For China’s communist leaders, Christmas is a time for repression. Liu Xiaobo, the writer, activist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner, was sentenced to 11 years for “incitement to subversion of state power” on December 25, 2009. The indictment listed several of his essays, as well as his role in the Charter 08 initiative, as the basis for the charges.
Today, a court in Sichuan province handed down a nine-year sentence to Chen Wei on similar charges, also for his writings. Chen Wei’s case is part of a larger crackdown inspired by the Communist Party’s fear that Chinese citizens might emulate Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” and other Arab pro-democracy protest movements. Both Liu’s and Chen’s sentences are unusually harsh and reflect the Communist Party’s fear that powerful writings on the Internet are damaging the Party’s control. The essays cited by the court as evidence of Chen’s subversion focused on his arguments about the Communist Party.
Chen’s wife, Wang Xiaoyan, told the BBC, “He is a very patriotic man. He did criticize the Communist Party, but that's stating the facts. That is not subversion.” Well said.
Secretary Clinton should say the same thing from Prague where she is paying America’s respects to Vaclav Havel, a great champion of China’s human rights activists, who wrote to General Secretary Hu Jintao in 2010: “[T]here is nothing subversive to state security when intellectuals, artists, writers and academics exercise their core vocation: to think, re-think, ask questions, criticize, act creatively, and try to initiate open dialogue.”
It’s worth reading today, “Paranoia in Hong Kong,” a Wall Street Journal Asia editorial about Chinese claims that Stephen Young, the U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, is “interfering” in Hong Kong affairs.
The Journal describes Ambassador Young’s supposed offenses, all of which actually amount to defending the autonomy China promised Hong Kong and the special relationship Hong Kong enjoys in U.S. law as a result. The Journal posits that the motivation for the stepped up attacks on Young have to do with stronger U.S. criticisms of China’s human rights record. That is undoubtedly part of it, but another explanation is that Beijing is meddling more, and more overtly than ever before – see this piece from October – and uses its hysterical attacks to deter U.S. criticisms of the erosion of the “one country, two systems” principle that China and Great Britain promised Hong Kong.