China: China brands socialist writer a “potential threat to national security”

Repression increases – two cases within 24 hours: dissident Li Jian Hong, and CWI member Laurence Coates, banned from entering China

On Friday 16 October, journalist and CWI member Laurence Coates, who writes for under the pen name Vincent Kolo, was refused entry to China and his visa revoked on the grounds that he represents a "potential threat to national security". This is particularly serious charge and one that Kolo/Coates emphatically rejects:

"The Chinese dictatorship tries to portray all criticism of itself as an attack on the nation. This line is wearing increasingly thin today as workers, peasants, national minorities, and other oppressed groups in ever greater numbers take to the streets in defiance of the government to fight against injustice. The CWI and are very clear where we stand – with the masses," Coates explained.

Writers Laurence Coates and Li Jian Hong banned from China

The attack on Coates is just the latest in a rising number of attempts to muzzle the media in China and intimidate regime critics. It shows that behind a facade of ‘strong and successful government’ the ruling Communist Party is deeply insecure. The website’s advocacy of independent trade unions and support for workers’ struggles against sweatshop conditions has evidently rattled China’s rulers.

"Just two weeks before my visa was cancelled, the Chinese leadership celebrated six decades of rule with a huge and hi-tech military parade; yet now they say Marxists such as myself may threaten national security!" said Coates. "One can laugh about this, but it shows they have a paranoid fear of socialist ideas."

Li Jian Hong banished

The actions of the Chinese authorities are not solely directed at foreign journalists or critics, or at socialists. Just one day earlier, 15 October, Chinese writer and PRC citizen, Li Jian Hong was blocked from entering China. She too was branded a "potential threat to national security". In effect this means Li’s citizenship has been annulled and she has been banished – illegally. Li has not been charged with or found guilty of breaking any law in China.

Li Jian Hong has been based in Sweden since early 2008 on the invitation of the Cultural Department of Stockholm City Council. The reason for her banishment is that Li, who was prominent in the 1989 pro-democracy movement, is a signatory to the Charter 08 manifesto calling for democratic rights. She has campaigned for the release from detention of Liu Xiaobo, the main organiser of Charter 08, and several websites she has been involved with are banned inside China.

It is deeply ironic that when the families of many Chinese government leaders and top businessmen are taking out political insurance by obtaining foreign passports (Deng Xiaoping’s grandson is a U.S. citizen, while Li Peng’s son is a fugitive in Singapore), entry is refused to Li Jian Hong who has made clear she wants to keep her Chinese citizenship.

Book on Tiananmen 1989 banned

In the case of Laurence Coates (Kolo) he contributed to a recent book (Tiananmen 1989, Seven Weeks That Shook the World, published in Hong Kong), which is banned in mainland China. The website, launched in 2004, has campaigned in support of workers’ struggles and produced a growing number of socialist publications that circulate on the internet in China. Coates is a member of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the CWI and has been active in the labour movement of Britain since the 1970s and more recently in Sweden.

The Chinese regime’s actions show that while it often portrays itself as misrepresented or maligned by foreign journalists, it treats all critics regardless of nationality with similar hostility, although it reserves the harshest treatment for Chinese nationals. Li Jian Hong risks being forcibly deported from Hong Kong to Sweden, with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s government showing a marked trend in recent years to adapt to the whims of the Beijing government and dilute its own autonomy under its "one country, two systems" reunification agreement with the mainland. Just this week it was revealed that Hong Kong police secretly deported Zhou Yonggjun, a leader of the 1989 mass pro-democracy protests, to mainland China where he is being held in a Sichuan prison without access to lawyers or his family. Zhou entered Hong Kong illegally in September last year, but according to Hong Kong law should instead have been sent back to the U.S., where he has been a resident since 1992.

These cases are only the latest in a wave of repression against dissidents in China and attempts to silence journalists and rights campaigners. According to Reporters Without Borders, China ranks 167th out of 171 countries for press freedom. Well over half of all cyberdissidents imprisoned worldwide are in China: 57 of 87 in 2009. Showing the connectivity between the Chinese dictatorship and the capitalist multinationals that do business with it, U.S. internet companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft have played a key role in supplying the software systems to police the internet in China. Reporters Without Borders say that journalism in China "is a high risk exercise involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment".

Hong Kong journalists protest beatings

In September, three journalists from Hong Kong were tied up and beaten by Chinese riot police while filming protests in Urumqi, the capital of the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang. The incident shocked Hong Kong public opinion and gave rise to the biggest protest for many years by the territory’s journalists – a 1,000-strong demonstration for press freedom. The response of the Chinese regime to this incident was revealing: rather than apologise, the government in Xinjiang accused the Hong Kong journalists of acting illegally and "inciting the street protests". This is a familiar tune.

While as a dictatorial one-party state such behaviour is endemic, state repression has reached a new high this year by comparison with the last decade or even longer. This is due to the Chinese government’s nervousness over the effects of the capitalist economic crisis that has destroyed 41 million Chinese jobs in 12 months, and a succession of politically-loaded anniversaries (1949, ’59, ’89). The signs of a deepening crisis are reflected in the government’s panicky handling of the crisis in Xinjiang where over 200 people have been killed in inter-ethnic strife, inflamed by the repressive and discriminatory policies of the state, but also made worse by media clampdowns that produce widespread fear, confusion, and destabilising rumour mills (even when the government is telling the truth, few people choose to believe it).

In July this year, China’s president Hu Jintao was forced to leave a G8 summit in Italy and return in all haste to Beijing to personally oversee the political crisis in Xinjiang. There has been widespread speculation about this, and what it says about the alignment of forces within China’s top leadership.

Factional conflict?

The regime’s persecution of oppositional voices contrasts sharply with the image it wants to project – most recently at the 1 October National Day celebrations in Beijing – of a powerful, self-confident and sophisticated regime. Recently speculation has grown that a serious factional conflict may be brewing. This was especially the case after the Central Committee Plenum in September, when the heir apparent to succeed Hu, vice president Xi Jinping, was unexpectedly not elevated to a seat on the key Central Military Committee (CMC) of the party, which exercises control over the army. Xi is a member of the ‘gang of princelings’ faction (princelings: heirs of party pioneers), which is the dominant faction in business and is close to former president Jiang Zemin. Therefore Xi’s non-promotion to the CMC raised questions about whether a rift with president Hu’s faction, which is based on the party apparatus, particularly its ‘training school’ – the (not so) Young Communist League.

The differences between the two dominant factions are actually more akin to clan loyalties than clear-cut political or ideological differences. Both groupings stand for today’s pro-corporate agenda and continued ‘market reform and opening’, but ‘princeling’ representatives are more openly neo-liberal, and sometimes more nationalistic, than members of Hu’s faction. When Xi met German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week on an official visit and – in a complete break with protocol – passed on greetings from Jiang (the ex-president and Xi’s close ally, who has never met Merkel) but not of Hu, this increased speculation of a factional struggle heating up as the succession of 2012 approaches, when Hu and his premier Wen Jiabao resign.

No amount of repression or attempts to muzzle political debate and criticism will succeed however. The policies of the Chinese regime are creating increasing discontent as the vast majority miss out on a purported economic recovery that has seen property speculation, casino-style stock trading, and surges of foreign ‘hot money’ reach new and unsustainable levels.

"Foreign hostile forces"

The number of ‘mass incidents’ is soaring, as exemplified by the gruesome ethnic clashes in Xinjiang, but also big anti-privatisation struggles by steel workers and coal miners. Labour conflicts rose by 30 percent in the first six months of 2009. It is these stirrings within the working class that above all alarm the regime. One sign of this was the suppression in June of a "rights defence congress" formed by Maoist-influenced workers from over 20 factories in Shaanxi province. The state and the leaders of the official-puppet trade unions predictably branded this attempt to launch a workers’ organisation as "reactionary" and linked to "foreign hostile forces". Such cases, and the frenzied response of the state, underline just how unstable in reality the Chinese state is becoming.

Previously the state forces regarded left-wing criticism of the regime largely as an irrelevance. No one in China, they reasoned, was interested in socialism now that market policies were seemingly delivering hypergrowth. The global capitalist crisis with its mass layoffs and wage cuts has changed all that. This year, Chinese security agencies upgraded their surveillance of left forces such as the growing number of neo-Maoist groups but also others on the left including Trotskyists, who oppose not only capitalism but also the dictatorial caricature of ‘socialism’ that the Chinese regime stood for in decades past.

The Chinese regime relies on bureaucratic bans and police repression to silence its critics but this will not prevent a growing political radicalisation and quest for ideas with which to change the system in China and worldwide.

Chinese writer becomes “stateless” as regime steps up repression

Li Jian Hong demands “Let Me Return Home” in protest against illegal banishment

On Thursday 15 October Chinese writer Li Jian Hong attempted to return to her native land but was blocked by Chinese authorities and sent to Hong Kong. Li is a former leader in Shanghai of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. Her case is part of a growing pattern as the Chinese one-party state steps up its crackdown on internal dissent. The period since last summer’s Olympic Games has seen a wave of arrests and increased surveillance and harassment of bloggers, writers, labour activists and human rights campaigners. It has also seen stiff penalties meted out to protesters and those involved in so-called ‘mass incidents’, with executions of several of those involved in this year’s ethnic clashes in Xinjiang for example.

Vincent Kolo, a frequent contributor to, was barred from entering China on Friday 16 October, the day after Li’s deportation. Vincent Kolo (pen name for Laurence Coates) who is active in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), a socialist organisation with supporters in more than 40 countries, had his visa revoked on the grounds that he was “a potential threat to the security of the country”. The real reason for this ban is Coates/Kolo’s advocacy of independent trade unions and support for workers’ struggles against sweatshop conditions in China.

Li Jian Hong is mounting a vigorous campaign to gain re-entry to China, which she left in early 2008 to take up employment in Sweden. She is a signatory to the pro-democracy manifesto Charter 08 and has been active in calling for the release from detention of Liu Xiaobo, the charter’s organiser, who was arrested in December 2008. She has twice tried to go across the border from Hong Kong since 15 October, only to be detained for hours and then sent back to Hong Kong, where authorities have only agreed to allow her 24 hours stay. She has defied the Chinese state to put her in prison, but at least let her return to her country. The action of the Chinese regime in effectively annulling Li’s citizenship, when she has not been convicted of any crime nor even charged with one, provides a chilling glimpse into the illegal, abitrary, and vindictive methods it uses to try to silence opposition.

Hong Kong protest

Vincent Kolo accompanied Li Jian Hong to protest outside the Central (Beijing) Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong on 19 October. “Li Jian Hong is courageous and outspoken,” he said. “This is why the Chinese dictatorship fears her return. They want to silence all opposition, but they will only be met by even bigger protests in future,” said Kolo.

Li held up a placard during the protest reading: “Let Me Return Home” and “Free Liu Xiaobo, Free Political Prisoners.” Afterwards, she was seized by police – the third time in four days – and handed over to Hong Kong immigration authorities. They argued she had overstayed her visa, which was not surprising given that the Hong Kong authorities had only granted her 24 hours. With mainland China refusing to let her in, her supporters feared the Hong Kong authorities would try to force her back to Sweden. This, however, would have been unlawful and therefore eventually the Hong Kong side were compelled to grant Li a seven-day visa – a small but important victory for the protests, allowing more time to mobilise pressure in Hong Kong and expose this latest scandal.

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October 2009