Open Letter from Chinese Human Rights Lawyers to Republican Candidate Donald Trump
March 15, 2016
According to CNN, at the televised Republican debate on March 10 the moderator put the following question to billionaire Donald Trump: “Some of your Republican critics have expressed concern about comments you have made praising authoritarian dictators. You have said positive things about Putin as a leader and about China’s massacre of pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square, you’ve said: ‘When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it, then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.’ How do you respond?”
Trump replied: “That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that. I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.”
For Trump to call the student-led Chinese democracy movement of 26 years ago a “riot” and to speak with such envy of the brutal regime that caused such a horrific massacre, it is unsurprising to see the strong protest and negative public opinion backlash from all people of conscience in the world as well as those who were victims of June Fourth. As Chinese human rights lawyers who have taken it upon ourselves to defend human rights and promote rule of law, we express our own disbelief and condemn Mr. Trump’s preference for power over justice and his statements that show an incomplete understanding of history.
The United States was founded on freedom and human rights. This is the central reason why it stands out among all the nations of the world. These are also basic principles in the platform of the Republican Party that has come to represent American conservatism. It is unfortunate that, as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Trump’s real sympathy seems to be only for the “power of strength.”
Even the Communist authorities responsible for June Fourth, who spoke of the events that year as “turmoil and counterrevolutionary riot,” have many years later changed their tune and come to describe it more vaguely and with much less bombast. They gradually shifted from “turmoil and counterrevolutionary riot” to “that disturbance in the last days of spring” and then simply to “that disturbance.” What we don’t understand is this: Why is Mr. Trump so willing to call what happened a “riot” when even the Chinese Communist government’s own spokesmen now refer to it only as a “disturbance”?
It has become conventional wisdom that power, unchecked, leads to disaster. This is something that has been demonstrated repeatedly over the course of human history. Hitler’s Nazi regime was incomparably strong, but Hitler’s unchecked power led to the Second World War with more death and destruction than any war in human history and the massacre of 6 million Jews. The Communist regime under Stalin was sufficiently strong, but Stalin’s Great Purge led to a million deaths and a huge famine that took millions more lives as it spread to Ukraine and elsewhere.
Mao Zedong was thought of by some as “invincible” for the way he wielded power, but countless numbers were killed in the “Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries,” the “Anti-Rightist Campaign,” and the Cultural Revolution, and conservative estimates put the number who starved during the Great Leap Famine at 30 million.
Putin is also a powerful leader whose “strength” Mr. Trump also admires. To hang on to power, he is willing to manipulate the constitution and play power games where he rotates between the posts of president and prime minister, and he ignores international law by invading Ukraine to annex the Crimea through military force.
Each is powerful, but slaughter, suffering, and endless disaster inevitably follow in the wake of these powerful regimes. At the foot of the thrones upon which these capricious dictators sit are piles of bleached bones, like those of the mass graves where the victims of the Katyn Forest were buried.
We cannot help but point out that, at this very moment, Wang Yu, Wang Quanzhang, and more than a dozen other Chinese lawyers—men and women just like us—are currently being held by the Chinese Communist authorities on trumped-up criminal charges. They were forcibly disappeared and secretly held for six months outside of legal detention facilities under the guise of “residential surveillance in a designated location.” The authorities showed disregard for the presumption of innocence by forcing them to confess on television and subjecting them to “trial by media” before giving them a chance to appear in court. For eight months, they have been deprived of their rights to meet with a lawyer and correspond with the outside world.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human rights disasters in our country. As lawyers, we cannot turn a blind eye to human rights violations against our fellow lawyers. We hope that Mr. Trump can gain a fuller understanding of China and that he will remember this: When you envy the Chinese regime for its strength, please don’t ignore the innumerable human rights disasters that have occurred or are currently occurring there.
How the Tiananmen Massacre Changed China, and the World, by Hu Ping, June 4, 2015.
June 4th Stands for the World’s Unfinished Business, by Kong Tsung Gan, May 31, 2015.