PM’s Secrecy Protects Chinese Communist Official
By Shar Adams
The lack of transparency surrounding Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s meeting with Li Changchun—head of the Chinese Communist regime’s propaganda, media and ideology—has never been effectively explained. Information about some of Mr Li’s past activities, however, suggests the secrecy was implemented to save him the embarrassment of facing human rights protesters. Shar Adams reports.
Li Changchun, the Chinese politbureau’s man in control of information in and out of the mainland, snatched a propaganda coup when he secretly lunched with the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the Lodge last week.
While the scrutiny of Australian media was successfully avoided, local journalists were left scrambling for information from China’s state controlled media, Xinhua and CCTV, who gloated over the Australian prime minister’s warm welcome of the fifth most important member of the Chinese politbureau.
Why the meeting was kept secret at such a crucial time in Australia’s bilateral relationship remains a mystery. The only explanation proffered by the Prime Minister’s Department was that it was deemed unnecessary to inform the media of such a high level meeting.
Mr Li’s background, however, suggests that the secrecy may have been about saving face, his face, in the light of some unsavoury activities in China.
Persecution of Falun Gong
A protégé of former President Jiang Zemin, Mr Li was the subject of a lawsuit filed by Falun Gong practitioners in France in 2004. According to Radio France International, he was being sued for “supporting crimes of torture against members of the group as an accomplice”.
“He supported brainwashing and torture of Falun Gong practitioners while serving as the Communist Party Secretary of Guangdong Province. So far, 26 Falun Gong deaths from torture in Guangdong Province have been verified. Of China’s 30 provinces, the number of deaths of Falun Gong practitioners in Guangdong ranked 8th,” said one of the plaintiffs, Zhang Jianping.
John Deller, from the New South Wales Falun Dafa Association, said the head of propaganda has been crucial in maintaining the lie about Falun Gong practitioners in China
“It is instrumental in destroying the reputation of Falun Gong, in dehumanising Falun Gong practitioners in the eyes of Chinese people and crucial in maintaining the persecution against Falun Gong.”
Mr Deller said secret meetings were the antithesis of an effective method to deal with human rights in China, pointing to the Human Rights Dialogue that Australia holds with China behind closed doors every year.
“It is the 10th anniversary of the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. There has been a Human Rights Dialogue for each of those years and the persecution of Falun Gong continues,” he said.
HIV blood cover-up.
Li Changchun was also Communist Party Secretary in Henan Province from 1992 to 1998. At that time, a state-run programme of buying blood was promoted to poor farmers. Badly run and unhygienic, the programme turned to disaster when HIV began to surface in donors and receivers. Figures of those affected remain obscure, but it is estimated that at least one million people could have been infected.
A campaign of secrecy was immediately set in place “all to protect one man”, said Frenchman Pierre Haski, author of a book on the Henan AIDS disaster called Le Sang de la Chine (The Blood of China).
That man was Li Changchun, who has never been held accountable.
Only one man was charged, reported Hamish McDonald, Fairfax’s China correspondent at the time, and that was for leaking information to a Beijing NGO.
“All those widely regarded as culpable have gone on to receive promotions and perks,” he wrote.
As head of propaganda since 1998, Mr Li has been in a good position to ensure the cover-up sticks.
The secrecy of Mr Li’s meeting was not the only factor that upset Australian journalists, foreign observers and rights campaigners alike.
Mr Li took the time to visit senior reporters at The Australian newspaper and also Mark Scott, the managing director of the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC.
Reportedly, Mr Li had wanted to ensure that the “Chinese [regime’s] views on Tibet and other issues were fully represented”.
The Australian Tibet Council (ATC) responded with a statement saying the visit was a bit rich coming from a regime that ensures no one else’s views, bar the Communist Party’s, are represented in China and those views are a “distorted version of events”.
Paul Bourke, spokesperson for the ATC described Li Changchun’s behaviour “an extraordinary breach of international diplomatic norms”.
“Free reporting is fundamental to the protection of human rights and safeguarding against atrocities. It would be unthinkable for our Government to attempt to influence Chinese journalists, indeed journalists of any country.”
While Westerners may be agape at the brazen approach of the Chinese executive, all is seemingly going to Mr Li’s plan.
In a translation of minutes from a 2004 national meeting on “Overseas Propaganda”, Mr Li is quoted as saying: “It is a strategic task in the ideology and propaganda area to strengthen and improve the foreign propaganda.”