Friday, April 12, 1996

Is Harry Wu Capable of Telling the Truth?

The publicity attendant upon his arrest in China last summer endowed Harry Wu with far more influence than he possessed before his attempted clandestine entry. He is now running amuck appearing everywhere to disrupt and disturb American foreign policy towards China. He has challenged the World Bank on their investment policy in China and told Boeing how they should not do business with China and is telling how Congress should vote on China's MFN status and even predicting a subsequent overriding veto from the President. With constant media attention, there is no stopping this fellow now.

Unfortunately overlooked by the media is Harry Wu's web of deceit built on grains of half truths elaborated with outright lies. One only has to review Harry Wu's own words already in the public domain to come to this conclusion. Normally the veracity of any one person is not worth fussing about. In Wu's case, he is capable of doing considerable damage to public interest, especially in the coming months as the national policy towards China come to forefront of debate. Thus, the public has the right to know the dubious pulpit from which Wu is bullying governments, corporations and other legitimate organizations.

One simple example of his propensity to lie is to look at his own statement in the Playboy interview appearing in the February 1996 issue. He said, "I videotaped a prisoner whose kidneys were surgically removed while he was alive, and then the prisoner was taken out the next day and shot. The organs remain fresher that way. The tape was broadcast by BBC." One has to wonder about the professional qualifications of the interviewer to record such an outrageous statement unchallenged. Organ transplant from prisoners has been one of Wu's most dramatic accusations about China and pivots on the evidence presented by the BBC broadcast.

Recently I had the opportunity to review a videotape of that infamous BBC telecast and can find nothing that comes close to depicting any organ removal. It did include a snippet taken by the Sue Lloyd-Roberts, the freelance reporter pretending to be Wu's wife, of an open heart surgery taking place in a Chengdu hospital. Publicly, Wu has admitted that the scene from the civilian hospital had nothing to with organ removal from prisoners and attributed the use of the footage to error in editing by BBC.

After his return last summer, the Laogai Research Foundation, of which he is the executive director, issued the claim that no attempt to mislead was intended, since BBC never claimed the incision in the middle of the chest cavity to be related to kidney removal or implantation. ("Laogai" is an abbreviated Chinese term for "reform through labor.") According to the statement released by the Foundation: "The operating room video was used as a background shot." The disclaimer did not explain why Wu and his "wife" took the trouble of surreptitiously filming such a non-relevant and innocuous scene. They certainly didn't need to go all the way to China for a "background shot."

Wu frequently made the claim, including in the Playboy interview, that it was his protest of the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 that got him in trouble with the Chinese authorities. It took a reporter from San Francisco State University to point out to Wu that he was 19 and in college at the time. (In the context of the 1956 environment in China, he would have been exceptionally precocious--at least politically, predating Wei Jingsheng by about a quarter of a century.) When Mike Mattis questioned him about the accuracy of attributing his political problems to the purported protest, Wu's response was to deny ever making such a protest and shift the blame to "a mistake in translation" of his statements. This interview was published in November, 1995 issue of Prism, a monthly publication of SFSU.

Inconsistencies and shifting statements abound from Wu's public utterances and activities. The issue isn't that they exist and is pointless to analyze every one of the inaccuracies. The real puzzle is why and how the media have so willingly swallowed Wu's utterances. I believe there is more to this behavior than simply that today's media are overcome by the tabloid mentality and are too lazy to conduct the necessary due diligence. I believe Wu has sponsors and supporters with vested interests in containing China through public opinion, irrespective of truth and facts. One of Wu's more obvious sponsors is the AFL-CIO.

Shortly after Wu's arrest in China became known, an ABC Nightline program revealed that his clandestine trip into China via Kazakstan was financed by the AFL-CIO, and the attorney who accompanied Wu was on the AFL-CIO payroll. After the two were detained, she was promptly released and that was how the world first heard about Wu's arrest. In retrospect, she was an essential part of Wu's cover and protection.

An article covering Wu's participation in the picket line at Boeing, in the November 30, 1995 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, quoted Wu as saying, "The strike by Boeing members is really a strike against the Chinese government. It is a strike which the American labor movement must win." Matt Bates, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, on whose behalf Wu was appearing, said, "Clearly, a major part of the fight here is over the loss of jobs to overseas producers." With a 15-year suspended sentence awaiting him, Wu is unlikely to return to China, not even under cover. Consequently, Wu is now more useful to the AFL-CIO by becoming a public anti-China spokesperson on behalf of American labor.

When I tried to find out more about the Laogai Research Foundation, I found out that the Foundation is in the AFL-CIO's Washington D.C. headquarter building. Directory assistance for area code 202 (Washington area) cannot provide a listing for the Foundation. I then tried to reach the Foundation via the AFL-CIO. The headquarter switchboard transferred my call to their Food and Allied Services Trade who then switched the call over to a line with a recorded message representing the Foundation.

The AFL-CIO's motivation is naive but transparent. The AFL-CIO seems to believe that by stopping imports from China, they can preserve American jobs. For example, organized labor accused Boeing of exporting jobs to China. Actually, as Boeing's spokesman rebutted, by subcontracting certain sections of the 737 to the Chinese, Boeing is assured of continued future sales. Keeping all the manufacturing at home won't do any good, if China's orders for planes all go to European Airbus. Conversely continued sales to one of the largest markets in the world would allow Boeing and the Machinist Union to keep more jobs. It is not very complicated logic or economics, but has so far eluded the American labor leadership.

According to data presented to the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee in May 1995 by Robert Kapp, president of the Washington-based US-China Business Council, America exported $9.3 billion worth of goods to China in 1994, equivalent to the support of approximately 187,000 jobs. According to Department of Commerce data presented at the same testimony, China will be buying $90 billion worth of power generation equipment, $65 billion worth of commercial jets, $40 billion of telecommunication equipment, $18.2 billion of oil field and gas machinery and $4.3 billion of computers in the coming years. Getting a fraction of that business will create many more jobs than the low cost goods imported from China that AFL-CIO objects to but America can no longer produce competitively.

AFL-CIO'S agenda on China and its dependence on Wu is no secret; the media simply have not seen fit to report the matter. In a testimony before the House of Representatives in July, 1995, Peggy Taylor, Director of Department of Legislation of AFL-CIO, made specific mention of "this lucrative trade" in organ transplants from prisoners as reason to deny Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status to China. There is no need to speculate as to where her "data" came from.

At the airport interviews immediately upon his release and return to the United States, Wu freely admitted to the San Francisco Bay area reporters that lying, stealing, impersonating a police officer and adopting other underhanded means were perfectly acceptable while undercover in China. He has never responded on whether it is also acceptable to lie to the American public. However, he was at Columbia University recently to receive another of many awards. He was delighted to discover a fellow native of Shanghai in Li Qiang, a law student. He spoke to Li in Shanghai dialect and according to Li, Wu admitted that human rights conditions in China now has been the best in recent 50 years, but, he added, the Americans don't know anything.

While the Clinton Administration is working to open foreign markets and promote trade as the surest means of creating jobs, the AFL-CIO is working to undermine such efforts by sneaking Wu across the Chinese border. The public has the right to know the truth. Cut through all the hypocrisy about defending human rights, and one sees Wu performing dubious activities to support AFL-CIO in their efforts to stopping the flow of low cost goods from China. It's lucrative work for Wu and that's all there is to it.

AFL-CIO needs to review its policy towards China. The issue before the leadership is whether such a broad brush smearing of one of the America's major trading partners would not simply erode its credibility and neutralize the potency of the organization on those occasions when they actually need to intervene in specific trade issues.

Responsible journalism requires a willingness to look at all sides of the issues. Being a gullible pushover for easy to digest sensationalism is hardly discharging its duty to the public. Too much is at stake for someone not to take up the challenge and set the record straight.

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