Congressman Andrews: This is a matter of getting to the truth, and to make sure that the law is followed. The Chinese government has alleged that Mr. Li has broken the law, but they haven't given him a hearing of the charges against him. They haven't given him a right to counsel. And they haven't let the world in on the charges that have been made against him. I think that there is legitimate question as to whether the Chinese [government] has violated the law by violating the human rights of Mr. Li. By calling the attention of our State Department to it, we hope that we will be able to win a fair hearing and a fair trial for Mr. Li and eventually, his liberation.
R: We know you have written a letter to Colin Powell; have you gotten any response?
CA: We have yet to hear from the State Department, and we have also written more recently to the Chinese government itself, the embassy here in the United States, and asked for a direct accounting of this matter from the Embassy. We intend to stay on top of this issue, to be persistent, and to get an answer.
R: How soon do you think we can get an answer?
CA: Not soon enough, as far as I'm concerned. The letter was written on the 22nd of January, so it's now been about two weeks. Certainly in another 10 days or so, we are going to follow up and insist on an answer.
R: After a lot of Chinese Americans have heard about this story, they are very concerned about their travelling abroad, or their safety in China, as an American citizen. They would like to know, for example, if they go to China for a business trip or for a private visit, will they still be protected by American law, as an American citizen or resident?
CA: Well they certainly should be. In the case of Mr. Li, it is going to be a test as to whether the answer to that question in reality is 'yes' or 'no'. In theory, every American citizen who travels abroad is protected by our laws, and the legitimacy of our government. I don't think that Mr. Li has received that protection. And I think it's important that our State Department extend that protection to him, not just for his sake, but for the sake of all Americans travelling abroad, in all places.
R: We have heard some officials say that Mr. Li broke the Chinese law, and that China has a law; we have to really pay attention to our relation between the U.S. and China, and that we want to protect our business interests, and all that. What do you say?
CA: If someone has broken a law, then let's hear the evidence. Let's have an open public trial with the right to cross-examination and the right to due process. And if someone violated a law, then a country is certainly within its rights to punish that person. But I think that the evidence in this case strongly leads to the suggestion that Mr. Li is being persecuted for his religious beliefs [Falun Gong is not a religion. For more information on the nature of Falun Gong, please click here]. And I think that's not a violation of the law by Mr. Li, I think that's a violation of international law by the Chinese government. I think that it's a basic and fundamental human right for someone to be able to practise his or her religion without coercion, as he or she sees fit. And I think that's the situation with Mr. Li.
R: And we also know you have been doing a lot in rescue work for Falun Gong practitioners being put in prison and persecuted in China, who are family members of U.S. citizens. How did you initiate that? We also know that you initiated a letter in New Jersey, which nine congressmen co-signed with you, which was turned into the State Department.
CA: I was visited in my office by a number of constituents who live in my district, who have family members in China who are Falun Gong practitioners, and who are concerned about this religious persecution. They educated me, and asked me to become involved, and I thought that it was my duty and responsibility to do so. My job is to listen to my constituents. And when these constituents talked about this very important human rights issue, I listened to them.
R: What is your impression of the Falun Gong practitioners in New Jersey that you know?
CA: I think that they are peace loving, good citizens, who simply want to practise their religious beliefs in freedom. I think that's a fundamental right, not just in America, but also around the world. And when they tell me that 572 Falun Gong practitioners have died in Chinese prisons, because of torture, and tens of thousands have been arrested, harassed or otherwise coerced by the Chinese government, I think that's an offence to everyone in the world. If one person's rights are offended then everyone's rights are offended. And I believe what's happening to the Falun Gong practitioners is an indictment of the Chinese government's weakness, and its unwillingness to open up human discourse. It ultimately will be the undoing of this leadership in China. A leadership that is not strong enough to permit dissent is not strong enough to survive. A leadership that is strong enough to recognise and honor dissent has the self-confidence and the moral strength to survive. The day that the Chinese governments permits real dissidence, permits real disagreement, is the day the Chinese government is strong enough to survive into the future.
R: Do you think they will survive into the future?
CA: I think China will be a democratic, capitalist country, two or three decades from now. And I think that is tremendous news for the whole world. It is my hope and my ambition, and my prediction that in 20 or 30 years, China will be the world's largest democracy. I think that will be a development of unrivalled, good news for the world. I think China will be a source of economic progress, health care progress and cultural progress, not just for the citizens of China, but also for the citizens of the world. And the reason that I think this is that there is a long cultural tradition that respects human rights and respects education within the culture of China, and when you combine that long tradition with growing technology, E-mail on the Internet; it becomes impossible to suppress the human spirit, and the tens of millions of Chinese, hundreds of millions of Chinese, who I believe yearn for the right to raise their children as they see fit, as many children as they see fit. Who yearn for the right to express themselves, and govern their own affairs, and who have the talent and drive and ambition, and when you combine all of that, I think that you will see China emerge as a great force for good in the future, as a democratic nation.
R: I think, in the past, there are a lot of things that the U.S. government did, for example to call for human rights in China, for example rescuing Falun Gong practitioners, and for some other democratic and human rights activism, but a lot of the time the Chinese government is saying: "well stop; these are our internal affairs; the U.S. or another foreign country should not interfere with our internal affairs." What do you think about that; how do you respond to it?
CA: I don't think freedom is anyone's national affair, I think it's everyone's international and human obligation. And I don't think that means we should be imposing on the Chinese government our own views; I certainly don't think it means we should have a negative relationship with the Chinese government. It means we should stand for our principles. And our principles are that every person, whether it's someone in northern New Jersey or in a rural village in China, should have the right to live his or her life as he or she sees fit. And America is going to stand for that principle everywhere. I don't think this is a matter of internal governance, I think this is a matter of human rights. And if we keep our eye on that objective, than I think that we will not only improve conditions for people in China, but conditions for people all over the world, including in the United States.
R: We have seen that you have done a lot to gain the release human rights activists, and some Falun Gong practitioners persecuted in China. For example, the state government gave a list of people, initiated by you, to the Chinese government, while they were in China for the APACC, but only two of them were released, among the five or seven, (I don't remember exactly). Also, about Dr. Teng Chunyan, an acupuncturist in NY, you sent a letter on that and also your constituents brother, Ms. Ying Chen's brother, Chen Gang, and also the sister of Dr. Jingduan Yang, and it's been sometime, is there any progress on that?
CA: No, there isn't, because the Chinese government refuses to give progress--you know, it's obstinate. But, the way to solve this problem is to be persistent; for people in the United States who love and respect freedom--to just keep at it. Keep asking, demanding and enquiring into the freedom of these people. And, you know, the dissidents who eventually got out of the Soviet Union in the 70's and 80's, told us that the one hope they had, was the sure understanding that people in the free world were still interested in their plight, and had not forgotten them. We need to do the same thing for people who yearn for freedom in China. We have to let them know, we have to let the Chinese government know, we have to let the world know, that Americans who love freedom, and citizens of the world who join us in loving freedom, will not forget these people. That they may be one of a billion and three, they may be one out of hundreds of thousands persecuted, but we know their names, and we will not forget them. And I think that if we are persistent in remembering them, that we will be successful.
R: I also heard that there is an Australian citizen named Nancy Chen, also a Falun Gong practitioner, and she was coincidentally arrested on the same day as Charles Li. But, then she was released by the Chinese government, under of course, the pressure of the Foreign Affairs Department and other Australian officials. And Charles Li is still there; why do you think this happened?
CA: I think the Australian government, to its credit, has been more forceful than the U.S. government in pursuing freedom for these individuals. And the reason that myself and nine of my New Jersey Congressional colleagues asked Secretary Colin Powell to step into this matter was, we want to be more forceful than the Australian government has been. I think the more persistent we are in calling to the lack of freedom, the more likely we are to achieve freedom.
R: What can the State Department do, in rescuing Charles Li?
CA: The State Department can under no uncertain terms, express to the Chinese government that the world expects a full accounting of the charges; if there is going to be a trial, a free and open trial, a trial where Mr. Li would have independent, competent counsel. I predict to you that if the Chinese understand, that the Chinese government understands, that those are the ground rules in respect to Mr. Li's case, they will release Mr. Li, because the charges are flimsy, the grounds are slim, and the Chinese government does not want to suffer the embarrassment of having the world see it's real agenda, in this case, which I believe to be the persecution of people who see the world differently than the government does. Insecure people cannot tolerate those who disagree with them. Strong people encourage disagreement, healthy disagreement, because they learn from it. And the regime that runs China has failed: it has yet to reach that level of self-assuredness.
R: And we hope that your effort, combined with other international pressure, will help to free those practitioners from imprisonment. However, before the government policy to persecute Falun Gong practitioners in China comes to an end, they are still subject to harassment and potential arrest. Would you be willing to help those who have relatives in China, to come to the States, for protection from further persecution?
CA: Yes, I would, the entire world has an obligation to provide asylum for the victims of political persecution. America has a part of that obligation. There is not limitless room in America, but there should always be room in America for the victims of political persecution. If we are going to be critical of other governments for denying human rights, then we must also be active in providing a refuge for human rights, where it is denied in other places. So, I would expect other freedom- loving countries to do their fair share. I want us to do our fair share, as well. And to me, that extends to the granting of political asylum, in cases like we're talking about.
R: You just mentioned about the Internet, how no one can block digital business. But as we know, the Chinese government is trying to block the Internet, for example, Yahoo and some others had to agree to the Chinese government filtering their site, and blocking certain websites that they don't want. Google, who did not agree, was not allowed in that market.
CA: I would only say this to you, that trying to censor the Internet, is like trying to hold back the Pacific Ocean. You can build walls and dams, but you just can't do it. Because, there is someone out there who is smart enough and agile enough that they are going to work their way around it. And you know, in Greek mythology, there is the myth of Sisyphus, who had the task of rolling a boulder up a hill. And Sisyphus would roll the boulder up the hill and reach almost the top of the hill and tire out, and slowly let go of the boulder, and the boulder would roll right back down to the bottom of the hill. Censoring the Internet is like the myth of Sisyphus. It's impossible. I'm well aware of the Chinese governments efforts to censor the Internet. But I'm thoroughly confident that those efforts will fail. If you look at the exponential growth of the Internet, the last statistics that I saw indicated something like 15 million Chinese had regular, easy access to the Internet. Which is nothing out of a billion and three. But that number is growing exponentially, I think it was only 5,000 people in l995, now its up to 15-20 to 30 million people, as of 2002. My sense is, that virtually everyone in urban China will have access to the Internet very soon, and with wireless communication dropping in price, a huge number of people in rural China will have that very same Internet access very soon. One of the reasons that the Soviet Empire imploded in the l980's was the fax machine. It literally became impossible with cell phones and fax machines to censor information. People in what use to be East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, instead of having only the official state-censored media, started hearing from their relatives in New York or Los Angeles, or in Paris, or in Rome, what was really going on. And once that flood of information reached a high point, it became impossible for the state governments of the Warsaw Pact to hold back the flood of freedom. I think much in the same way, tens of millions of people in China become aware of the fact that, in places in China you choose to have as many children as you want to have, and if you want to practise a certain faith, you do so. The government doesn't tell you, you can't. And if you have an idea, that schools should be taught in a certain way instead of the way the government does, you just start your own school. I think when people hear these ideas and understand that a substantial number of people in the world live under these rules, then they are going to say: 'Why can't we? Why shouldn't we?' This is not cultural imperialism, it's not the United States saying to the people of China, 'you must live the way we do. Here is our Constitution, live under it'. It is the United States and other freedom-loving people saying, 'we respect and honor the men and women and children of China so much, that we believe that they should have the same rights that we do'. Which is to say, that if the people of China choose to organise their government under a monarchy, we wouldn't, but they could. If they choose to run their government under an Agrarian democracy like Thomas Jefferson talked about, and that Mao Tse-Tung theorised, but never did, then they should. If the people of China choose to organise their economy, mixing private ownership and state ownership, then they should. But what they should not have to do is live in a nation--my wife and I have two daughters--it is unimaginable to me, unimaginable to me, that when my wife was four months pregnant with our second daughter, that the government could come in and say that 'you have to extinguish this life, because we don't want you to have it.' I don't think anyone should live under those rules. And I think America should do whatever we can, within our diplomatic and economic power, to change that.
R: You sound very optimistic. When do you think we can get Charles Li, or Jingduan's sister, or Ying's brother, back to the U.S.?
CA: I don't know that specific answer, but here is what I do know. We will keep asking and enquiring and demanding that these loving people be given due process, and given the rights that people everywhere else in the world deserve. And I don't know whether it will be next week or next year, or longer than that. But I do know that we will keep asking. And I have enough faith that if you keep asking, you eventually win freedom for people.
R: Thank you very much.
CA: Thank you very much, my pleasure.
R: It was a great talk.
CA: I enjoyed it.
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