The Magazine

The Administration Kowtows

Are the Chinese people alone now?

Mar 16, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 25 • By ETHAN GUTMANN
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On the mainland, the Obama administration is giving the party a free hand exactly when they need it. The party must keep disparate forces--labor groups, Falun Gong, Christians, democracy advocates--isolated from one another. The tool is surveillance--using the Internet, phones, indeed, any electronic device that can track humans. (Many of these technologies originally came from American companies.) Once dissenters are arrested, the party needs to squelch any legal defense. Dissident lawyer Gao Zhisheng, freshly out of detention after severe torture, recently disappeared again.

Organ harvesting--particularly if the liver, kidneys, and corneas are surgically removed while a prisoner is alive--creates a foreign currency stream for the military. For the Chinese state it also solves a problem: Approximately 100,000 incarcerated Falun Gong, and an unspecified number of Eastern Lightning (Christians) will not give up their beliefs. Release is impossible; they are dangerous enemies of the state. In the marriage of the New China's capitalism and the party's unchanging authoritarianism, organ harvesting has become a profitable form of barbarism.

The last time an administration gave such an explicit green light to the Chinese leadership was three weeks after the Tiananmen Square massacre. George H.W. Bush sent National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Beijing to reassure the Chinese. Again, the message was that human rights and democracy didn't really matter, only business, only partnership. (That Scowcroft had to deliver it in secret, though, is another sign of how far things have deteriorated.) When this became public some months later, many conservatives broke ranks and some liberals joined them in creating a firestorm of criticism for the administration's policy.

And today? Nancy Pelosi cut her teeth on China human rights, but she won't break ranks without sustained pressure. Amnesty International has made some noises about Clinton's comments. To a lesser extent, so have Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch. But it's not nearly enough. And where are the AFL-CIO, the academy, and the sweatshop coalitions?

Human rights in China. Democracy in China. These are things that the Obama administration wants nothing to do with. Are the Chinese people on their own now?

Ethan Gutmann, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is completing a book on the conflict between the Chinese state and Falun Gong.