New documents give look at views, ordeal of Chinese dissident

March 04, 1996|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- Two years ago today, Wei Jingsheng was in high spirits. The father of China's modern dissident movement felt that the country's leadership was going to meet him halfway, finally allowing him a measure of freedom to promote human rights and democracy.

But after what now appears to have been a power struggle in the upper echelons of the Communist Party, Mr. Wei was hustled out of Beijing two days later and disappeared into China's security apparatus, his high-level contacts reneging on their promises.

These are among the revelations contained in transcripts of Mr. Wei's court statements and interviews with people in close contact with him shortly before his arrest. The transcripts were obtained by The Sun yesterday, while his acquaintances are only speaking now that Mr. Wei has been sentenced to another 14 years in prison.

A dangerous threat

The new information reconfirms that Mr. Wei (pronounced "way") was far from being a marginal dissident fighting for a cause of no interest to ordinary Chinese. For China's top leaders, at least, he was a dangerous threat, especially as they sought to retain trading privileges with the United States.

The documents also give insight into Mr. Wei's political philosophy. His defense statement, titled "What I Understand as Democracy," is a blunt and forceful testimony to pluralism.

The details come on top of recently released letters written by Mr. Wei during his first stint in prison. Taken as a whole, the documents, recollections and letters give a greatly improved understanding of what happened to Mr. Wei two years ago and flesh out many of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee's political ideas.

Mr. Wei was first imprisoned in 1979 and sentenced to 15 years for essays he wrote criticizing the Communist Party's monopoly on power. He was released in the fall of 1993, as Beijing was trying to polish its image and win the competition to host the 2000 Summer Olympics, which eventually were awarded to Sydney, Australia.

His "early" release was a shot in the arm for China's dissident movement. Mr. Wei published essays and spoke out forcefully against human rights abuses in China -- in defiance of government orders to keep quiet.

A few months after his release, Mr. Wei met Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck. Many in the United States were clamoring for withdrawal of "most favored nation" trading privileges as a way to punish China for human rights violations, and Mr. Shattuck was in Beijing to solicit opinions.

According to a transcript of Mr. Wei's defense statement at his trial in December, he told Mr. Shattuck that the United States should not punish Beijing by withdrawing its favored trade status. Higher tariffs for Chinese goods entering the United States -- China's biggest market -- would hurt the Chinese economy, Mr. Wei said, but "the only ones who would suffer would be the poorest of the poor."

Seeking his help

China was enraged by Mr. Wei's meeting with Mr. Shattuck, although pleasantly surprised by his stand on trade. With Secretary of State Warren Christopher due in town in March 1994, the leadership decided to enlist Mr. Wei in its campaign to retain MFN.

On March 4, Mr. Wei was picked up without warning by Zhang Shichao, head of Division One of the Beijing Public Security Bureau's Political Crimes Department -- the secret police division that oversees dissidents living in the capital.

Mr. Zhang took Mr. Wei to a police guest house in the Beijing suburb of Changping. Relating the story the next day to Juergen Kremb, a German journalist who is a close friend, Mr. Wei told how he sat in one room, while in another sat "China's supreme leader" -- believed by Mr. Kremb to be Jiang Zemin, China's president and Communist Party general secretary

A man named Guo shuttled between the rooms as the leader made his offer: Mr. Wei was to leave town so that Mr. Christopher would not be able to meet him, but if negotiations with the United States broke down, Mr. Wei would return and tell Mr. Christopher that China needs MFN. In exchange, Mr. Wei would be allowed to write and speak about human rights.

Mr. Wei agreed, although he emphasized that he'd only be expressing his own opinions anyway. "What has been said here goes. You have my word," was the leader's final word, as recounted by Mr. Wei to Mr. Kremb, the Beijing correspondent for Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, which will publish Mr. Kremb's recollections today.

Mr. Kremb said he had given his word to Mr. Wei not to publish the conversations unless Mr. Wei ended up back behind bars. The gist of the conversations have been confirmed independently by The Sun, which contacted others who talked to Mr. Wei in March 1994.

Leader's word doesn't stand

But the leader's word, it seems, was not to stand. The morning after Mr. Wei met Mr. Kremb on March 5, Mr. Zhang of the Public Security Bureau showed up at Mr. Wei's house and gave him two hours to pack his bags.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.