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Week of September 2, 1999

Week of September 2, 1999

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US-China Relations: US Payment to Victims of Embassy Bombing


The US paid $4.5 million to the victims and families of the 3 killed and 27 wounded in the accidental May 8 NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on. Progress was made but no settlement has yet been reached on property damage claims stemming from the bombing. The US has offered to pay for damages to the Embassy, but is insisting that damages to US property incurred in the post-bombing demonstrations be deducted from the amount owed. This issue, among others, is holding up negotiations for China’s timely entry into the World Trade Organization before the Millennium Round negotiations begin.

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US-China Relations: Injured US Researcher Returns to Boston


Daja Meston was released on August 26, medevaced to Hong Kong and sent back to Boston. Meston, an American citizen, suffered a broken back and internal injuries after falling from a third story hotel window after being detained. His Australian companion, Gabriel Lafitte, was released earlier and has returned to Australia. Tsering Dorje, their interpreter and a Chinese citizen, was still being held at the time of Meston’s release. Chinese authorities have not said whether he will face punishment. Lafitte expected as many as 12 of the people they had interviewed to be interrogated and perhaps prosecuted, and called the trip "perhaps naïve and foolish". Lafitte, a development expert, and Meston had gone to conduct an independent inspection of a proposed $40 million World Bank poverty reduction project which will resettle Han Chinese in a Tibetan area. The area is open for tourism, but Chinese authorities said Meston and Lafitte were conducting illegal interviews in restricted areas.

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TRADE/ECONOMICS: China May Resume WTO Talks


China and the United States may resume talks regarding China’s entry into the World Trade Organization before US President Bill Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting this September in New Zealand. In a speech in Australia on August 26, Stanley Roth, US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said that the United States and China have expressed a "real desire" to make the September meeting a success. Both sides hope that a deal on China’s entry into the WTO can be signed when the two meet in New Zealand.

China and the United States came close to reaching an agreement in April when Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji offered drastic reductions in China’s trade barriers during a summit in Washington. Clinton did not accept the Chinese package fearing that it was not enough to gain congressional approval. China suspended the talks after NATO’s accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade on May 7. The Chinese government publicly rejected the US explanation that the bombing was an accident caused by a series of intelligence errors and said that the US must take certain "concrete" steps before WTO talks can resume. However, a Chinese government foreign policy adviser said today that China’s leaders want to see progress on the WTO issue and may set aside their post-bombing demands to facilitate it.

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The decision to prosecute the Falun Gong’s leaders in China at first seems a harsh example of religious persecution, but there is more to the issue than meets the eye. Falun Gong is not a religious group, though it does combine elements of Buddhism and Taoism. It also preaches frugality and abstinence from the use of tobacco and alcohol. None of these doctrine seem criminal, and in fact the Chinese government has no objection to the exercise and breathing techniques which are practiced by many older Chinese every morning either at home or in public places.

What is threatening to the Chinese government is that Falun Gong has become increasingly attractive to retired or unemployed workers who have grievances with the government’s reform process, which has led to high unemployment and other social problems. When asked why Falun Gong has suddenly become so popular, some Chinese cite rising unemployment, increase in corruption, loss of guiding socialist morality, and increasing socio-economic disparity caused by the economic reform process. According to this theory, Falun Gong fills a need for security and hope which the socialist government has stopped providing in the last few years.

But perhaps more importantly, it is the large membership and ability of Falun Gong practitioners to organize and mobilize huge numbers of people which has the CCP worried. Many Communist Party members have been found to be participating, including high level Public Security Bureau and Army officers, a fact which top Party leaders were totally unaware of until the April demonstrations in Beijing. Party leaders also fear that Li Hongzhi, the originator of Falun Gong, may be acting under foreign influence and protection. These fears have been prompted by the ability of Li, a high school graduate who does not speak English, to live off the royalties of his books in America, as well as receive invitations, visas, and funding to travel to Australia, and to settle in America.

Top government officials also believe the retired and unemployed adherents to Falun Gong are a far more dangerous threat to Party leadership and authority in China than the students who demonstrated in the pro-democracy movement in 1989. The students, leaders expected, would eventually graduate from college and give up some of their radical ideas when they got jobs. In fact, the post-Tiananmen generation has become almost fixated on material gain to the point of ignoring politics. The retired and unemployed, on the other hand, have economic and social grievances with the government, as well as the time and energy to voice them.

These fears led Chinese authorities to announce Tuesday that they will prosecute some leaders of the Falun Gong sect, charging them with subversion. With Jiang Zemin at its head, the campaign, which began by banning the sect in late July, seems targeted toward invigorating the Communist Party and containing any social instability that might threaten the government. In violation of China’s criminal procedure law, lawyers throughout the country have been told they must apply for permission to represent Falun Gong clients. The government has also vowed to intensify its grassroots efforts encouraging followers to break their ties to the exercise and meditation group, asking neighborhood committees to help those who remain ‘deceived?by Falun Gong.

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SECURITY/DEFENSE: Allegations of Bias in Case Against Spy Suspect


Last week, federal officials admitted that the espionage case against Wen Ho Lee, the Chinese-American physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, had several flaws and that they did not have enough evidence to charge him with spying. The Justice Department is still considering whether or not to charge Lee with mishandling classified information. Now, some legal experts say even that case is tanacious, due to the public declarations of three participants in the probe who claim that Lee was singled out for investigation because he is of Chinese descent.

Very early on, investigators decided that Los Alamos was most likely the source of design secrets obtained by China about the W-88, the most advanced nuclear warhead in the United States. This information, however, could have come from many other facilities and there is no hard evidence linking the security breach to Los Alamos.

The U.S. and China This Week
The U.S. and China This Week

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