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Forty years ago, China invited an American ping-pong team to visit – the first step in reversing decades of little contact with the U.S. Today the U.S.-China relationship is critically important. The two nation’s economies – the world’s largest – are intricately linked. The U.S. and China share global and strategic concerns as well. But the recent arrests of Chinese journalists, lawyers, writers and artists have evoked international criticism. This week the Obama administration publicly admonished China for its troubling human rights record. We’ll talk about China’s response and whether pushing Beijing to allow more dissent is an effective strategy.
- Kenneth Lieberthal senior fellow and director of the John L. Thornton China Center at The Brookings Institution; former senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under President Clinton.
- John Frisbie president, U.S.-China Business Council.
- Renee Xia international director, Chinese Human Rights Defenders Network.
- John Pomfret diplomatic correspondent, The Washington Post; adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; author of "Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In the past, activists have been disappointed with the Obama administration for not doing more to pressure China on human rights. But, this week, the administration publicly took China to task. Joining me in the studio to talk about human rights and the U.S.-China relationship, Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution, Renee Xia of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network and John Pomfret of The Washington Post. We do invite your calls, questions, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. KENNETH LIEBERTHALGood morning.
MR. JOHN POMFRETGood morning.
MS. RENEE XIAGood morning, Diane.
REHMRenee Xia, tell us about the crackdown as you see it going on.
XIAWell, since the middle of February, when the first anonymous online call for Tunisian-style Jasmine Revolution started, the Chinese government started to round up people, criminally detaining several dozens and disappearing a few other dozens and also put roughly about 200 under house arrest. The crackdown is continuing. What surprises people is it has been one of the worst since the post-Tiananmen crackdown. We have carefully documented, and we're being able to verify, 42 criminally detained and 23 forced disappearances and the 200 number of house arrests, as I mentioned.
XIABy now, some of them have resurfaced, including the well-known human rights lawyer, Teng Biao, Jiang Tianyong, Tang Jitian. However, they're not free, even the -- including those who have been released for bail waiting for trial, released but not free because they're under close surveillance and monitored. And they have to report back to the police every day, and they are visited constantly.
REHMRenee Xia, she is international director at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network. John Pomfret, who are the people who are being targeted and why?
POMFRETIt's a very broad, in a way, representation of Chinese dissident society, if you will. So there are senior dissidents, veteran dissidents who have been arrested, but there's also defense lawyers, bloggers. Also, the crackdown has been extended to pressure on house churches, and, also, it's in Tibetan areas as well. So there seems to be a real sort of broad sense that anyone who is on the more liberal part of that society is under some type of threat or pressure.
REHMAnd what does that mean in terms of expression? What kind of liberal statements or actions might get people in trouble?
POMFRETWell, I think the -- basically, the motivating factor for the party state to launch the crackdown has to do with their concerns about the Jasmine Revolution spreading to China. So it's even gone so far as, for example, jasmine flowers, the sale of jasmine flowers or jasmine-related songs being banned and taken off from Chinese Internet. So it's a real concern that the political changes that are rocking the Middle East could somehow come in to China.
POMFRETAnd as a result, anyone who has advocated significant democratization or significant political change in sort of a more liberal democratic Western tradition is under some type of threat, not necessarily that they're going to be put into jail, but people basically who are -- have not been arrested obviously get -- are afraid of what's happening. So they're going to be constrained as well to express themselves.
REHMAnd this week, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had something to say about this.
POMFRETYeah, both were critical of China's human rights record. I mean, we see the Obama administration increasingly critical of China's human rights record, starting pretty much in January of last year. They began to ramp up pressure on China, and it's just continued. And as the Chinese have cracked down more and more harshly, the Obama administration has been coming out more and more publicly against this. I mean, most recently, Secretary Clinton, in an interview with The Atlantic, called China's human rights record deplorable and had very strong words to that.
POMFRETNow, in their public comments last week, when we've had several hundred Chinese officials in town, they were a little bit more diplomatic, if you will. But, nonetheless, the criticism from the Obama administration is definitely increasing.
REHMAnd China's response?
POMFRETChina's response is actually relatively measured to a certain extent. Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, in his speech yesterday, basically said, we all have to improve our human rights record. And so it's a, you know, relatively diplomatic response. At the same time, we also have Wang Qishan, in an interview with Charlie Rose, calling American -- sort of American views on China a bit simple. And so the Chinese are pushing back as well, saying you don't understand this, you don't understand our history, you have to give us credit for the real significant changes we've already done in our country since -- over the last 30 years.
REHMJohn Pomfret, he is with The Washington Post, an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, author of the book titled "Chinese Lessons." And turning to you, Ken Lieberthal, why do you think the U.S. is publicly voicing these concerns now? And what's your reaction?
LIEBERTHALWell, I think, first of all, the administration has very consistently, privately voiced these concerns to the Chinese. So I actually don't think there has been a change in the substance of U.S. criticism of China on human rights issues. But the Obama administration, when it came in to office, felt that we really had not made much progress when we've gone public with these accusations against China. It changes the issue in Chinese minds from one where you may actually be trying to accomplish something to simply trying to humiliate China's leaders. And even Chinese intellectuals know very well what their own human rights problems are. So there is a little bit of a kind of a perception of being gratuitous when we go public with this.
LIEBERTHALSo I think the reason they've decided to go public is really two-fold. One is that the Chinese have -- as the other two guests made very clear -- the Chinese have initiated a very wide range and unusually severe crackdown. That's gotten a lot of attention in the U.S. and elsewhere. And, well, it should. But, I think, in that context, the administration has felt increasing pressure to demonstrate to the American public that it is very concerned about these issues. It has expressed those concerns consistently to the Chinese leadership. But for very understandable reasons, they want to be seeing an America standing up for American values, and so they're doing so.
REHMAnd what's your reaction to the more public statements from the administration?
LIEBERTHALWell, frankly, if I were in office in the administration, I'd advocate going public with this at this point also simply because, you know, you have to speak to the American public. You can't simply be quietly talking to the Chinese. Having said that, I don't think it increases at all the chances that the Chinese will improve their human rights record as a consequence of our advocacy. You know, my conviction, rightly or wrongly, after many years of talking with the Chinese about this, in Chinese intellectuals and others, is that our biggest impact on views of human rights in China is how we act ourselves. It's the quality of our own society. It's our example globally, both by our domestic and international actions. Those are widely viewed in China.
LIEBERTHALI know a lot of people admire us greatly for the way we conduct our own political system, the rights that we preserve and so forth. But when we switch from that to, in Chinese views, hectoring and pointing out their own flaws publicly, I don't think it improves our capacity to be effective with them.
REHMKenneth Lieberthal, he's at the Brookings Institution, former senior director for Asia at the National Security Council under President Clinton. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Renee Xia, do you see it as hectoring with no chance of improvement?
XIAI think it's too early to say that. We tried privately. We didn't see any improvements. So we now are -- you know, that administration under President Obama is more public, I think it serves a few good purposes. First of all, we should publicly stand up for American values, and, now, as a globalization, so many Americans are going to China, doing businesses in China, we need to know, we need to have a full picture of understanding of China, not only historically understanding its economic achievements, but also its human rights records.
XIAEven if, supposedly, publicly speaking doesn't help to produce concrete results, as we haven't seen any, it is still good, encouraging for the Chinese democrats and human rights activists who are standing up for universal values at the cost of their own personal freedom at great risk for themselves and their families. It is so much encouraging than hearing nothing or silence from us in the United States. And I also think it's not hectoring so much as to stand up for universal principles because China is a signer, and China also ratified a lot of international human rights treaties.
REHMRenee Xia, she is international director of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd joining us now by phone, John Frisbie, president of the U.S.-China Business Council. Good morning to you, John.
MR. JOHN FRISBIEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for allowing me to participate by phone.
REHMOf course. Tell me what you think of the statements coming from the Obama administration about China's human rights record.
FRISBIEWell, I think that we have a very broad and wide-ranging relationship with China, and we're engaging in all fronts, which, I think, is a good thing. Our organization obviously focuses on the business and commercial aspects of the relationship. But, clearly, there are many other parts of the relationship that are important to the United States.
REHMOf course, one wonders, considering the fact that Google threatened to pull out of China last year, saying it couldn't tolerate China's censorship demands and cyber spying, how tough is it for U.S. business to operate in China?
FRISBIEWell, China has progressively opened up its economy over the last 30 years, and many, many U.S. companies are there. I think, actually, that although things are far from perfect on the subject of today's show in China, it's pretty clear that there has been some -- a lot of progress and improvement in Chinese citizens' lives, you know, over the last three decades since they've opened up. I think U.S. companies have been part of that. It's not all because of U.S. businesses, but -- and that would be an overstatement.
FRISBIEBut, you know, I myself lived there for 10 years. And when I wasn't living there, I traveled there several times a year throughout the past three decades. And it's pretty clear that one of the most consistent, pervasive and important outside influences in China has been the day-to-day presence of U.S. companies and, maybe more importantly than that, U.S. citizens. And that's just simply from being there and bringing different ways of thinking, values and ideas and so on.
FRISBIETo your other point, I think, you know, added on to the presence of U.S. business over the last decade has been a second important outside influence, which has been the Internet. These things don't solve every problem, of course, but I think they are part of the solution. I think it's just simply better to be there than not be there.
REHMI gather that, at your meetings on Monday and Tuesday, at the meetings between the U.S. and China, there were discussions of some things to be done to help U.S. business operate there in China.
FRISBIECertainly. A big part of what we do is advocating with the Chinese government for things that will help U.S. companies be able to grow their business in China.
FRISBIETheir policies around innovation and government procurement were some of the biggest issues on the table this time, and there was, indeed, progress on those issues. We think it's important for U.S. companies to have a level playing field. We think it's good for the U.S. economy. We think it's good for U.S. jobs. But at the same time, we have to think, too, closer to today's topic, that even though businessmen are probably the right ones to be leading on the subject of today, it's not what they're trained to do.
FRISBIEIt's not what they're best at. You want to make sure you have the right expertise. But we shouldn't forget that business people do talk about some pieces of the puzzle, and that's things like free flow of information and government transparency. I think it's best for business people to focus on what they do best. But we should remember that positive influences will also come from that kind of engagement. We want that to continue.
REHMWhat about protection of intellectual property, for example?
FRISBIEYep, also one of the key issues in the relationship. You know, for some companies and some sectors, it's almost existential. You think of software or, say, movies, where the piracy rates are pretty high. For a lot of other companies and other sectors, it's a different picture. There have been improvements. I would say that the barge has been slowly turning in favor of improvements over there. I think China's leaders understand pretty clearly if they do want to innovate, they're going to have to protect intellectual property.
FRISBIEBut they need to get better at it. And, like I said, for certain industries that are important to the U.S. economy, like software and movies, you know, this is a big, big issue.
REHMI realize that business is business. Human rights are human rights. But what can U.S. business do to help improve human rights in China?
FRISBIEWell, as I said, I think it's important just to stay there, stay engaged. It doesn't solve everything. It may not happen as fast as some would like. But I think by being there, U.S. companies and, importantly, U.S. employees just bring with them some positive influences for progress. I think we've seen that over the past decades. And, again, I think engagement is better than isolation. Better to be there than not be there.
REHMJohn Frisbie, he's president of the U.S.-China Business Council. Thanks for joining us.
REHMRenee Xia, do you agree with John Frisbie that, indeed, simply the presence of U.S. business in China helps to strengthen the appearance of human rights?
XIAI think it's -- it's hard to assess that statement in a simple holistic way. I think it depends on what their presence will do, what kind of conditions U.S. businesses submit itself to. For example, censorship, when they became self-censorship by U.S. companies, particularly Internet technology companies -- as we all know, Yahoo!, Microsoft and, now, joined by Facebook -- are going to China, and they accept the conditions under which to do business, which the biggest condition, of course, was self-censorship, like filtering sensitive words, to the point of handing in to police private email information.
XIAAnd, also, we know that the Great Firewall, that technology China used to build a block of information, particularly so-called politically sensitive information -- for example, words like the Dalai Lama or Tiananmen and 1989, June 4, such words -- the technology used was provided by Cisco. So how the simple presence of U.S. business promotes human rights, that puzzles me.
POMFRETI think that, for decades, the business community in the United States has said, look, you know, we give them a choice between Coke and Pepsi. Pretty soon, they'll want to vote. That engagement really hasn't helped to transform China. But I think the initial line was not really disingenuous, but it's just -- that's just not the way China is or ever has been. And so I think that businessmen saying our presence there is good for human rights, it's -- it doesn't really speak to the issue.
POMFRETI think that their presence is good for American business, which, in and of itself, has its own value. It's good for the economy, employs more Americans, et cetera, but U.S. business, I don't think has made a significant impact on China's human rights record. It's just not -- I don't think it's the case.
LIEBERTHALI'm going to dissent a little bit from the way this is kind of drifting. I think that -- first of all, as John Frisbie said, the business of American business is not promotion of civil rights everywhere they do business. But I've watched China evolve since my first trip in the mid-1970s, and it has evolved phenomenally. U.S. business has been a non-trivial component of that evolution. It has brought jobs, it has brought educational opportunities, it has brought wealth, it has brought information, and, especially, it has brought standards.
LIEBERTHALYou look at surveys of businesses in China from other countries in Asia, from Europe and from the United States, U.S. labor practices and standards tend to be the best there. They set the gold standard. I think that all of these things have had ripple effects. They have created opportunities for China's integration into a global arena -- partly business, but it has a lot of other things that go with it. It's created enormous opportunities for Chinese to come to the United States, for educational purposes and otherwise.
LIEBERTHALSo I don't know of any businessmen that go to China in order to improve human rights in China. But I think you have to consider the ripple effects of the U.S. business presence in China, its ripple effects on U.S.-China relations and on all the other things I've named. And, I think, overall, the impact has been quite significant. Let me add just one more note if I could because we keep saying human rights. But as U.N. recognizes, human rights include two baskets. One is civil rights, which is what Americans hold so dear and I, frankly, think are crucial.
LIEBERTHALBut the other is economic and social rights, which we tend to give less priority to as a matter of state policy, and that's what the Chinese focus on. I think the U.S. business has certainly increased economic and social rights in China. Contributed to that, on the civil rights side, they've argued for transparency, rule of law, setting high standards, and, in those ways, it'd been helpful. But it obviously is not the focus of their activity.
REHMAt the same time, I wonder what kind of impact the arrests and disappearances have had on China society itself. How much do people in China realize what's happening here? How many people have disappeared? How many people are being arrested? Renee?
XIAWell, this is why we need to understand China because the censorship on the media and on the Internet is far more extensive than we in America could understand. You know, one of the ripple effect of the restriction of civil and political rights and information and the U.S. business community doing business China is that you have this restricted access to information. But because of that, I think the common folks who don't read newspapers or listen to radio, or even if they do, they face a block of information, don't hear much about it.
XIABut this crackdown, because it's aimed more than ever before at civil society actors rather than, you know, 1989 generation dissidents, political party organizers has far more influence on the common folks because, you know, when one person disappears, that means their families, their neighbors, co-workers (unintelligible) ...
REHMThey all know.
REHMAnd they all realize, and the word begins to spread...
REHM...I would think, John Pomfret.
POMFRETThat's something that Ken was talking about earlier. I think it's a really important point, that the crackdown has not just started in the last few months. It has been going on since the Olympics, and it's just basically increased in its focus and its power. And I think that's something that -- you know, as China enters -- next year is going to be a very difficult year for China. It's 2012. It's their political transition. We also have an election in our year -- in that year as well, and Taiwan will have election as well. And North Korea is going to celebrate its 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung. And so it's going to be a very interesting year as China looks both internally and externally.
POMFRETAnd one would expect that the crackdown like this is probably going to continue for some time. And I think that's going to be -- it's going to be a very troublesome time, both for American policy and for China as well.
REHMJohn Pomfret of the Washington Post. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First, to Cleveland, Ohio, and to Shalom. Good morning. You're on the air.
SHALOMYeah, hi. Good morning, Diane, and to your members of your panel there.
SHALOMTwo points I want to bring up. Point number one is, quite what I'm hearing from these individuals, the Obama administration is expressing its disappointment with China and its human rights record. But yet, the Obama administration held a very lavish state dinner for the Chinese premier just several weeks ago or months ago. How do we reconcile the paradox, this apparent contradiction from the Obama administration? And point number two is, we think that set up the American business as the sort of whipping boy for everything that's wrong with China. But doesn't it really come down to the American consumer? I mean, we have choice. If you don't want to buy products made in China, don't buy it. You can punish the Chinese that way at the end of the day. Can't you?
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for calling. Go ahead, Ken.
LIEBERTHALI think on the issue of the state dinner, this was with the president of China, Hu Jintao, coming to the U.S. in January. That visit was seen by both sides as very important. The relationship had deteriorated badly during the previous year, both sides anticipating -- U.S. presidential election and the Chinese succession wanted to get this relationship into a solid framework that would prevent further deterioration. After all, where the -- arguably, this is the most important bilateral relationship in the world.
REHMBut isn't Shalom right, that that does constitute kind of a paradox? You're trying to get the relationship back on track, and yet, at the same time, you're increasingly concerned about what's happening to individuals in China.
LIEBERTHALWell, the international arena is complicated.
REHMYeah, you bet.
LIEBERTHALYou know, it would be nice if it all lined up...
LIEBERTHAL...in one direction.
LIEBERTHALKeep in mind, when President Obama went to Beijing, he got their equivalent of a state dinner there. I think the U.S. government, in dealing with China, is often willing to provide face for the Chinese leadership in exchange for substance in the -- you know, in the impact of the visit. And that's just the way you conduct diplomacy...
LIEBERTHAL...but not always comfortable.
REHM...Renee Xia, what about the American consumer? Doesn't the American consumer bear a good deal of responsibility as it seeks in tough times to purchase goods that are cheaper, made in China?
XIAYeah, I think that's why it's important to inform the American consumers to understand the dynamics. And there are more -- far more, also, direct human rights issues that should concern the American consumers, such as workers rights, how, you know, wages are being paid or unpaid. And workers in China have no right to strike or bargain, and they have no right to form independent unions. They work, in most cases, under conditions that we would consider unacceptable in this country.
REHMSo to what extent do you or you, John Pomfret, believe that possibility of a true Jasmine Revolution akin to the Arab Spring is a possibility?
XIARight now, the possibility is not big as we all know, as quite a few commented, (word?) have commented because of the heavy crackdown and the heavy presence of the police. The Chinese government has a budget of billions of dollars invested in so-called maintaining stability, and police at each level of the bureaucracy is trying to get a piece of the pie by cracking up the crackdown.
POMFRETI think it's that, but it's also that China's elite is not behind the Jasmine Revolution. Many people in the Chinese elite, in the educated elite are benefiting and has benefited greatly by 30 years of economic reforms. They have houses, they have cars, and they don't want a significant political change.
REHMJohn Pomfret of The Washington Post. Short break, and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about current conditions in China, especially in regard to human rights. Both Secretary of State Clinton, Vice President Joseph Biden have spoken out recently. Here's an email from a former Foreign Service officer who worked on human rights issues at the U.S. Department of State and the U.N. He says, "It's my understanding that the vast majority of the Chinese people are much more interested in economic growth and economic well-being for themselves and their families than they are in human rights, the democratic process, government accountability and the rule of law notions that are very foreign to many, even most of them."
REHM"Please comment as to the extent that human rights advocates in China are way out front of the thinking and aspirations of the vast majority of Chinese people." Ken.
LIEBERTHALI think that what is worrying the Chinese government now is that they, in the past, had been able to depend on delivering economic growth as a sufficient vehicle for generating legitimacy for the government. In the past year, they've done at least three major internal surveys that have made clear that the population now no longer thinks that is sufficient. Economic growth has continued at a high rate. They've overcome the financial crisis. In the West, we all look and say, wow, they're very successful. But the reality is, internally, people are expressing in internal surveys, increasing distrust of and unsatisfaction with their own government.
XIAYes. The government is probably getting the kind of information that Ken mentioned, such as nearly 100,000 mass protests in China every year over a range of issues, labor unrests, to victims of forced eviction and victims of poisoned milk powder for babies, also, for social economic issues. And as we know from Tunisia, any one of those issues, any one of those protests might spark some kind of Jasmine Revolution.
REHMBut at the same time, John Pomfret, could our former State Department Foreign Service officer be correct in thinking that internally, at least as you said earlier, those at the upper level are simply quite satisfied, but perhaps those at the lower level don't have the power?
POMFRETWell, this gets back into a distinction that Ken drew between civil rights and also social and economic rights. And in China, as Renee said, these 100,000 mass incidents, they get -- a lot of people in China are actually quite concerned about rule of law issues when it comes -- for example, Diane, you have a condo in China, and the condo -- the development company has promised to put in a pool next door. And it just so happens not to have put the pool next door but put it in another building. How do you get some type of help on that issue?
POMFRETYou have a large number of protests related around those type of issues, of condo owners. You have -- in the countryside, the party often hooks up with businesses, and they steal land from the peasantry. And then the peasants basically need to have some type of issue. Now, are those directly human rights issues? Are they civil rights issues? Well, not really. They're social economic rights. And as Ken pointed to, the Chinese now basically say there needs to be a level playing field, not just from American business but also for Chinese, as they compete in a society which is growing rapidly, and they see the elite taking a bigger piece of the pie. And I think that's one of the sort of the stresses you see in China.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Knoxville, Tenn. Good morning, Rick.
RICKHi. Thanks for taking my call.
RICKI wanted to comment on the idea that the best thing the United States can do is just to set a good example for the Chinese. I think we all know that the incorrigible bully in school does not respond to the well-behaved kid. They only respond to somebody with more force than them. And then I wanted to say about China, that the big elephants in the room are they won't revalue their currency, they don't respect the intellectual property laws, and they oppose the -- every charter of the United Nations. And at the same time, they really (unintelligible) well for America.
RICKSo the question I have is that they don't have the right to form unions. I'm probably not a big union promoter. But where is the fire in the belly for the Chinese people? They didn't have the right to form unions in the United States, and yet they formed them anyway. And they blew up the mines with dynamite, and they did a lot of things like that. And the employers did terrible things back. And, eventually, the government got in between the two groups and said, we do have the right to collectively bargain. When does China going to get that (unintelligible) fire in the belly?
XIAWhen China signed the international covenant for socio-economic rights, it took reservation on that article for free, independent union organizing. The thing is about why the elite don't seem to care so much about civil -- political reform or legal reform. Their content is because anybody who sticks their head out to speak up gets severely punished, including the union organizers. We know that since the '90s, those guys tend to get the longest prison sentence. And what we're looking at and that we're not, is that you need speaking up so much as labor organizers, as religious practitioners, as land and housing protesters. And I have a list here.
XIAEven the human rights lawyers, they belong to the younger generation. They grow up. They went to school after 1989. And they are fighting for, you know, those most fundamental socio-economic rights issues. So the question, why Chinese people are not ready for revolution, I think it partly have to do with the Draconian repression against anybody who's willing to risk their lives to speak up. And one of the...
REHMKen. Oh, I'm sorry.
XIAI'm sorry. One of the important difference from this crackdown compared to the past ones in recent years is the heavy reliance on the use of torture to extract some kind of a confession or promise to quit civil society activism. And it's phenomenal that the individuals who came out of a detention center are overwhelmingly silent. This is so uncharacteristic of those men and women I know. I personally met them. That's unlike them. So the information we got is the widespread use of torture.
LIEBERTHALI think you have to keep in mind the Chinese leadership is well-aware of the tensions in Chinese society and level of discontent in China. They are deeply divided internally on what to do about it. And there are enormous debates within the Communist Party at all levels over whether they ought to move political reform ahead or be more conservative because they risk losing control. I think that's one reason why the Jasmine Revolution issue has resonated so strongly, and they've reacted so strongly. Until they reach a consensus on what to do internally, they are preemptively cracking down to prevent things from developing, as they try to figure out what they're -- how they're going to react and how much reform to undertake.
LIEBERTHALI, frankly, think it's going to take them a matter of years because this is a period of succession. It's not a time when major, new ideas take hold. So I think we're in for a rough ride going forward for the next few years on this.
REHMJohn Pomfret, have you, as well, heard about these incidences of torture?
POMFRETWe've heard reports from human rights organizations about torture, about the use of -- I mean, beatings of people associated with the police but not necessarily wearing police uniforms, which has been a tried and true tactic that they've done, often in the countryside, where you have countryside protests usually around land issues, where the police will call in people who are basically sort of extra police organizations to come in and break up protests with brick, bats, et cetera. But in terms of actual torture in jails, in police custody, I haven't heard that much about them.
REHMAll right. To...
POMFRETIt hasn't been documented well.
REHMTo Detroit, Mich. Good morning, George.
GEORGEGood morning. I have both a question and a comment. When they're comparing American so-called democracy to other systems -- for instance, China and other countries -- they're basically -- are talking about apples and oranges because American democracy is based on plutocracy, where 1 percent of the wealth is controlled by 90 percent of population -- I mean, 90 percent of wealth is controlled by 1 percent of population. So they're not threatened by freedom of expression, freedom of press and so forth if they have good control. Where, other countries, if they allowed that, you know, so-called anarchy, then that whole system falls apart.
REHMAll right. Ken Lieberthal.
LIEBERTHALWell, the distribution of wealth in China is now less equal than the distribution of wealth in the United States.
LIEBERTHALWell, let me just give you a symbolic but interesting factoid on this. If you look at the total personal wealth of the top 70 -- seven, zero -- members of the U.S. Congress, House and Senate, it totals, reportedly, $4.5 billion. You look at the personal wealth of the top 70 members of the Chinese national legislature. It totals $75 billion. China has a per capita GDP that still puts it below number 100 in the world. So the distribution of wealth in China is extraordinarily unequal. It's become so over the last 15 years, and, therefore, the grievances over it are especially acute.
REHMAll right. And to Plano, Texas. Hi there, Paul. You're on the air.
PAULYes. My comment has to do with, I guess, an analogy -- I mean, an analogy I would draw would be to South Africa, which -- where you had American business – and, I guess, I'm commenting on the gentleman who represented American business earlier on the show, who actually -- American business basically had a conundrum. Either you stay or you leave. There was an even a divestiture movement in this country, and it was a long process -- the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. But the thing about it is that, ultimately, you still get this whole thrust for a democracy. So I would suggest that the Chinese government take a look at that South African situation in terms of what it might expect.
PAULIt doesn't matter. I mean, here you had a minority government that had all the power in South Africa. And it doesn't matter that you have a Chinese party that has all of the power, communist party that has all of the power. This move for democracy, when it finally does come to its full fruition, it can be very, very powerful. And it can be very overwhelming.
REHMPaul in Plano, Texas, thanks for your call. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about that comparison between the U.S. actions, world actions regarding South Africa, the breakup, finally, the falling of apartheid and what's happening in China, John?
POMFRETWell, I think, if you look at the sanctions movement on South Africa, it was the great exception that proves the rule that sanctions work. Basically, sanctions have worked in South Africa and probably not elsewhere. And so, if you look at, basically, any idea of sanctions on China, I just think that that's -- that's just a nonstarter. It just won't work.
REHMRenee, would you agree?
XIAYeah, in the globalized economy, the U.S. and Chinese economy has become so intertwined, mutually dependent, it would be very, very difficult to implement.
REHMAll right. A caller in St. Petersburg, Fla. Good morning, Jim.
JIMYes, Diane. I find it somewhat ironic that the unions apparently would be good for workers in China. The union movement in Poland was greatly hailed for helping bring down communism. But here in the U.S., union workers are under attack, especially from the right wing. But...
REHMInteresting. John Pomfret.
POMFRETYeah, we have a tendency in the United States to always want to give freedoms to other countries that, you know, we sometimes focus on and restrain in our own. But I think this actually goes back to Ken's original point, that one of the great things the United States actually can do to China is to be a model, even though there is some relevance to what the other gentleman said, that the bully in the room doesn't always pay attention to the nice kid.
REHMAnd here's an email from Adam in Orlando, Fla., who says, "The most visible part of this issue for young Americans is the arrest of artist Ai Weiwei. Does anyone on the panel know his status or if he's even alive? And would his death galvanize Chinese youth?" Renee.
XIAYeah, Ai Weiwei, the artist and a very widely influential social commentator who uses his art to mock the repression in China, has disappeared basically into police custody for more than one month. Then why I describe it as a disappearance is because the family has not been notified of his whereabouts, and family has not been allowed to visit him, or lawyers for that matter. And the government has said that he has committed economic crimes, is being under investigation.
REHMHow so? What kind of economic crimes?
XIAWell, that's what the government needs to come out and say so. But to detain somebody, to put under incommunicado, that's not the way to do it. It's in violation of China's own law. This goes back to one of the earlier points where saying about how society in general is aware of this crackdown. I think through Ai Weiwei probably, and a lot of people have become aware of this crackdown.
REHMSo you have no idea whether he is alive or not?
XIAWe don't have any idea.
LIEBERTHALHe, unquestionably, is alive. They would not...
REHMHow can you say that, and she says we have no idea?
LIEBERTHALHe is from a very prominent family. The practice of detaining people without informing their families and without formal charges is, unfortunately, widespread in China. These people, virtue, without exception, emerge alive, but haven't had a tough experience.
REHMWell, let's hope, indeed, he does so emerge. Ken Lieberthal, John Pomfret, Renee Xia, and, earlier, John Frisbie, thank you all so much.
XIAThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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