David Matas and I of Canada have visited together or separately over the past 15 months about forty countries to raise awareness about our independent report into allegations of organ pillaging from Falun Gong practitioners across China (The document is available in 18 languages, including Italian, at organharvestinvestigation.net).
When audiences understand the present state of health among the Chinese population as a consequence in part of almost three decades of virtually "anything goes capitalism" for the air and water in large parts of the country and the condition of their once widely-admired health-care delivery systems, they seem more likely to accept the context of our report and its truly dismayng conclusio'ns.
Permit me therefore to start with some indicators about the overall state of human health across China today. The major source is a long article by Joseph Hahn and Jim Yardley carried in The New York Times on August, 26, 2007 under the heading, "As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes".
Among their important observations:
Nearly half a billion Chinese lack access to safe drinking water. Their country has only one fifth as much water per capita as, for example, the US, but many factories and farms dump waste into surface water with few legal or other consequences.
The Ministry of Health in China itself admits that ambiant air pollution alone causes hundreds of thousands of deaths yearly. Only one per cent of the nation's city dwellers, add the jounalists, are breathing air considered safe by the European Union. Rapidly expanding car ownership and low grade gasoline have now made vehicles the leading source of air pollution in major cities across China.
One coastline of China is so polluted that a section of it no longer sustains life.
Much of the world outside China has become pre-occupied with global warming just as China has begun the most robust phase of its industrial revolution, which inevitably means that air and water pollution there will become significantly worse.
China's environmental problems are becoming those of the world. Japan and South Korea, for example, are now hit by sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired plants in China. Coal provides about two-thirds of China's energy and it already burns more of it than Europe, Japan and the US combined.
Leaders in Beijing note that multinational companies building manufacturing facilities in their country are partners in degrading the natural environment there by dumping waste in rivers and pumping smoke into the sky.
Last spring, a World Bank study done with China's environmental agency concluded that outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000-400,000 preventable deaths a year, with indoor air pollution contributing to the deaths of another 350,000 persons, for a total in the 750,000 range a year. You'll recall that this part of the report was removed from the published version of the study, but received wide coverage outside China regardless.
Since the Hu-Wen government was formed in 2003 and the commitments then from them as president and prime minister both have clearly failed in this policy area. Many experts, the piece continues, have concluded that "China cannot go green in other words without political change."
Hahn-Yardley conclude their piece:"The government rarely uses market-oriented incentives to reduce pollution. Officials have rejected proposals to introduce surcharges on electricity and coal to reflect the true cost to the environment. The state still controls the price of fuel oil, including gasoline, subsidizing the cost of driving...at least two leading environmental organizers have been prosecuted in recent weeks, and several others have received sharp warnings to tone down their criticism of local officials..." One reason given was the need for social stability before the Olympic Games.
In short, unregulated capitalism has run amok across China for almost three decades and is doing terrible harm to the health and living conditions of its hard-working and long-suffering people.What is the present condition of health care systems in their country to help them in their time of great need?
My primary source here is The Coming China Wars, a book published this year by the Financial Times. The author, Peter Navarro, has a PH.D in Economics from Harvard, has published six other books and is also a professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California.
Navarro's analysis also begins with the escalating national health problems caused by air and water pollution. He concludes that the once-vaunted public health system in China has now effectively disintegrated. "There is a shortage of doctors and sick people are forced to pay for their health care upfront. Those lacking the means to pay are cast out of hospitals and left to die an often slow and painful death. A big part of the problem is the cost of medical insurance-$50 to $200 per year-in a country where the annual per-capita income for the vast majority of the population remains well below $1,000".
One of Mao Zedong's few policy successes on assuming control in Beijing in 1949 was the health care system he put in place. Taxation funded the care of civil servants. Government-owned companies and rural co-operatives provided coverage for their employees, including retired ones. The achievements during the three decades it lasted included a large drop in infant mortality and more than doubling life expectancy.
In the 1980s, virtually all of it was abandoned. Decollectivization ended the co-operatives and the 90 per cent of the farmers formerly covered by health care dropped to ten per cent. Some of the former government companies on being privatized cut out health care for employees; others went bankrupt. The central government between 1980 and 2004 also cut funding for health care by more than half from 36 per cent to 17 per cent.
Under the new privatized model, doctors, hospitals and pharmacies were converted to "profit centres" and expected to finance their activities through patient fees. Today, Navarro notes, the price of drugs not covered by price controls in hospitals as a result can thus be twenty times higher than at the factory gate. More than half of what patients in China pay for health care today is for pharmaceuticals, which contrasts to the roughly 15 per cent paid in most of the developed world.
With this melt-down of the health care systems, coupled with the continuing totalitarian governance model, I think you can better understand the context for organ pillaging which began to occur once a total war had in effect been declared on the large Falun Gong community across China in mid-summer, 1999.
Falun Gong Organ Pillaging
David Matas and I concluded to our horror following our independent investigation that since the latter part of 2000 the government of China and its agencies have murdered thousands of Falun Gong practitioners across China without any form of prior trial and then sold their vital organs for large sums of money often to 'organ tourists' from wealthy countries.
Virtually no independent person we know who has read our report is not convinced of the validity of our conclusion. Some in national governments of varying political stripes, who are no doubt privately persuaded, unfortunately choose to say otherwise in public because to concur that such crimes against humanity are continuing in China would presumably require some different bilateral policies with the party-state in Beijing.
None of these deaths would be occurring if the Chinese peoples as a whole enjoyed the rule of law and their government believed in the intrinsic worth and dignity of each one of them. Most human lives in China appear to have no more value to those in power there than does the natural environment, work safety, health care, the lives of African residents in Darfur or monks and students in Burma. In my judgement, it is the lethal combination of totalitarian governance and 'anything goes' capitalism that allows this new form of evil in the world to continue across the Middle Kingdom today.
The propaganda phase of the government of China's war begun in mid-1999 against a then estimated 70-100 million Falun Gong practitioners demonized, vilified and dehumanized them in the state-controlled media. Many Chinese nationals and others outside China were thereby persuaded to think of the community as disruptive and tragically even somehow less than human. Recently, I was told by a North American that while she was visiting China a few years ago her guide actually told her that Falun Gong practitioners "eat their children".
As Ross Terrill of Harvard University's Fairbank Centre for East Asian Research puts it in his 2003 book, The New Chinese Empire: "The Fearful State in Beijing had transformed Falungong from a harmless, health-promoting lifestyle choice of millions of mostly older Chinese into a menace to the "stability and unity" of the Red Middle Kingdom. That loyal and quite senior members of the CCP, some in the army, police and air force, were among the Falungong membership did not undermine the imperative to stamp out a potential, if unwitting, philosophic challenge to the state."
The phenomenon recalls the similarly inhuman media campaign unleashed by the government of Rwanda against the minority Tutsi community in that country prior to the genocide there between April and June, 1994
My own experience with Falun Gong practitioners in almost forty countries visited has been overwhelmingly positive. They really do attempt to live their core principles of "truth, compassion and forbearance", which are, of course, shared by most of the world's religions.
One wonders why is it that in only one of the seventy or so countries where practitioners live are they persecuted mercilessly by an unelected regime? Their huge and growing popularity among the Chinese people during the 1990s was clearly one reason, but another was no doubt that the values of those in power in Beijing are clearly at the opposite end of the ethical spectrum from their own.
There has been no independently-reported instance of a Falun Gong practitioner using violence to respond to police and other attacks by officials upon them since July, 1999. The UN Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Novak, concluded following his visit to China a year or so ago that fully two thirds of the persons then being tortured across that country were Falun Gong practitioners. How can such a government be hosting next year's Olympic Games?
New Organ Policy of Chinese Medical Association
Matas and I are, of course, aware that the Chinese Medical Association has recently agreed with the World Medical Association that it will no longer take organs from executed prisoners, presumably including Falun Gong ones, even conceding that international pressure before next year's Olympics in Beijing was the motivation. The CMA's vice-chair, Chen Zhonghua, admitted last week, "China is worried that if it doesn't take a stand on this some countries may use this issue as a pretext to boycott the Games." Whatever the cause, it is a step in a much better direction, although many would like to know: does the pledge have any legal effect? If so, when does it commence? Does it bind military surgeons who are currently doing so many transplants in both civilian and army hospitals (we're told that it doesn't)? Will the new policy be dropped as soon as the foreigners leave Beijing after the games next August?
Matas and I have spoken in various places to a small number of the tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners who have been sent to labour camps since 1999, who managed to leave both the camps and China itself. They worked in appalling conditions for up to sixteen hours daily with no pay and little food, making export products, ranging from garments to chopsticks to Christmas decorations for multinational companies. As this constitutes gross corporate social irresponsibility; the CEOs of multinational companies using forced labour subcontractors within China should be held fully accountable.
Finally, for those who assert naively that they are not Falun Gong practitioners and thus have nothing to worry about in China, consider what the world famous German Pastor Martin Niemoller said after his years in Hitler's concentration camps:
"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me and by that time there was no one left to speak up."
"Naming and Shaming"
What can we all do to stop organ pillaging? E-mails to MPs, friends and blogs will certainly help. Probably 'naming and shaming' the party-state in Beijing with placards in front of embassies, consulates and events attended by Chinese officials offer the best leverage in the months leading up to the Olympic Games next August. As the world saw in the case of Mia Farrow's 'Genocide Olympics' comment about Darfur, the regime does listen when the success of its Games might be in jeopardy. Let's use some 'Bloody Harvest' placards.
People of conscience should come out to support the Global Human Rights Torch relay when it comes to more than 100 cities in 35 countries on five continents. You can get more information on the web at www.humanrightstorch.org.