Tony Jones interviews Erping Zhang
The director of the Association for Asian Research in New York City, Erping Zhang, speaks to Lateline about the situation in China.
Reporter: Tony Jones
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
August 05, 2008
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well, now to our guest, Erping Zhang, the Director of
the Association for Asian Research in New York City. His work focuses on China's
political economy, foreign policy, social change and human rights issues. In the
late 1990s, Mr Zhang was the Falun Gong Movement's chief spokesman. He's
addressed a range of international bodies about China, including the European
Union and US Congress. Mr Zhang holds degrees from the Beijing International
Studies University and from the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University where he's also an Edward Mason Fellow. And he's in Melbourne at the
moment and joins us there.
Thanks for being there Erping
ERPING ZHANG, ASSOCIATION FOR ASIAN RESEARCH: Hi. How are
TONY JONES: Very good thank you. Can you tell me what you believe is
at stake for China's ruling Communist Party with these Olympic
ERPING ZHANG: Well, it appears clear that the Government of China
has politicised the games to the maximum by, first, to unite this granting
public through nationalism and through this Olympic Games. On the other hand,
the use of the Games to crack down on the dissenting voices like the underground
church groups and the round up of 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners prior to the
games and also members of Tibetan groups and also dissenting intellectuals. So
it's the most politicised Games we have seen.
TONY JONES: You say
they've rounded up 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners. I mean, does anyone know if
that is true, can you prove it, do you know where those people
ERPING ZHANG: Yes. Well, there are reports from different sources
from rights groups that they were rounded up, you know, in the run up to the
Games, and sent to a place that nobody knows, even the family members cannot
identify the location. The similar situation occurred to the outspoken
intellectuals and other, you know, pro-democracy activists.
Is there any way of foreign journalists calculating exactly how many people have
been detained prior to these Games?
ERPING ZHANG: It's very hard to know.
That's the problem with China, because there's no transparency, and there's no,
you know, free access to information, and that's why we are so concerned about
the internet blockage, and also the lack of access to the general public by the
TONY JONES: I'll come to the internet question in a
moment because I know you made a specific study on that. First of all, we saw in
the first of those reports, we saw those demonstrators last night close to
Tiananmen Square, people angry enough to risk open dissent, saying that they'd
been removed from their houses, their houses had been pulled down to make way
for the new housing or for streets or whatever to be widened. Do you know how
many people in Beijing have been affected in this way?
ERPING ZHANG: Well
according to ABC American reports, of the 17 million people living in Beijing,
1.5 million, at least, have been forcefully evicted from their homes to make
room for the Olympic constructions. Of course, for these people, and the other
people who are disallowed to participate in the Games, it's not a very pleasant
experience. For example, I saw one media report listing the 11 categories and 43
types of individuals, these are Chinese, not allowed to participate in the
Games. These are the Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, pro democracy
activists, all the hostile foreign journalists. So, this is just a very much
against the Olympic charter number six, which says, you know, any form of
discrimination based on gender, race, religion, politics is incompatible with it
belonging to the Olympic Games, but sadly the feeble IOC is not enforcing this
Olympic charter at this moment.
TONY JONES: You've written yourself,
however, that the Beijing Games will be an occasion of nationalism, pride, and
of hope for many Chinese. That's not a bad thing, is it?
It's not a bad thing. The Games itself has high ideals and high hopes, and the
Chinese people deserve to celebrate this opportunity. But on the other hand we
don't want the Government to utilise this sports event to politicise and set up
legitimacy for themselves while suppressing the dissenting voice and also to
cover up, you know, the evil doings that they've been conducting.
JONES: How do you know that this exposure, the spotlight of the world to at
least some degree being on China, won't lead inevitably as some people hope to a
new openness, rather than entrench the regime and the one party
ERPING ZHANG: Well, the way it shows that this Games is highly
staged and highly orchestrated by the regime. We see the big foreign sponsors,
corporate sponsors, you know, spending over $US50 billion to share the limelight
of the games, not pressuring the regime to open up the media, open up the
society to, you know, to truly comply with the international community centres.
And also we are, we see that the high security actually essentially, you know,
isolate Olympic Village, become a small society in China, which has nothing to
do with the true reality of society where you have, you know, 150 million
floating population from the rural countryside with no jobs and you have people
in labour camps and mental institutions because of political religious beliefs.
And those kind of realities are not presented.
TONY JONES: There was a
wave over here when it was revealed that the Chinese authorities did not intend
to allow open internet access to reporters who are going to report on the Games.
But of course the problem still exists, no matter what changes they make for
those reporters, the problem still exists for the whole country, does it not,
because of the system put in place, which I think is known as the Golden Shield,
which creates instead of an internet, a kind of giant intranet. Can you tell us
how that works?
ERPING ZHANG: Well starting in 2000, the year 2000,
Beijing has determined that the internet is perceived to be a threat for
undermining the authoritarian regime so they spend $US800 million to build up
this firewall system called Golden Shield, nicknamed the Great Firewall of
China. They hired over 50,000 cyber cops to monitor the online information flow.
Essentially they build up three gateways between the Chinese internet and the
world cyberspace in Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. So every information that is
communicated between the Chinese internet and outside world has to go through
these three gateways, so all that Beijing needs to do is filter and control the
three gateways. That effectively turning the Chinese internet into an intranet.
TONY JONES: So, you say there are 50,000 basically cyber censors who
work at these gateways. Is that correct?
ERPING ZHANG: Yes.
JONES: What, monitoring sites the Chinese Government doesn't like, or specific
ERPING ZHANG: Yes, you know, with the three gateways, and a
40-plus monitoring centres throughout China, the, what happens is they filter
and block information such as the websites of Tibetans, Falun Gong, the pro
democracy, Taiwan, even human rights and including the name Jiang Zemin actually
was blocked, who was the former head of the state. So any information that is
deemed as dangerous or threatening to the regime will be blocked. It is quite
effective because of the use of key word filtering; they use the domain name,
redirection, connection, reset, quite a number of ways to effectively block the
overseas internet information.
Fortunately, according to yesterday
Washington Post, there's a group called Global Internet Freedom Consortium. This
group has website is called internetfreedom.org. They offer several free
anti-censorship software that people can use. And actually some journalists
based in Beijing are already using this software to access overseas websites and
also sending secure emails. So it's highly recommended to people to use, to
access, you know, the internetfreedom.org to get all this free software to
operate in China.
TONY JONES: It will be interesting to see whether this
interview gets censored and it appears on the internet in China, but we'll have
a look at that obviously overnight to see what happens tomorrow. In the
meantime, where did the technology come from to actually do this, for the
Chinese Government to do this?
ERPING ZHANG: Well, thanks to the foreign
conglomerates like Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Microsoft, over 300 foreign
companies have signed a so-called self disciplinary pledge with the Chinese
authorities meaning that they will self-censor themselves based on the content,
you know, deemed as dangerous by the Beijing authorities. So the Chinese users
inside China are unable to access foreign prohibited websites and there's one
reporter who tried to send an email overseas and got sentenced to 10 years jail
term thanks to Yahoo's email system. They provide his personal email to the
Beijing authorities and this is a case that we know. But we believe there are
many other people who have been sent to jail without the public awareness.
TONY JONES: The argument made by these companies is that the system, the
regime, will change over time, it will become freer, and inevitably things like
this internet site you are talking about, which will unscramble the censorship,
will emerge in China and they'll get free access to information. Is that how you
think it's going to work?
ERPING ZHANG: It's not likely because the facts
speak the opposite. The people in China are still unable to access, you know,
the overseas websites including the Chinese language website of BBC. Until
recently only limited within the Olympic Village for the media centre. The
majority of people cannot access, you know, to overseas sites and the most
alarming thing is recently there was a media report in the United States,
reporting that the Cisco company internal document indicates they agree to
collaborate with Beijing in terms of censoring any content related to the Falun
Gong websites. So that's kind of alarming because the US companies are not
allowed to collaborate with foreign government in terms of such a censorship on
the US soil.
TONY JONES: Tell me, we are nearly out of time
unfortunately, but tell me what you think will happen inside China once the
spotlight, the international spotlight goes off again. I mean, it's going to be
on for this period of the Games, there'll be this period of great hope and so
on. But what will happen afterwards, do you believe?
ERPING ZHANG: Well
people will come back to the reality. You have the inflation rate is up 11 per
cent, 7.1 per cent, compared with the past. Then you have, you know, I mentioned
150 million so-called floating populations of peasants migrating from rural area
to the city looking for jobs. You have 20 million each year people looking for
jobs, and plus 20 per cent of the college graduates looking for jobs and the
disparity issue, you know, between the inland and the coastal residents, and
then you have the disparity between the rural and the urban dwellers. So there's
also social unrest factor. In the year 2005 the Government admitted there was
87,000, you know, large scale protests. That's tenfold increase compared with
1993. That's an indicator of, you know, the grass root dissatisfaction with the
regime. Also, if you look at the financial sector, 70 per cent, last year
probably 50 per cent of the Chinese growth come from the capital investment,
FDI, foreign direct investment, so essentially an exported economy, not self
sustainable over, you know, if they want to continue the 10 per cent GDP growth
assured over the natural resource and energy supply domestically.
JONES: Well Erping Zhang, we're out of time I'm afraid. Hopefully we'll be able
to speak to you again at some point, maybe after the Games are over. But we
thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us, a very different
perspective of what's going on in China right now. Thank you.
ZHANG: Thank you.