The myth of China as a harmless tiger

By Yu Jie

Chinese dissident writers exiled to the West today get a very different response than Soviet writers received not so long ago.

In 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advised President Ford not to meet with writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, warning in a memorandum that doing so would offend the Soviet Union. Now, similar views are held not only by pragmatic politicians but also by multinational corporations with large investments in China as well as universities and foundations with inextricable links to China.

The Chinese communist regime’s penetration of the West far exceeds that of the former Soviet Union. In the Cold War era, the Soviet Union was blocked behind the Iron Curtain; there were few links between Soviet and Western economies. An average American family would not be using products “made in the USSR.” Today, China is deeply embedded within the globalized system. An American recently wrote an interesting book detailing a year of her refusal to buy products that were “made in China” and the many difficulties she encountered as a result of this decision.

On the surface, the West has profited from its trade with China. Western consumers can buy vast amounts of cheap Chinese products. However, fundamental values of the West are quietly being eroded: Who knows whether the American flag flying outside your home was manufactured by inmates in Chinese prisons or by child labor?

I arrived in the United States a month ago, thinking I had escaped the reach of Beijing, only to realize that the Chinese government’s shadow continues to be omnipresent. Several U.S. universities that I have contacted dare not invite me for a lecture, as they cooperate with China on many projects. If you are a scholar of Chinese studies who has criticized the Communist Party, it would be impossible for you to be involved in research projects with the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute, and you may even be denied a Chinese visa. Conversely, if you praise the Communist Party, not only would you receive ample research funding but you might also be invited to visit China and even received by high-level officials. Western academic freedom has been distorted by invisible hands.

I believe that China is a far greater threat than the former Soviet Union ever was; unfortunately, the West lacks visionary politicians, such as Ronald Reagan, to stand up to this threat. President Obama might perceive the Chinese Communist Party as a tiger that does not bite and, hence, is looking forward to Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit this week. Will Obama, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, openly request that China release Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel Peace laureate imprisoned by the Communist Party? Why did Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have the courage to meet with Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi but not to meet with Liu? Is it because Burma is weak, while China is strong?

The Chinese Communist Party remains a tiger that will bite. For working on human rights with Liu Xiaobo, after he was awarded the Nobel Prize, I was tortured by the country’s secret police and nearly lost my life. Since then, dozens of lawyers and writers have been subjected to brutal torture; some contracted severe pneumonia after being held in front of fans blowing cold air and then being baked by an electric furnace. The secret police threatened me, saying that they had a list of 200 anticommunist party intellectuals whom they were ready to arrest and bury alive. Over the past year, the number of political prisoners in China has increased, and the jail sentences have become longer — yet Western voices of protest have become weaker.

Harsh internal repression and unrestrained external expansion are two sides of the same coin. The Chinese Communist Party recently vetoed the U.N. Security Council’s resolution on Syria because killings not unlike those committed by Damascus continue in Tibet.

More than a century ago, Westerners described China as a “sleeping lion”; today, it is the West that has fallen asleep. As an independent writer and a Christian member of a “house church,” I have the responsibility to tell the truth: The Chinese Communist Party is still a man-eating tiger.

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