China Thwarts Freedom Again

September 04, 1992

By arresting dissident Shen Tong and expelling China scholar Ross Terrill, the Chinese leaders have once again demonstrated they have lost their vision and are solely focused on protecting their eroding political power.

Mr. Shen, a student leader in the 1989 democracy movement and for the past three years an exile in Boston, returned to China last month. He intended to open a Beijing chapter of the Democracy in China Fund, an exile organization advocating economic and political freedom in China. Rather than allow him to make a statement, Chinese authorities arrested him at his grandmother's home and hustled him off.

Chinese leaders have been able to maintain the transparent fiction that through continued economic reforms they have loosened the Communist Party's tight control over the country. They would like the rest of the world to ignore the country's slave labor camps, arbitrary imprisonment and official corruption.

The leaders have successfully used the economic reforms to distract the U.S. government from the routine Chinese human rights violations. There may be stock markets in Shanghai and Shenzen, but there are also dozens of prisons that routinely torture political prisoners. Entrepreneurs are now operating openly in the streets of South China, but all opposition political parties are routinely suppressed. Many U.S. companies have been able to operate joint ventures with Chinese enterprises, but many goods exported to the U.S. are made by prison slave labor.

Too often, the Bush administration, worried about delicate Chinese sensibilities, has turned a blind eye to these basic violations of human rights. Even though the old men who run China don't pay much attention to world opinion, the U.S. should take every opportunity to promote freedom in China and condemn its outrageous human rights violations.

Pending before the Senate is a trade bill that would impose high tariffs on Chinese goods if free emigration is prohibited and human rights violations continue. Passage of this measure would be a mistake because it would further isolate China from the rest of the world. By trading with China, the U.S. and other countries have encouraged China to develop free markets and modernize. The economic reforms have also encouraged a limited degree of social liberalization and pluralism. To cut off trade with China could severely retard that evolutionary process.

Brave souls like Mr. Shen and his colleagues Qi Dafeng and Qian Liyun, who were also arrested by the police, remind us that there is a generation in China that hungers for the basic freedoms. The rest of the world has to line up with Mr. Shen and his colleagues and say economic development without freedom and democracy not enough.

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