 15 years in jail on "counterrevolutionary" charges. Now, a decade later, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming have met with nearly identical fates for the same "crime" of free speech. For these men, far too much about China remains the same. In Beijing, Baker should consider what the future holds for Chinese who dare to speak out.