In April, the U.S. Department of Commerce banned U.S. companies from selling components to Shenzhen-based ZTE Corporation for seven years. Image credit: Getty Images.
As tensions between Washington and Beijing increase, Dui Hua directors and staff participated in several San Francisco Bay Area events in late April and early May. No part of the United States is more engaged with China than the Bay Area. The events included a dinner with a national religious organization that held its annual meeting in Berkeley, a workshop on China’s Foreign NGO Management Law organized by prominent foundations and a law school, and a speech by Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm at one of San Francisco’s oldest and most prestigious clubs.
Issues examined at these events included:
The US-China Trade War
The Bay Area is heavily involved in trade and investment with China. President Trump’s decision to impose billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs on Chinese goods, and the Chinese government’s response, figured prominently in discussions. Given Silicon Valley’s deep ties to Chinese enterprises and entrepreneurs, Washington’s claims that China has stolen billions of dollars in American technology and forced American firms to transfer technology as a price for doing business in China are matters of great concern, as are discussions in Washington to limit visas for Chinese students and scholars coming to the United States for research related to science and technology.
Chinese tech giant ZTE has been sanctioned and telecom firm Huawei is under investigation for violating Iran sanctions. Huawei phones have been banned from American military bases.
The Bay Area is home to the largest population of American citizens of Chinese descent. There are strong ties to Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Growing tensions between the Mainland and Taiwan are troubling. Washington has taken steps in recent months that have signaled closer ties between the United States and Taiwan. Steps have included Congress passing legislation that allows high-level visits to Taiwan and calls to Taiwan ports by US naval vessels as well as the Department of State’s decision to authorize the sale of submarine technology to the island.
Bay Area airports handle the greatest number of flights between the United States and China. Worries have been stoked by reports that China’s aviation authority is demanding that United Airlines and American Airlines change their websites to remove references to Taiwan as a country, and is threatening legal action against the airlines, including, possibly, restrictions on flights to and from China.
A perennial issue in US-China relations, and one in which Dui Hua is heavily involved, is human rights. Here too recent actions by the governments of both countries have served to increase tensions. Actions include the increased use of exit bans against Americans of Chinese descent – something that prompted the State Department to issue a travel advisory on China in late January; the late April release of the annual human rights report on China – Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan referred to Beijing as a “morally reprehensible” government in his introductory remarks; the refusal of the Chinese government to allow Liu Xia, the widow of imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, to leave the country despite repeated assurances that she can leave; alleged threats to “One Country Two Systems” in Hong Kong; and the deteriorating human rights situation in Xinjiang, where media reports that as many as one million Uyghurs have been placed in “political education camps.”
During her visit to Beijing in April, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Laura Stone took the unusual step of hinting that officials in Xinjiang involved in human rights abuses in the autonomous region could face Global Magnitsky sanctions in the United States, a step that is being seriously mooted in Washington.
Interference in America’s Domestic Affairs
For many years, Chinese officials complained that the United States was interfering in China’s domestic affairs. Now, with increasing frequency, American politicians are complaining about alleged attempts by China to interfere in American society. A special focus of their attacks are Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms on American campuses; the attacks have already led to the closure of a few such bodies.
A bright spot in US-China relations has been cooperation between the two countries in enforcing a strict sanctions regime against Pyongyang over its efforts to build a nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal. President Donald Trump has credited his “good friend” President Xi Jinping with exerting the economic pressure that resulted in President Kim Jong Un’s stated intention to denuclearize his country. Cooperation between the two countries and the strong personal friendship between their presidents was seen by participants in the Bay Area events as an important factor in China’s improved image in the United States.
Dui Hua has recently uncovered an online judgment involving two individuals sentenced in July 2017 in Shenzhen for selling Bibles. One defendant surnamed Xu was allegedly hired by a Hong Kong-based Christian group in 2006 to smuggle Bibles into the mainland via the immigration ports in Futian and Luohu. The Christian group rented two apartments to store the Bibles, which were then distributed free of charge in the mainland. A South Korean national from the same Christian group was also involved in the smuggling and distribution of the Bibles. He was detained for being in possession of 800 Bibles in October 2016 near the Futian Port. The judgment stated that the Korean national was handled in a separate case.
Police began investigating Xu following the detention of the Korean national. Xu was found to have sold the Bibles he obtained from the Hong Kong-based Christian group to Wang X, a Shandong-based shop owner, alongside audio Bible discs he had procured from another source. The sale involved transactions totaling more than 700,000 yuan between April 2013 to September 2016. In 2016, Wang was found to have sold over 2,000 Bibles through his shop in Shandong. While Wang pled guilty to illegal business activity and admitted to making a profit of fifty cents to two yuan for each Bible sold, Xu pled innocent and stated in his defense that he only charged 4 to 24 yuan for each Bible to cover the cost of express delivery. Wang also stated that he was not aware of the Christian group that employed Xu or that the Bibles were imported from Hong Kong.
The court found that both Xu and Wang “ignored national law, violated state regulations by illegally importing and issuing overseas illegal Bibles, and seriously disrupted the market order”. Xu was sentenced to nine months’ in prison and was released on September 5, 2017, whereas Wang completed his eight-month sentence one month prior to Xu’s release.
For more information about cases involving the distribution of Bibles and the crime of illegal business activity, read “Illegal Business Activity and Christian Bookstores.”
Featured: Call for Constitutional Review of Custody and Education (April 4, 2018)
In the lead up to this year’s session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), prominent Chinese lawyer, Zhu Zhengfu, called on the NPC to review the constitutionality of the system of custody and education (收容教育). Zhu is the Vice President of the All-China Lawyers Association and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Custody and education is a form of administrative detention designed to punish both sex workers and their clients.
Previous Digest: April 2018
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999
To read part one, click here
The Banquet (Part 2 of 2)
Testifying on China
The next day, May 10, 1990, I left Hong Kong for Washington, stopping first in Seoul and then in Tokyo on Oxychem business. In Tokyo, I composed my testimony in a room at the Okura Hotel. I decided that the focus of my testimony would be the damage that revoking China’s MFN would do to the colony, then grappling with the fact that it would be handed over by the United Kingdom to China. I also decided to confront the issue of human rights head on.
I arrived in Washington via Newark on May 14, 1990. The next day I huddled with AMCHAM’s consultants, representatives of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, and staff of the State Department and Congress dealing with China.
On May 16 at 9:40 AM the hearing on “Most Favored Nation Status for the People’s Republic of China” was called to order by Congressman Solarz in Room 2172 of the House Rayburn Office Building. Members of Congress were invited to make statements. After that, witnesses were called, one by one. First to testify was Winston Lord, former ambassador to China. He was followed by witnesses representing the National Committee on US-China Relations, Human Rights Watch, and the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars.
Then it was the business panel’s turn. First up was the president of the United States-China Business Council, Roger Sullivan. I followed Mr. Sullivan, representing the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.
Sticking closely to the five-minute limit for testimonies, I outlined the damage revoking China’s MFN would inflict on Hong Kong and adjacent Guangdong Province and then moved to the subject of human rights. “Americans in Hong Kong abhor the violations of human rights now going on in China, and we condemn them both in public and private sessions with Chinese officials,” I said.
I continued. “Who knows better than the people of Hong Kong how bad the situation is? We are on the front line. There are young Hong Kong people in Chinese jails. I take this opportunity to call once more for China’s leaders to release them to their families in Hong Kong… Whatever capital we might earn by fighting further sanctions we will gladly spend in the effort to free all Chinese prisoners of conscience.”
Chairman Solarz thanked me for my “powerful and eloquent plea,” but then subjected me to sharp questioning. He was followed by Congresswoman Pelosi. The congresswoman had taken office in 1987. Her San Francisco district had a large population of Chinese Americans who had been deeply affected by the events of June 4, 1989. Mrs. Pelosi became a leader in the effort to use MFN to wrest human rights concessions from the Chinese government. Her opposition to China being granted MFN without additional human rights conditions launched her national political career.
My testimony received wide media coverage, including in major American newspapers. It was broadcast in its entirety by a fledgling network known as C-Span. Excerpts were broadcast by CNN, and were viewed in Hong Kong and on the Mainland. Chinese officials were delighted, as was the Hong Kong business community. Everywhere I went in the colony, I was greeted as “Mr. MFN.” The frontpage of USA Today carried a headline: “John Kamm: Hero in Hong Kong.”
I returned to Hong Kong on May 27. I debriefed AMCHAM’s board, the American Consulate General, and the Hong Kong Government. My wife and I were invited to dinner by Ji Shaoxiang, the official who had given me the name of the detained student leader at the May 9 banquet, and his wife. The dinner was to take place on the evening of June 1 in the top-floor restaurant of the China Resources Building.
My wife and I arrived at the restaurant to find a cavernous room empty save for a single table placed under a large chandelier. We took our seats, and the food began to flow. Mercifully there was no Mao Tai. The conversation consisted mostly of pleasantries, but then the tone turned serious.
“Director Zhou very much wanted to attend this evening’s dinner,” Mr. Ji intoned. “Unfortunately, he was called away on urgent business. He asked me to tell you, however, that Yao Yongzhan will be released in four days.” On June 5, Yao walked out of the Shanghai Detention Center a free man. He boarded a flight and returned to Hong Kong the same day. He eventually went to the United States. Yao’s release following my plea marked the first time that Beijing released a political prisoner due to a foreign intervention. It would not be the last.
On June 3, 1990, President George H.W. Bush waived the free-emigration conditions stipulated in the Jackson-Vanick Amendment of the Trade Act of 1974, thereby extending MFN status to China for another year. In his presidential determination, President Bush cited the damage that Hong Kong would suffer if China’s trade status were revoked. Bush’s decision to extend China’s MFN status opened a 60-day window during which Congress could debate a resolution of disapproval which, if passed with enough votes to withstand a presidential veto, would strip China of MFN. Such a resolution was soon introduced by Congressman Jerry Solomon (R-New York), along with another piece of legislation that would place human rights conditions on future renewals of China’s MFN status. This was the US-China Policy Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Pelosi and in the US Senate by Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine).
On June 14, 1990, China’s premier Zhu Rongji visited Hong Kong. AMCHAM was one of the hosts, and we organized a luncheon for him. Prior to the luncheon, attended by hundreds of business people, I was taken aside by a Chinese official and told that one of the reasons Yao Yongzhan was released was that there was concern in Beijing that I would use the occasion of my introductory remarks to call for the student leader’s release. I was asked not to embarrass Premier Zhu.
Congress acted quickly to call hearings on President Bush’s decision to renew China’s MFN status. Hearings were scheduled by both the Trade Subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Congressman Sam Gibbons (D-Florida) and the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas). The former hearing was to take place on June 19, with the latter hearing to take place the next day. I arrived in Washington on June 18 and testified at both hearings. Before and after the hearings I roamed the halls of Congress. In less than five weeks I had testified three times to Congress and had met dozens of members of Congress and senior staff, as well as administration figures. I gave many interviews to the media.
The House of Representatives eventually passed both the Resolution of Disapproval and the US-China Policy Act, but the Senate failed to consider and vote on the two bills before the clock ran out on the 101st Congress. China’s MFN status was saved, at least for another year. AMCHAM – and Hong Kong – had played a role. This marked the first time in history that Hong Kong had figured in a major American foreign policy decision.
As my term as AMCHAM president drew to a close, I was asked to come to Xinhua’s headquarters on Queen’s Road West, across the street from the Happy Valley Race Track, on December 20, 1990. I was ushered into a room where I was greeted by Director Zhang, vice-director in charge of trade and economic affairs.
Director Zhang expressed the Chinese government’s gratitude for the work I had done on MFN. He wondered if I was interested in expanding my business in China.
I thought about it, and replied “The struggle for MFN is far from over. I would rather invest in the issue than expand my business in China.”
Director Zhang asked, “How can we help?” My response was brief: “Release prisoners held for what they did during the 1989 disturbances. That will help China keep its MFN status.”