This week Dateline meets one of China's most famous
democracy activists, Wei Jingsheng.
Mr Wei was
actually one of the key case studies in Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's
thesis in 1980 on human rights in China.
Have Your Say: Is Wei Jingsheng right to urge
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to do more to promote democracy in
The Life of a Video Journalist
Mr Wei was jailed
for 18 years for writing an article that criticised the then-Premier
Deng Xiao Ping. Now, he is a leading figure in Chinaís democracy
movement and has hit the campaign trail in the months before the
David OíShea joins Mr Wei on the road in
London, as he spruiks his message to sympathetic (and not so
Along the way, Mr Wei is introduced
to British politicians who are happy to meet with him, but only in
private. He also speaks to Chinese students, some of whom applaud
him, but others heckle. He says they were ordered to do so by the
They say they don't agree with his message.
ďHe was just misleading us, misleading foreign countries to get them
to overturn the Chinese government,Ē one student
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's interest in China goes back to his
university days where he was polishing his Mandarin skills and in
1980, writing his honours thesis on the ordeals of human rights
activist Wei Jingsheng. Wei Jingsheng is now based in the US but is
still at the coal face, pushing for human rights in China. David
O'Shea caught up with him recently in London for his views on China
and on Kevin Rudd.
REPORTER: David O'Shea
Wei Jingsheng has learned to catch up on sleep whenever
he can. The worldís most prominent Chinese dissident has a punishing
schedule urging anyone who will listen to support the democracy
movement in China. And with the days ticking away before the Olympic
Games, he is cranking up the pace.
JINGSHENG, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST (Translation): Iíd like to say this
to every politician. It wonít affect China alone. If thereís turmoil
in China, every countryís interests will be harmed.
London is the latest leg of his tireless
campaign, a series of meetings with local activists, university
students, and politicians. Now with his interpreter and human rights
group, Amnesty Internationalís China campaign manager, he is off to
the British foreign office.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: The work we are doing with China at the
moment especially with the UK Government is getting them to
acknowledge that there is an increasing crackdown on human rights
activists in China and always increases once you get to June 4 - and
to speak more publicly about that crackdown.
REPORTER: What do you hope to achieve when you
go to meetings like this?
(Translation): I hope that British politicians urge the Chinese
Government to carry out reforms, particularly political reforms.
China at present is at crossroads. So if no reforms take place soon,
China may fall into even greater turmoil.
the Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister of Australia,
Wei Jingsheng sat up and took notice.
JINGSHENG (Translation): Many Chinese expect him to care more about
human rights in China. He himself lives in a free country. He runs a
democratic system and knows it very well. Ordinary Chinese people
feel Kevin Rudd should promote democracy in China. Compared to other
Western politicians, he should play a bigger role.
Wei Jingsheng once had impeccable communist
party credentials. He was born into a high-ranking military official
family and brought up in prestigious party schools. He was even a
red guard in his youth. But he became disillusioned and in the
1970s, started an underground magazine and began posting articles on
what became known as "democracy wall" in downtown Beijing. He pushed
the boundaries harder than anyone else but seemed to get away with
it for a while until he posted a very critical essay about the then
Premier Deng Xiao Ping.
Three days later, on 29 March 1979, he
was arrested and then put on a show trial. He spent the next 15
years in prison. Wei was released as China made its bid for the 2000
Olympic Games but when the honour was bestowed on Sydney, the
Chinese authorities locked him up again. President Clinton
intervened and cut a deal to get him released after three years and
deported to the US where he now lives.
REPORTER: The Chinese
leadership of course just dismiss you as a stooge of the CIA? What
do you say to that?
(Translation): If it was true, the CIA would have a high-profile
agent. I have nothing to do with the CIA.
Shortly after his release from prison, Mr Wei
met Mr Rudd in 1999. He says the then opposition parliamentarian
showed him his university thesis, which focuses on him and outlines
his key role in the early democracy movement. It is a highly
detailed dissertation which conveys Ruddís clear admiration for his
strength, courage and commitment. Mr Wei is now calling on Rudd, the
Prime Minister, to resurrect his university idealism and use his
influence to push Beijing to reform.
JINGSHENG (Translation): But as far as I can see, particularly
during the election and since he was elected, he hasnít done much.
Iím not disappointed in him yet. But he hasnít done anything over a
long period. We may need to urge him to do something. We should give
him some new information. Iím thinking of visiting Australia later
when Iím not too busy. Iíd like to talk to him in person.
Mr Wei is now the chairman of the Overseas
Chinese Democracy Coalition in Washington DC. He spends his life
lobbying policy makers and politicians for support. But Mr Wei
admits to a second agenda.
(Translation): We have another important job, to undermine the
Communist foreign policies. The Chinese Government wants to rope
Western countries in, so we need to destroy their plans. These are
our two tasks in foreign affairs.
Many times on
this trip I hear people say Chinaís rapid development has lifted
millions out of poverty and improving human rights will follow. Mr
Wei scoffs at the idea that the economy should come first.
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Human rights are
basic human needs. Even if one is hungry and poor, one still needs
human rights - thatís human nature. It has no direct connection with
REPORTER: Shouldnít we just be
patient and let things happen on their own?
JINGSHENG (Translation): The Chinese people have given the
Government 60 years and after 60 years, the country is still a mess.
So time isnít the solution. The key question is whether thereís a
free press and whether thereís a responsible legal system. Without
such a legal system, reforms can only be marginal, unreliable and
Amnesty International have
brought Mr Wei to London for a series of events to commemorate the
1989 Tiananmen Square massacre where hundreds of pro-democracy
activists and students were killed. They wanted to re-create the
iconic scene of that time when a lone protester with a shopping bag
faces off a Chinese tank. Mr Wei was to have played the part of the
protestor but he didnít make it in time and they had to get a stand
in. But he did make it to the main memorial event across town a few
days later which was closely monitored from the Chinese embassy over
MAN (Translation): Are you Wei
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Yes.
(Translation): Youíve suffered a lot.
(Translation): Nice to meet you. I look much better now. Iíve almost
MAN (Translation): You looked terrible when you
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): My face
MAN (Translation): Your teeth were all missing.
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Yes, all my teeth fell out.
ANNOUNCER: He suffered torture, brutal physical and
psychological abuse including solitary confinement and physical
attack. He has been awarded the Olaf Palmer Peace Prize in 1995, the
Sakarov Freedom of Thought Award in 1996 and he is a nominee for the
Nobel Peace Prize. Please welcome him to the stage.
JINGSHENG (Translation): Since the Communist Party came to power,
thousands of people have been killed and thousands of people have
The brutal crackdown in
Tiananmen Square 19 years ago was a pivotal event in modern Chinese
history Ė and a memory the Chinese Government tries very hard to
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Some
people say that was all in the past. But I want to tell you that
itís all still happening today.
hard the embassy is trying to put good spin on the Olympic Games,
they would not have been pleased to hear Mr Weiís call to arms here
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Let's work
together. Thank you.
Mr Wei believes that while
the Chinese do not honour their promise to improve the human rights
record, a precondition for holding the Games. Then world leaders
like Kevin Rudd should reverse their decision to attend the opening
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): His
action contradicts the Western value system. It also contradicts Mr
Ruddís own ideal when he was young. His decision is unreasonable
from his personal point of view. And itís unreasonable from a social
perspective. It may be reasonable for business purposes only. I
think his decision is wrong. The Beijing Olympics are like the
Berlin Olympics in 1936, offering support to the Nazis and to
dictatorship. And they will bring with them political consequences.
The Chinese Government is using the Olympics as a political event to
Much was made of Prime
Minister Ruddís raising of human rights in Beijing recently where he
used a 7th century word to describe his relationship with China -
Zheng You Ė the true friend who dares to disagree. Most analysts
thought it was a brave move, Mr Wei believes the opposite.
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): You canít be a
friend of Communism and the Chinese people. The Chinese Government
draws a clear line between the two. The Chinese people also draw a
clear line. I think he must be under great pressure from big
corporations. He wanted to be a friend of China. He also wanted to
tell Western people that he cared about human rights. So he put
forward this puzzling and odd concept. I donít like it myself. The
Chinese people found it odd. Even the Chinese Government found it
KRISTYAN BENEDICT: Can we reschedule? Great, sorry. We
need to also talk about the French minister for human rights.
Apparently they want to meet Mr Wei, right?
HUTCHINSON, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: I was just thinking he has such a
busy program, they are both losing their voices. I'm shattered. Yes,
I am not surprised.
Another day, another
meeting. Mr Wei is being briefed by his minders about foreign office
minister, Lord Malloch Brown.
I'm hopeful that it would be quite a hopeful meeting. Mark Malloch
Brown is a fairly sympathetic human rights minister. He is
interested in actually understanding the issues and seeing what the
UK can do about it and I think it will be a quite friendly meeting
but how far he will be able to push his colleagues and other parts
of government to do the things we want him to do is the challenge he
faces, I think.
REPORTER: What are you hoping
to get out of this meeting? Is it the same as the others? Pushing
the same idea or is there a different approach to this meeting?
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): I hope something
will come out of it. The British Government should work with the EU
and do something. If Britain, France and other EU countries want to
do something about human rights, itís the perfect time to do it.
Itís the time to take some action.
As we leave
the cafť and Mr Wei heads off to his meeting, Iím stopped by police
and questioned on suspicion of involvement in terrorism.
REPORTER: I'm just filming them.
POLICE: We believe in professional filming.
REPORTER: I just wanted to get the shot of them
walking in, thatís all.
POLICE: You just wanted
to get the shot of them walking in?
didn't know until about 10 minutes ago what we were doing. Like I
said, you don't know from one minute to the next. News reporting -
you follow the news.
POLICE: If you had the
press pass, it would have helped as well.
also difficult to get Datelineís camera into any of the meetings Mr
Wei has with British politicians, not even to get the shot of them
shaking hands. He really is a political hot potato. Mr Wei says they
have too much to lose in offending China by being seen meeting him.
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): They have a
similar dilemma to Kevin Rudd. They have to meet the needs of big
corporations and they canít offend their people.
REPORTER: When you met Kevin Rudd, it was also
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): Not
when he was an MP, but I donít know now. Back then, he didnít need
to worry too much. But now he has to consider what we just talked
about. If he stresses human rights, heíll upset Australian
capitalists. If he doesnít, heíll upset the Australian people. I
havenít been in contact with him in this regard. Last time I was in
Australia, he was rather cool towards me.
it is off to Cambridge University for a speech to overseas Chinese
students. He begins with the disturbing trend of rising nationalism
in China, which he says is supported by the Government.
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): This extreme
nationalism has some characteristics in common with Nazism. For
example, it displays exclusionism, discriminates against dissidents
and promotes violence. Like all fanatics, once they get into frenzy,
they canít hear any other voice. How far will this fanatical
patriotism go? Weíre worried. Many people inside the Communist Party
He then went on to talk about
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation):
In China, prisonersí organs are forcibly removed. This has been
extended to ordinary people. People are kidnapped off the street and
killed for their organs. Itís a business for profit.
But when he criticised Premier Wen Jiabao and
the Chinese military for getting to the recent earthquake zone too
late, it was too much for some in the audience.
STUDENT: My question is whether he really knows
at what exact time the Chinese troops arrived in the earthquake
At this point, Mr Wei got confused and
contradicted himself losing the attention of many in the audience.
But at the end, he still got quite an applause although mostly from
REPORTER: Any comment on that?
STUDENT 2: Very profound and very enlightening.
Then I see the student who asked the question
about his facts.
REPORTER: What did you think?
STUDENT: A bit disappointing.
You can see from my question Ė it is not well evidenced - the detail
is about himself not what is happening there.
REPORTER: Any comment on what you just heard?
STUDENT 3: Nonsense.
REPORTER: Nonsense, really? Can you tell me
STUDENT 3: Sorry I have no time.
REPORTER: I will walk with you.
STUDENT 3: He was just misleading us,
misleading the foreign countries, the foreign media to get them to
overturn the Chinese Government.
agreed that he didnít answer their questions. But Mr Wei dismisses
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): It
shows that those young people have long been deceived. It will take
them a long time to be able to see the truth. Theyíve been
brainwashed by Communism.
And he alleges there
were embassy officials sitting at the back of the theatre.
REPORTER: How do you know the embassy sent people?
WEI JINGSHENG (Translation): The students told
me. I think those students were actually quite friendly. Theyíve
taken in a lot of what I said. But under surveillance by embassy
officials, they could only say what they said. Without the embassy
officials, those young men would take me for a beer. They have more
questions to ask.
REPORTER: Do you think you
will ever get to go back to China?
JINGSHENG (Translation): The Chinese Communist Government may not
allow me to go back to China. But the Communist Government may soon
be overthrown. So Iíll be able to go back soon. My hope is sooner
rather than later.