Radio Free Asia: Chinese Activists Hit Out at Foreign Minister’s Tirade at Journalist

Radio Free Asia

■ Activists in China on Friday hit out at the country’s foreign minister Wang Yi over his attack on a journalist who asked an “irresponsible” question on Beijing’s human rights record, saying that the government says one thing and does another when it comes to its citizens’ rights and freedoms.

The exchange came during a joint news conference on Wednesday with Wang’s Canadian counterpart Stephane Dion in Ottawa, where the Chinese foreign minister was on an official visit.

After Dion was asked about the disappearances in opaque circumstances of five Hong Kong booksellers, and the fate of Canadian national Kevin Garratt, detained by Chinese authorities after running a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, Wang stepped in to launch a tirade against the journalist, whose question was selected to represent several Canadian news organizations.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) talks with U.S.
Secretary of State John Kerry at an international meeting
aimed at trying to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process
in Paris, June 3, 2016. AFP

“Your question is full of prejudice and against China and arrogance,” Wang said, scowling and wagging his finger at the reporter. “This is totally unacceptable.”

According to Wang, human rights protection is enshrined in China’s constitution, and the journalist’s question revealed ignorance of his country’s situation.

“Have you been to China?” he asked, using expressions worthy of a traditional opera performer. “China has pulled some 600 million people from poverty.”

He told the journalist: “Please don’t ask questions in such an irresponsible manner.”

“Other people don’t know better than the Chinese people about the human rights condition in China and it is the Chinese people who are in the best situation, in the best position to have a say about China’s human rights situation,” Wang said.

Wang has similarly lost his cool with counterparts from Australia and Japan.

Political theater

Activists in China brushed off Wang’s reaction as a carefully staged piece of political theater.

“Wang Yi’s angry behavior shows that [that question] got him on a sore point,” online free speech activist Lai Rifu told RFA on Friday.

But he said the foreign minister’s claims have little to do with the reality faced by Chinese activists.

“Wang Yi may say that protection of human rights is written into China’s constitution, but that doesn’t do us any good,”

“I’m very angry about this, because they are totally barbaric,” Lai said. “Everything is kept behind closed doors, and the suppression continues.”

“What they say and what they do are two different things.”

And Guangxi-based author Qi Qinhong said rights activists and pro-democracy campaigners in China welcome supportive comments from overseas.

“We are trying to fight to gain some political power, because people with no political power are basically slaves,” Qi said. “But who really has any power?”

“This government has nothing to do with ordinary people in the way it exercises power.”

Qi said Wang’s warning to non-Chinese people not to comment was “the voice of a dictatorship.”

Top jailer of journalists

According to overseas rights activist and journalist Wang Yaqiu, Chinese journalists are subject to far more than theatrical posturing when they try to speak truth to power, however.

“Most of the journalists imprisoned in China reported or commented on issues that the Chinese government finds threatening to its rule,” Wang wrote in a blog post for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“They were likely aware that their work could invoke the wrath of the Chinese Communist Party at any time, but still choose to go ahead for the sake of truth and the public interest,” she said.

She said Chinese journalists may choose to stay away from politically sensitive topics, but even those are no longer safe from persecution under the administration of President Xi Jinping.

“Since Xi Jinping assumed the presidency in 2013, more and more journalists are vulnerable,” Wang said.

According to the CPJ, China is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with 49 behind bars in 2015.

Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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