A man uses a computer in an internet cafe in Beijing on June 1, 2017.
 (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)A man uses a computer in an internet cafe in Beijing on June 1, 2017.
 (GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chinese regime is now seeking to shut down the programs that have kept open a window to the world for China’s internet users, but software developers and internet users in China are working to develop solutions that will continue to undermine the regime’s censorship.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been widely used by internet users in China to circumvent the Great Firewall, the nickname for the sophisticated system that the Chinese regime built to censor and monitor online traffic in and out of China. By one estimate, around 30 percent, or about 200 million out of the China’s 700 million netizens, have used VPNs to access foreign websites or online contents that would otherwise be blocked.

By using a VPN, internet users in China can fool the Great Firewall, causing it to determine that they are located outside China, which enables them to connect to the web undetected and hence uncensored. The use of a VPN however, often causes users extra costs and inconvenience. It may also expose their personal information to the VPN’s servers outside China.

The Chinese regime has made numerous attempts in the past to crackdown on the use of VPNs. Due to the nature of VPNs, however, such crackdowns often only affect the most popular VPN providers, while determined users would eventually find a new VPN to work around the blockage.

Last week, China’s Ministry of Public Security issued a nationwide order to all local censorship and law enforcement agencies to start a new crackdown on the use of the VPN tool. The order specifically targeted a number of popular circumvention software programs, such as Freegate, Ultrasurf, Lantern, and Psiphon, and labelled them as being developed by “hostile foreign forces.”

China's Ministry of Public Security issued an order last week to start a new crackdown on the use of VPN tool.

China’s Ministry of Public Security issued an order last week to start a new crackdown on the use of VPN tool.

Widespread reports from China indicate that the renewed crackdown has taken a toll, as many Chinese netizens can no longer access Youtube, Gmail, Instagram, or Twitter by using the VPN tools and providers they have been relying on. There was also a report that a developer of a VPN app has been arrested. 

Just last week China also moved to block WhatsApp, one of the last remaining private messaging apps in China that was not completely exposed to the Chinese regime’s censorship and surveillance.

Struggle Continues

Many observers say, however, that the renewed crackdown on VPN might be a temporary measure, since the tightened restrictions, if sustained too long, will inflict adverse effects on China’s international commerce and technological exchanges with the outside world.

Some developers of circumvention software and VPN providers also vow to continue their fight against censorship. Bill Xia, the creator and CEO of Freegate, one of the software programs specifically being targeted, told The Epoch Times that the new wave of crackdown on his software provides opportunities for more people to become aware of China’s censorship. Xia said that circumvention software is being widely used even among Chinese government agencies and schools in China.

“We developed Freegate specifically for the users in China, and we also work to continue upgrading it,” said Xia, “The number of users in China that are actively circumventing internet censorship has grown so huge, that the Chinese Communist Party can no longer keep track of who’s doing it.”

Many observers have said that the Chinese regime’s internet censorship goes against the very nature of the internet, which was designed and developed to connect the whole world. Xie Wen, a former executive of Yahoo China told NTDTVthat the Chinese regime is attempting to turn the internet in China from a web that connects everywhere into “a web that connects to nowhere.”

Alexander Klimburg, a program director at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, also said last week at an Atlantic Council event that authoritarian regimes like China want to fundamentally change the way internet is being run because they “see information as a threat and a weapon”.

Klimburg, whose recently published book “Cyber Risk Monday: The Darkening Web” contains detailed discussion of China’s internet censorship, said that the Chinese regime sees the internet as a threat to its one-party rule. Klimburg said that the regime wants to achieve a level of control over the internet that would allow them to do things such as “blocking access to the New York Times, or to take down Falun Gong websites.”

China’s Great Firewall, originally designed as a censorship system targeting only users in China, has been so well-developed that it is now officially weaponized and can be used to attack foreign countries and users in cyberspace, according to Klimburg’s new book.

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43 Taiwan Falun Gong practitioners were stopped at the Hong Kong airport and sent back to Taiwan on July 22 and July 23 even though they presented valid travel documents and had committed no crimes. (NTD Television)43 Taiwan Falun Gong practitioners were stopped at the Hong Kong airport and sent back to Taiwan on July 22 and July 23 even though they presented valid travel documents and had committed no crimes. (NTD Television)

Every year around July 20, hundreds of Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners fly to Hong Kong to join an annual parade that peacefully protests the Chinese regime’s ongoing persecution of Falun Gong in mainland China. Immigration officials seldom bother them.

But this year, at least 43 Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioners were stopped after landing at the airport on July 22 and 23 and repatriated back to Taiwan. Security officers and police detained them for hours in the immigrations office, combed through their luggage, and interrogated them individually.

The practitioners had committed no crimes and presented valid travel documents. They were given no official explanation as to why they were being turned away.

“We kept asking what the issue was, but they just claimed that they needed to inspect us, and then they had us sit” in the immigrations office, said a Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioner surnamed Xu in an interview with New Tang Dynasty Television (NTD), a sister media of The Epoch Times.

Another Falun Gong practitioner, surnamed Zheng, told Radio Free Asia, “They took our identification documents and photocopied all of them before placing our IDs into individual case files,” Zheng said.

Airport security officers perform a thorough pat-down of a Taiwanese Falun Gong practitioner before forcing her to board a return flight to Taiwan. (Radio Free Asia)

He and other Falun Gong practitioners were forced to board returning flights to Taiwan, and their confiscated documents were not returned until they had landed, Zheng said.

This was the largest incident of its kind since 2007, when Hong Kong authorities violently evicted at least 800 Falun Gong practitioners. Hong Kong authorities have sporadically blacklisted and repatriated Falun Gong practitioners since 2001.

The traditional Chinese spiritual discipline of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, has been persecuted by the Chinese communist regime since July 20, 1999. In the 1990s, the practice had attracted upwards of 70 million adherents for its moral philosophy and uplifting health benefits. Its popularity drew the ire of then-Party chief Jiang Zemin who decided to wipe out the practice.

Every year, Falun Gong practitioners around the world commemorate the launch of the persecution with rallies, candlelight vigils, and parades, including in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, where Falun Gong practitioners enjoy considerable freedom compared to their counterparts in mainland China who are imprisoned, brainwashed, and tortured to renounce their beliefs.

In an interview with NTD, Taipei City council member Hung Chien-yi said: “A free and democratic society must value religious beliefs.”

“I think Taiwan’s current administration, the Taiwanese Strait Exchange Foundation, and the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits all need to publicly condemn” what happened in Hong Kong, Hung added.

Taiwan’s Falun Gong Human Rights Lawyers Group called out the Hong Kong authorities for violating Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which protects religious freedom.

“We, the Falun Gong Human Rights Lawyers Group, solemnly protest against the Hong Kong government for once again unlawfully repatriating Falun Gong practitioners even though they all had valid travel documents,” said the spokesperson of the organization, Theresa Chu, in an interview with NTD.

“Here, we call on the new Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the Director of Immigration Erick Tsang not to participate in the persecution of Falun Gong and not to damage the policy of one country, two systems,” Chu added.   

Hu Zonghan, Wu Yiqing, and Liu Ziyin contributed to this article.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/irene-luo/" rel="author">Irene Luo</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

People pedal past a building shaped as a Chinese ancient coin on April 21, 2007 in Shenyang of Liaoning Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)People pedal past a building shaped as a Chinese ancient coin on April 21, 2007 in Shenyang of Liaoning Province, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)

After a record amount of capital outflows from China in 2016, Beijing is looking to reverse course this year.

Chinese authorities’ efforts to restrict capital outflows appear to be working. Foreign exchange reserves rose for four consecutive months through May, as inflows finally exceeded outflows. Outbound direct investment dropped almost 46 percent during the first six months of 2017 compared to the same period last year, according to official data.

Beijing is using a multipronged approach to stem the money flow. Regulators have restricted fundraising activities of insurance companies, a main source of recent foreign acquisitions. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) in late June asked banks to check their exposure to several conglomerates with activities abroad, including the Dalian Wanda Group. And most recently, regulators are applying stricter standards before approving foreign investments and using state-controlled media to root out offenders.

China is especially targeting so-called “asset transfers,” or purchases of foreign assets with little to no potential economic returns. Such purchases, regulators believe, are purely used to shift or launder funds abroad.

“China will continue to encourage only genuine and rule-abiding outbound investments by financially competent companies,” said Wang Chunying, a spokesperson at the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE), according to Caixin, a mainland business magazine. SAFE is China’s foreign-exchange regulator.

Reading between the lines, it’s clear that regulators believe some recent high-profile foreign acquisitions were backed by dubious financing, and the quality of such assets raises questions.

Leveraging Media

Beijing has also utilized the state-controlled media to step up criticism of the recent string of high-profile overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies, where academic and business experts publicly question the motivation behind such deals.

During a July 18 segment shown on state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), the host asked why a little-known Chinese appliance retailer would buy the Italian soccer club Internazionale, also known as Inter Milan, given that the company had been losing money for the last five years.

“Some companies are already highly indebted at home, yet they spend lavishly with bank loans abroad. … I think many overseas acquisition deals have a low chance of generating cash flow, and I cannot exclude the possibility of money laundering,” said Yin Zhongli, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, during the CCTV segment, according to the South China Morning Post. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is a think tank affiliated with the State Council, China’s cabinet.

Publicly traded shares of Suning, the appliance retailer that bought Inter Milan, immediately fell intraday following the CCTV segment. Yin Zhongli, the academic researcher, later clarified that he did not intend to call out Suning in particular, but was commenting in general about Chinese firms buying assets abroad.

I cannot exclude the possibility of money laundering.

— Yin Zhongli, researcher, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Curbing Dealmakers

SAFE spokeswoman Wang said the regulator would focus its attention on cross-border deals in real estate, hotels, entertainment, cinemas, and sports clubs.

The industries cited by SAFE are not coincidental—such companies were main targets of China’s dealmakers during the recent acquisition frenzy.

China’s banking regulator recently asked banks to look into their exposures to several Chinese conglomerates, including Anbang Insurance Group Co., Dalian Wanda Group Co., HNA Group Co., Fosun International Ltd., and Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux, which acquired Italy’s AC Milan soccer team in April.

Foreign real estate and hotels are frequent targets of insurer Anbang and conglomerate HNA, while Hollywood movie studios and cinemas have received heavy investment from commercial developer Wanda.

Ownership of foreign sports clubs has also drawn Chinese regulatory scrutiny. Rossoneri’s original proposal to buy AC Milan almost fell apart after it was postponed several times, due to Beijing’s refusal to sign off on certain funds leaving China. The deal finally concluded in April after billionaire investor Paul Singer’s hedge fund Elliott Management stepped in to provide partial financing. Besides the two Italian clubs, Chinese companies also have ownership stakes in English club Aston Villa, Spanish club Atletico Madrid, and French club OGC Nice.

HNA may be finding itself shunned by leading Wall Street banks and advisers.

Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui was detained by Chinese authorities in June. Anbang had been one of the most active foreign dealmakers over the last three years. It owns the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan—currently closed for renovation—and Chicago-based Strategic Hotels & Resorts. In 2016, Anbang famously launched a failed bid to acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

Wu is believed to be a close ally of an influential political faction, led by former Party leader Jiang Zemin, that is in opposition to the Xi leadership. Jiang was head of the CCP for more than a dozen years (1989–2002) and continued holding sway over the Chinese regime through a network of cronies for another 10 years (2002–2012). Since entering office in 2012, Xi has waged a battle to uproot the influence of Jiang and his faction.

Sources close to Zhongnanhai, the central headquarters of the CCP, told The Epoch Times in June that Wu is one of the key “white gloves,” or money launderers, for the Jiang political faction and the family of Zeng Qinghong, the former Chinese vice premier and longtime Jiang confidant.

HNA and U.S. Banks

Another active foreign acquirer, HNA may be finding itself shunned by leading Wall Street banks and advisers.

Last week, Bank of America Corp. told its bankers to stop working with HNA Group and its affiliated entities on future transactions, due to concerns about the group’s debt levels and opaque ownership structure, according to a Bloomberg report. The report also stated that other banks, including Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc., gave similar directives to their staff.

A source at a major Wall Street bank confirmed the Bloomberg report.

Currently, HNA is closing on the purchase of a majority stake into hedge fund SkyBridge Capital LLC. SkyBridge’s founder and co-managing partner is Anthony Scaramucci, President Donald Trump’s new communications director.

Approvals are required from banks’ compliance departments before bankers can conduct business with potential clients, a process known as KYC (know your client), which scrutinizes a potential client’s credit-worthiness, track record, and ownership. Citigroup and Morgan Stanley struggled to obtain sufficient clarity on HNA’s sources of funding and its ownership structure, according to the report.

Similar to other Chinese conglomerates, HNA has a Hong Kong publicly listed arm, HNA Holding Group Co. Ltd., which is owned by a parent company with obscure ownership identities.

HNA’s ultimate structure is a complex web of investment trusts, provincial and local government agencies, and small-business ventures.

Thirteen individuals ultimately control 76 percent of the company through intermediary companies. Chen Feng, the public face of the company, controls 15 percent of HNA and has connections with former presidential candidate Jeb Bush and American investor George Soros. HNA’s biggest owner, Guan Jun (with a 29 percent stake), doesn’t work for the company and is a relative unknown. Listed addresses for Guan through various public filings and records include a side street beauty salon in western Beijing, a shabby Beijing office building, and a nondescript apartment building in southwest Beijing, according to the Financial Times.

HNA is also highly indebted. At the end of 2014, HNA had a combined debt of 196.9 billion yuan ($29.5 billion) on its balance sheet, compared to only 73.2 billion yuan ($10.9 billion) of equity, according to prospectuses filed with the Irish securities regulators in connection with a 2015 $1 billion bond offering of one of its subsidiaries.

While actions of individual U.S. banks may have little to do with Chinese politics or regulatory desires, the path forward for Chinese companies looking to acquire foreign assets is becoming more and more difficult.

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Wu Tianjun stands trial on July 20, 2017. (Xiangyang Intermediate Court )Wu Tianjun stands trial on July 20, 2017. (Xiangyang Intermediate Court )

Following six months of investigation, a senior official in Henan Province, central China, was formally prosecuted for corruption, including the amassing of 11.05 million yuan (about $1.64 million) in bribes.

Wu Tianjun, a member of the Henan provincial Communist Party standing committee, the head of its Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), and formerly the Party secretary of Zhengzhou, stood trial on July 20 in Henan’s Xiangyang Municipal Intermediate Court.

His hair, once dyed jet black, had become completely white—mirroring the court appearance of Zhou Yongkang, the former national-level PLAC director and who was purged in 2015 in current leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. 

As head of the Henan PLAC, Wu Tianjun participated heavily in the 18-year-long persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, a campaign started by former Chinese regime leader Jiang Zemin on July 20, 1999. At least 14 Falun Gong adherents died as a result of persecution on Wu’s watch.

Wu is the third provincial level official in Henan to be purged during the anti-corruption campaign, launched in 2012 after current Chinese leader Xi Jinping took office. Wu was accused of taking advantage of his positions in addition to accepting bribes. He pleaded guilty to the charges.  

Wu Tianjun prior to his arrest. (Caixin)

Wu Tianjun prior to his arrest. (Caixin)

“Embezzling 11.05 million may not sound like much…” reads a report by Sohu, a major mainland Chinese online media group. “But for an ordinary citizen, it’s an astronomical sum, impossible to achieve even after generations of labor. For a couple working full time, 3000 yuan a month for each … they would still need 153 years to accumulate the fortune that Wu Tianjun embezzled.”

The state-run Beijing News speculated about Wu’s downfall as early as 2015, when he was conspicuously absent from standing committee meetings for nearly two months, from June to August, and his whereabouts unknown. The report noted that repeated absence from important events or meetings are signs of impending political disgrace.

On Nov. 11, 2016, Wu Tianjun was formally placed under investigation for disciplinary violations and stripped of his position on the provincial standing committee, but retained his post as head of the local PLAC. In January this year, he appeared in an anti-corruption documentary produced by the Party’s disciplinary commission.

In the documentary, a penitent Wu can be seen confessing how he damaged the Communist Party’s image with his conduct.

Wu Tianjun confesses on state television. (Screenshot via Sina Weibo)

Wu Tianjun confesses on state television. (Screenshot via Sina Weibo)

The 60-year-old Wu made a long-term career in Henan, working there nearly four decades. During his four-year-job as Party secretary of Zhengzhou, the provincial capital, Wu acquired the nickname of “demolition secretary” because he started a large scale project in the municipality to raze 627 villages and relocate over 1.75 million people. In China, where the interests of real estate developers often clash with the livelihoods of numerous, mostly low-income residents, property rights are a prime theme of popular discontent.

Wu apparently followed Li Changchun, a former member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee that helms the Chinese Communist Party. In March, 2016, Wu wrote a 4000-word article eulogizing Li’s newly published book. Titled “Thoughts after Reading Li Changchun’s work,” the article praised Li’s Henan reform during 1990s as “vividly imaginative,” “grand,” and “enlightening.”

Serving as head of the Party’s propaganda apparatus from 2001 to 2012, Li Changchun was a long-time aide to former leader Jiang Zemin, who in turn continued to exercise political influence even after he passed the reins of CCP general secretary to Hu Jintao.

Li played a critical role in shifting popular opinion against the spiritual community of Falun Gong, which had previously been welcomed by both society and the authorities for its positive contributions to public morality and health. In 1998, state and Falun Gong estimates of the number of people who had taken up the practice were 70 and 100 million.

Following the ban of Falun Gong, many officials received promotion and other career benefits from taking active part in the repression. According to Minghui.org, a clearinghouse for firsthand information about Falun Gong and its treatment in mainland China, at least 14 adherents died in torture when Wu headed the cities of Xinxiang and Zhengzhou.  

Zhu Ying from Xinxiang City in Henan, a nationally acclaimed model worker and former representative to the National People’s Congress, was tortured to death in detention on November 30, 2010, according to Minghui. Local police in arrested her late that September after being deceived into leaving her home.

Zhao Tingyun, a worker in a bus company and another Falun Gong adherent living in Xinxiang, was arrested while delivering food to her husband. She died in police custody nine days later, in January 2006. Major organs were missing from her body.

As an organization, the PLAC carries significant responsibility in persecuting Falun Gong. In recent years the system has seen a continued purge; in 2014, Zhou Yongkang, the PLAC director since 2007 and a powerful ally of Jiang Zemin, was placed under investigation and sentenced to life in prison the next year.

In addition to Wu Tianjun, Qin Yuhai, director of the Henan provincial police bureau, and vice provincial police chief Liu Guoqing were also investigated.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/eva-fu/" rel="author">Eva Fu</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

Former Chongqing Party secretary and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai in the Great Hall of the People on Mar. 6, 2016. Sun was officially investigated for corruption on July 24, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)Former Chongqing Party secretary and Politburo member Sun Zhengcai in the Great Hall of the People on Mar. 6, 2016. Sun was officially investigated for corruption on July 24, 2017. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Midway through 2017, the trajectory of high-ranking Communist Party official Sun Zhengcai suggested that he would have a bright future in the regime.

Sun ran Chongqing, an important commercial and industrial hub in southwestern China. At age 53, he was also one of the youngest members of the elite Politburo. Observers considered him to be a potential successor to Xi Jinping as leader of China.

But Chinese state-run media announced in the morning of July 15 that Sun had been removed from office. He did not appear on the evening broadcast as the new Chongqing boss, Chen Min’er, was introduced to city officials. Chinese and Western media reports note that Sun was in Beijing being questioned.

On July 24, Sun was officially investigated for “severe violations of discipline,” a phrase that has come to mean corruption under the Xi leadership.

The abrupt dismissal of Sun Zhengcai with four months to go before a key political conclave is the latest demonstration of Xi Jinping’s current grasp of power, a hint at his political ambitions, and a flash of his determination to root out internal obstruction to his leadership.

Ultimately, Xi appears to be denying a rival political faction helmed by former Chinese Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin a successor to the throne while consolidating his own authority.

Compromised ‘Successor’

The Xi leadership and the Jiang faction have been embroiled in political warfare since Xi took office in late 2012. Two Jiang lieutenants, former Chongqing boss Bo Xilai and security czar Zhou Yongkang, had plotted a coup to replace Xi; Xi has alluded to the plot in several public speeches. Since the failed coup, Xi has purged many Jiang faction members and associates under a sweeping anti-corruption campaign.

Sun’s career biography shows that he was once top aide to two Jiang allies, former Politburo Standing Committee member Jia Qinglin and ex-Beijing mayor Liu Qi. Sun was later appointed Party secretary of Jilin Province and Chongqing City, two regions where the Jiang faction is particularly influential.

Sun’s career path lends some credence to an essay on Vancouver-based Chinese news website Creaders.net that claims that Sun was acquainted with Jiang Zemin himself and was in fact being groomed to continue representing their interests at the apex of power.

Sun’s links with Jiang might suggest why informers inside the Chinese regime cite political indiscretion as the reason for his removal. For instance, one source told Reuters that Sun was being investigated for “violation of political discipline,” while another source said Chongqing officials were told during the meeting announcing Chen Min’er as the new Chongqing boss that Sun had made “political mistakes.” The sources Reuters on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to foreign media.

Further evidence of Sun’s political allegiances can be seen from the anti-corruption agency’s critique of Sun’s Chongqing administration in February. Sun’s administration hadn’t removed the “residue poison” of Bo Xilai and his right-hand man Wang Lijun, and failed to curb corruption in local businesses and the bureaucracy, according to anti-corruption investigators.

While it is unclear if Sun is a card-carrying member of Jiang’s faction, his political career is effectively over with the announcement of a formal investigation on July 24.

Xi Jinping, on the other hand, appears to have strengthened his political position by keeping or promoting loyalists.

With the dismissal of Sun, the only other possible candidate for Chinese leader is Guangdong Party secretary Hu Chunhua. Hu’s political position seems secure for the moment because he is a protege of former Chinese leader Hu Jintao (no relation to Hu Chunhua), and Hu Jintao seems to have been in a tacit alliance with Xi against the Jiang group.

Meanwhile, new Chongqing boss Chen Min’er worked with Xi when Xi was Party secretary of Zhejiang Province from 2002 to 2007. Chen’s promotion also allows Xi to stack the 25-men Politburo with loyalists at the Party’s 19th National Congress because Chongqing chiefs usually sit on the Politburo.

Xi’s Political Ambitions

Around the time of Sun’s dismissal, state media started referring to Xi as “commander-in-chief, supreme leader, and chief architect” of the Chinese regime. Xi is already the regime’s “core” leader, a symbolically significant title that suggests Xi is, in theory, first among equals.

If Sun is later officially investigated for corruption, this would indicate an escalation of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign because he was at the time of dismissal an active Politburo member (only four sitting Politburo members have been expelled since 1990).

The fact that he made the arrest also indicates that he is confident in his ability to withstand pushback.

Surrounded by loyalists and with one less potential political rival to contend with, Xi seems to be paving the way to try for a third term as Chinese leader in 2022—or something even beyond that.

A source close to Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Communist Party, told The Epoch Times that Sun Zhengcai’s removal is not merely Xi’s attempt to scare off rivals with a show of strength, but is a part of a broader power reorganization inside the Chinese Communist Party.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/larry-ong/" rel="author">Larry Ong</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General
July 24, 2017

Hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners hold a candlelight vigil in Washington on July 20, 2017 to remember the victims of the Chinese regime’s persecution of the practice that began on July 20, 1999. The candles in the front form the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the three main tenets of Falun Dafa. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)Hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners hold a candlelight vigil in Washington on July 20, 2017 to remember the victims of the Chinese regime’s persecution of the practice that began on July 20, 1999. The candles in the front form the Chinese characters for truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, the three main tenets of Falun Dafa. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Holding the corner of a banner under the intense midday sun on a 100-plus-degree day, Chinese-American medical scientist and Falun Gong practitioner Hu Zongyi shared his understanding of where the Xi Jinping leadership might be headed on the Falun Gong issue.

“[Xi] doesn’t necessarily have any intention to persecute Falun Gong,” said the middle-aged scientist, speaking before the start of a parade in Washington commemorating the 18th anniversary of the beginning of the persecution of Falun Gong in China.

“If those officials, who have blood on their hands, are cleaned out, it will be easier for Xi to end this,” Hu added. “If he really wants to resolve this problem, well, doesn’t he talk about reviving traditional Chinese culture? If he thinks he needs to disband the Communist Party in order to end the persecution, he can take this step first, or do both at the same time.”

Hu’s assessment might seem overly optimistic in light of the continued suppression in China. The website Minghui.org, which serves as a clearinghouse for information about the persecution of Falun Gong, identified nearly 400 practitioners who were sentenced to prison between January to May this year. On July 11, Yang Yuyong, one of about 20 practitioners from Tianjin who were arrested as part of a local security effort, died in a hospital seemingly from the injuries he sustained from torture and abuse, according to Minghui.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 17, 2017. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping attends the World Economic Forum in Davos on Jan. 17, 2017. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Yet the Xi leadership has overseen several policies that suggest that Xi is at least considering future reconciliation. The labor camp system has been shuttered. Some practitioners have walked away mostly unpunished after lodging criminal complaints against former Party leader Jiang Zemin, or have received no punishment at all. Xi has made unusual gestures (such as stressing the importance of helping lawful petitioners, which includes those complaining about Jiang) near the anniversaries of dates related to the persecution. The”610 Office,” which coordinates the persecution, has received an official rebuke and its leadership has been (figuratively) decapitated. Local courts are throwing out practitioner cases, citing lack of evidence to prosecute.

There appears to also be a correlation between Xi’s anti-corruption campaign and a gradual weakening of the persecution. Aside from being linked with Jiang’s political faction, many of the officials arrested for corruption happen to be involved in persecuting practitioners, according to Minghui.org and the World Organization to Investigative the Persecution of Falun Gong, which closely tracks the persecution.

It is still unclear whether Xi Jinping will eventually end the persecution. But if he does bite the proverbial bullet, it is tough to imagine that the Party can survive the scandal of the persecution—including grisly, large-scale crimes like forced organ harvesting.

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  • Category: General

A European marching band and peaceful protestors in Trafalgar Square, calling for an end to an 18-year-long persecution. The music from the marching band is uplifting and hopeful, yet the personal stories of some of the members are heartbreaking.A European marching band and peaceful protestors in Trafalgar Square, calling for an end to an 18-year-long persecution. The music from the marching band is uplifting and hopeful, yet the personal stories of some of the members are heartbreaking.

Practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong marched through the streets of London and Cambridge on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 July, appealing for an end to the 18-years of persecution instigated by the Chinese communist regime.

A colourful marching band was followed by protesters peacefully holding banners and placards. On the Sunday evening, a candlelit vigil was held in London’s Trafalgar Square.

Falun Gong is a traditional Chinese meditation practice that cultivates truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. A brutal crackdown of the practice was initiated on 20 July 1999 by the then-leader of the Chinese communist party, Jiang Zemin.

Since that time there have been 4,112 documented deaths, but this is thought to be the tip of the iceberg. The NGO Freedom House estimates that the number of practitioners detained in labour camps and sentenced to prison terms is in the hundreds of thousands, “making them the largest contingent of prisoners of conscience in the country.”

Each year around 20 July, Falun Gong practitioners and supporters organise peaceful protests to raise awareness of the brutal persecution.

Dongfei Yan was at the protest in London. She was tortured in a labour camp and forced to make 3,000 chopsticks every day.

“The room was soon filled with sawdust and plastic powder and the air was badly polluted, causing us to keep coughing all the time and making it hard even to open our eyes,” she said. “I was handcuffed to a ‘tiger bench’, a torture tool made of steel. I was forced to sit on it with my wrists and ankles all locked onto it. My limbs were locked in this way for over 10 hours.”

She fled to London to seek asylum.

A few days earlier on 18 July, a seminar in Parliament highlighted the issue of forced organ harvesting in China. To coincide with the event, supporters held a rally in Parliament Square.

Investigators have found that forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, mainly from illegally detained Falun Gong practitioners, is happening systematically on a large scale.

“We need to raise the profile of what China is doing in relation to the forced organ harvesting that’s taking place. They deny it, but the fact is, it continues,” said MP Jim Shannon after the seminar.

“Those people have been victimised, politicised and systematically had their organs taken off them because they believe in Falun Gong. Our job is to make sure China stops that,” he told NTDTV.

Matthew Offord, MP for Hendon said: “I’ve come along today to show my solidarity, that we remember what is happening, and to repeat the call that the Chinese government must stop this barbaric practice.”

“It’s known throughout the world and in the West that this practice is occurring, and the amounts of money that are being paid for organs,” he said.

The marches over the weekend were led by a military style marching band made up of around 70 musicians from across Europe. While the music is uplifting and hopeful, the personal stories of some of the members are heartbreaking. Some have had loved ones thrown in jail or forced into hiding in China.

Amy Yu is from north London and plays in the band. Her father was imprisoned for his beliefs, yet even after his release he does not feel free in his native country, she said.

“After so many years of imprisonment and harm to his health, even though now he has been released, our ordeal isn’t over. I cannot talk with my father openly on the phone, because we are sure the phone is monitored. He has to be careful not to reveal his location to authorities – he is effectively in hiding,” she said.

Practitioners of Falun Gong meditate outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square on 23 July 2017, appealing for an end to an 18-year-long persecution. (Si Gross/The Epoch Times)

A Falun Gong practitioner enacts being illegally imprisoned in China as part of a peaceful protest outside Parliament Square on 18 July 2017. The NGO Freedom House estimates that the number of practitioners detained in labour camps is in the hundreds of thousands. (The Epoch Times)
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Falun Gong practitioner Yang Yuyong passed away on July 12 after eight months of being detained for his spiritual beliefs. His body was covered with wounds and bruises. (Radio Free Asia)Falun Gong practitioner Yang Yuyong passed away on July 12 after eight months of being detained for his spiritual beliefs. His body was covered with wounds and bruises. (Radio Free Asia)

Yang Yuyong and nearly 20 other Falun Gong practitioners in the Chinese port city of Tianjin were arrested and detained by local security forces last December. After eight months in police custody, Yang passed away in a hospital on July 11, seemingly from the wounds he sustained from torture and abuse.

But even in death Yang hasn’t escaped the control of Chinese authorities. Tianjin police are restricting access to his grave, and the hospital’s head doctor appears to have listed a bogus cause of death. Yang’s family is now demanding an investigation.

Practitioners of Falun Gong, a traditional Chinese spiritual practice, have been targeted for suppression by the Chinese authorities since July 1999 when former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin launched a persecution campaign. Today, hundreds of thousands of practitioners continue to be held in some form of detention, where they suffer vicious abuse. Researchers say that the Chinese regime is profiting from the forced live organ harvesting of practitioners.

Yang Yuyong, who was 56, had been arrested multiple times since the start of the persecution. On Dec. 7, he and his wife were again arrested, this time as part of a large sweep of Falun Gong practitioners in Tianjin, and were held in Wuqing District Detention Center.

In early January, Yang went on hunger strike to protest his imprisonment. His jailors responded by shackling his ankles and wrists together, forcing him into a painful bent position. Two heavy metal balls were also attached to the shackles around his feet.

In another incident, Yang’s jailors instructed thirteen detention center inmates to beat him unconscious. One of Yang’s lawyers said that the inmates had also cursed at and sexually abused him.

Then on July 11, the Tianjin authorities notified Yang’s family of his death at 3:40 p.m. that day. The hospital’s head doctor said that Yang had sustained a lung infection and a very high fever, implying that he had died of illnesses.

Yang’s family, however, believes that the official medical account of Yang Yuyong’s death was falsified. Yang had no history of illness, and had appeared healthy when Yang’s lawyers visited him a fortnight ago.

Also, when Yang’s family arrived at the hospital, they found his body covered in wounds and bluish-purple bruises as well as cuts on his toenails that suggested his feet had been stabbed with bamboo sticks or needles. They also noticed grotesque wounds on the back of his ears, according to Minghui.org, a clearinghouse for information on the Chinese regime’s ongoing persecution of Falun Gong.

Further, a friend of Yang’s said that his body was already rigid by the time his family saw him at the hospital at 6:00 p.m., which suggests that Yang had passed away much earlier than 3:40 p.m. as the Tianjin authorities had claimed. Yang’s friend wishes to remain anonymous out of safety concerns.

Over 100 policemen came to the hospital in the early morning of July 13 to take the body of Falun Gong practitioner Yang Yuyong against the wishes of his family. They formed a human wall to the entrance of the hospital. (Minghui.org)

Events quickly took an alarming turn. At about 3:00 a.m. the following day, 14 police cars pulled into the hospital’s parking lot. Nearly a hundred police officers, including special forces dressed all in black, swarmed out and surrounded the hospital, forming two rows to make a human wall extending to the entrance, according to Minghui.

Ignoring the family’s wishes, the newly arrived security forces took Yang’s corpse to a cemetery near the hospital and tried to block anyone from taking pictures. The police are monitoring the entrance to the cemetery, as well as registering names and videorecording visitors to Yang’s grave.

Yang’s family is demanding an investigation into the cause of his death as well as the release of Yang’s wife and fellow Falun Gong practitioner Meng Xianzhen. Meng was imprisoned in the same detention center as her husband.

“The first thing we need to do is make them release my mother since she did not commit any crime in the first place. After what happened to my father, I worry about her safety,” said Yang’s daughter in an interview with Radio Free Asia. “The next step is to seek justice for my father.” 

Yang’s two children have asked the detention center to release their mother, but they were told to fire one of their lawyers, Wen Donghai, because of his alleged “anti-China” background.

Yang’s children met with authorities on July 14 without their lawyers, who had been denied entry. The authorities then used their mother’s safety to threaten them to privately settle the matter of their father’s death and to stop publicizing the incident on the internet. Yang’s children, however, declined.

Yang’s lawyers have tried to file criminal complaints against the head of the Wuqing District Detention Center and a guard surnamed Liu for torturing him. The Wuqing District Procuratorate has refused to accept the complaint, while the Tianjin Procuratorate and the Tianjin Police Department have not responded.

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Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

WASHINGTON—Numerous candlelights flickered in the darkness as hundreds of Falun Dafa practitioners held a vigil in front of the Lincoln Memorial to remember the victims of the Chinese communist regime’s persecution of the practice.

The traditional Chinese spiritual discipline of Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, was first introduced in China in 1992. Many Chinese were attracted to the practice for its physical benefits and moral philosophy rooted in the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It has been persecuted since July 1999 after it became too popular in the eyes of a former communist leader, who ordered it to be eliminated.

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners in a candlelight vigil at Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Since then, hundreds of thousands of practitioners have been thrown into prisons, labor camps, and brainwashing centers where they are coerced through physical and psychological torture into renouncing their beliefs. A large but indefinite number of Falun Gong practitioners have also been killed for their organs to fuel China’s lucrative transplant industry, according to reports.

Falun Dafa practitioners gathered in Washington D.C. on July 20 for a series of events, including a rally, parade, and a candlelight vigil, to honor the lives lost over the past eighteen years.

Pooja Mor joins Falun Gong practitioners during a candlelight vigil around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Pooja Mor, a fashion model, joins Falun Gong practitioners during a candlelight vigil around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Pooja Mor, a 25-year-old Indian fashion model, joined in the day’s events in DC to show her support. Mor started practicing Falun Dafa two and a half years ago after her agent in India introduced it to her.

“Before I used to blame people for everything wrong that happened in my life. After learning Falun Dafa, I started to look within,” Mor said. “Instead of finding faults with others, I first look to see where I’m lacking.”

Falun Dafa practitioner Yang Guangyu, a native of Beijing who came to the US in 2009, said, “Falun Dafa practitioners simply want to cultivate themselves, to promote moral values, and to improve their health.” Yang was detained in late 2001 in a prison and later a forced labor camp for peacefully defending Falun Dafa in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, a popular site of protest in China.

Many tourists and visitors who passed by the candlelight vigil expressed their sympathy and shock at the human rights abuses occurring in China.

“I have trouble understanding why something like this would be persecuted in China,” said Catherine Ramos, a tourist from New Jersey.

Lynne DePalma, who was with Ramos, said, “It’s a communist country, so it’s a closed society. And a lot of things that go on, the world doesn’t know about unless people do something like this and bring it to the world’s attention.”

“It’s an atrocity, and it shouldn’t be happening,” DePalma added. “It’s immoral. It’s abusive.”   

Ma Cunxia, a Falun Gong practitioner from Changchun City in northeastern China, called on the U.S. government to take a firmer stance. “I hope the government, particularly the Trump administration, can act on America’s founding values of human rights and freedom of belief and call for an end to this 18-year-long persecution.”

Eva Fu contributed to this report.

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners at a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners at a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A little boy joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A little boy joins Falun Gong practitioners at a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners at a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners hold a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor those who have died during the persecution in China that the Chinese regime started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

A woman joins Falun Gong practitioners at a candlelight vigil at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on July 20, 2017, to honor the lives lost since the Chinese regime launched the persecution eighteen years ago. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

 

 

 

 

 

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping speak to the press during a press statement at the German chancellery in Berlin on July 5, 2017. On July 19, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)Chinese leader Xi Jinping speak to the press during a press statement at the German chancellery in Berlin on July 5, 2017. On July 19, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” (Michele Tantussi/Getty Images)

When practitioners of one of China’s largest spiritual communities first learned that they were being targeted for persecution on July 20, 1999, they presumed that there must be a mistake. Why would the Chinese regime bother with peaceful meditators who try to live according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance?

Hoping to explain Falun Gong to the authorities and reach a peaceful resolution, many Falun Gong practitioners headed to their local petitions office, or to the headquarters of the petitions office in Beijing. The concept of petitioning is old in China, and refers to the right—at least on paper—for citizens to appeal to the government about their grievances.

On April 25, 1999, when over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners found themselves outside Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Party leadership, then-Chinese premier Zhu Rongji met with representatives and promised to resolve their concerns. Just three months later, the campaign to wipe out Falun Gong began, and adherents were arrested and brutally abused in jails,  brainwashing centers, and labor camps, all on the orders of former Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin.

Now, on the eve of the 18th anniversary of that persecution—still the largest in China—Chinese leader Xi Jinping has urged Chinese officials to do their utmost to help “petitioners.”

According to a July 19 article by state mouthpiece Xinhua, Xi called on petition work officials to “make ‘every possible effort’ to solve public grievances.” He also instructed officials to handle “people’s legitimate appeals lawfully.”

Given the coded operations of the Chinese regime and its tendency to tightly control public messaging near politically sensitive dates, it is difficult to imagine that Xi made his remarks without the expectation that they would be understood as obvious references to Falun Gong.

As the largest group of prisoners of conscience in China, Falun Gong practitioners have been arrested for lawful petitions for over 18 years; Chinese human rights lawyers determined to show that the anti-Falun Gong campaign is illegal have also been targeted.

Nor are the remarks are one-off occurrence. Xi’s call to improve petition work is part of a string of such gestures made by his leadership near Falun Gong persecution anniversary dates. There are no current indications that the policy against Falun Gong will change in the near future, but these instances—as well as a series of institutional changes related to the persecution—are suggestive of an eventual shift in the political wind.

On April 21, 2016, Xi and Chinese premier Li Keqiang announced that it is in the regime’s interests to “amicably settle reasonable and lawful appeals by the masses” who submit petitions, as well as safeguard their legal rights.

That July 20, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission (PLAC), which controls the Chinese regime’s security apparatus, announced at a national level meeting on judicial reform that it was looking to “establish a robust system to prevent unjust, false, and wrong charges,” while also addressing historical miscarriages of justice. The PLAC meeting was held in Changchun, the northeastern Chinese city where Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi first introduced the practice to the public in 1992.

Xi has also enacted policies during this tenure which suggest that he is planning on shifting the Chinese regime away from the persecutory policy of his predecessor Jiang Zemin.  

Shortly after Xi took office in 2012, he proposed to abolish the Chinese regime’s labor camp system. Falun Gong practitioners formed the majority of prisoners in labor camps and other places of detention for many years. The labor camp system, a key Falun Gong persecution site, was formally shut in December 2013.

In May 2015, Xi pushed through a legal reform that required Chinese courts and procuratorates to acknowledge all criminal complaints that were submitted. This led to Falun Gong practitioners and other Chinese citizens filing over 200,000 complaints against Jiang Zemin for crimes against humanity—a development that would have led to brutal death and torture during the era of Jiang’s dominance.  

And in October 2016, the “610 Office,” an extralegal Party organ that organizes and oversees the persecution of Falun Gong, was criticized by the Party’s internal police as part of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. Earlier, 610 Office heads had been either purged or quickly rotated out. Such treatment of Jiang’s favored 610 Office would have also been virtually inconceivable under previous political leadership.

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Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

WASHINGTON—In the early afternoon of July 20, over 1,000 practitioners and supporters of the Falun Gong spiritual discipline held a parade to protest 18 years of deadly repression by the communist regime in China. The parade goers, mostly wearing Falun Gong’s signature yellow T-shirts, marched from Capitol Hill through downtown Washington, D.C. to the Lincoln Memorial.

This year’s events also included a rally at Capitol Hill and a candlelight vigil before the Washington Monument.

Falun Gong, a spiritual practice that teaches a set of meditation exercises and cultivation of the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, was marked for persecution on July 20, 1999, by then-Chinese Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin. Since then, the Chinese authorities have pursued a violent campaign of elimination against the practice.

“The Chinese regime’s persecution has been completely irrational and violent. We petition peacefully. We carry no weapons. We have only kind intentions. But what we face are police, police cars, armed police. The armed police face you as if you are a terrible enemy,” said Liu Zhaohe, a 64-year-old philosophy professor who came from Beijing to the United States this March.

 Liu Zhaohe, a former philosophy professor, and his wife Wang Lurui participate in a Falun Gong parade in Washington D.C on July 20, 2017. (Irene Luo/Epoch Times)

Liu Zhaohe, a former philosophy professor, and his wife Wang Lurui participate in a Falun Gong parade in Washington D.C on July 20, 2017. (Irene Luo/The Epoch Times)

His wife, 60-year-old Wang Lurui, was arrested 11 times while putting up Falun Gong banners and meditating in public, including several occasions when she went to Tiananmen Square. She was also fired from her position as a hospital administrator in Beijing.

“Since coming here, we continue to nonviolently, rationally oppose the persecution so everyone knows that Falun Dafa is good and that truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance are universal moral principles,” Wang said.

Millions of Falun Gong adherents in China and abroad have used a variety of peaceful means to raise awareness about and counteract the persecution, sometimes at great personal risk. Human rights researchers estimate that Chinese authorities have detained millions of practitioners, and that hundreds of thousands are held in forced labor camps and brainwashing centers.

Since 2006, investigations have revealed that a large but yet indeterminate number of Falun Gong adherents have been executed and had their organs harvested in state and military-run hospitals across China.

Li Jianying, a middle-aged woman from Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, was driven to escape China in 2015 when someone reported her practice of Falun Gong to the police. She now lives in Middletown, upstate New York, and raises awareness about Falun Gong in the community as a volunteer. Her 79-year-old mother, also a practitioner, is still in China.

“I want to see her again, but I can’t go back,” Li said. “You go back and they arrest you at the airport.”

Each year, Falun Gong practitioners in the U.S. and around the world hold commemorative events to mark the anniversary of the persecution.

During the parade, practitioners carried banners calling for the end of the persecution and live organ harvesting and for Jiang Zemin to be brought to justice. A military-style marching band composed of Falun Gong practitioners joined in. Other marchers held photos of those who had been killed in the persecution.

Passers-by were shocked to learn of the violence against the group.

Wilna LaPorte, who works in a Washington, D.C. public defense service, was drawn to the serene, traditional Chinese music.

Wilna LaPorte. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)

Wilna LaPorte. (Eva Fu/The Epoch Times)

“I can’t believe this is going on,” she said between tears after hearing about China’s organ transplantation industry, which has heavily targeted Falun Gong practitioners. “I don’t see why human lives should be commercialized when there are so much that has already been commercialized from China.”

“People need to be made aware of what’s happening in different countries, not only here,” said Cynthia Simms, who works as an educational administrator.

“A lot of times, we don’t know what other people go through and what they have to deal with on a day to day basis.”

Liu Zhaohe, the former professor from Beijing, said that the Chinese authorities “persecute all independent thoughts, independent beliefs.”

He added: “There’s no freedom of belief, freedom of speech. This is the most immoral thing done by the Chinese regime. They don’t just destroy you physically, but also destroy you mentally, force you to ‘transform.’ They stifle your thoughts so you do not have your own thoughts.” 

With reporting by Eva Fu and Irene Luo.

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Larry Dye/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners march in a parade in Washington D.C. on July 20, 2017. The parade is calling for an end to a brutal persecution in China that started on July 20, 1999. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

 

 

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  • Category: General
July 20, 2017

Chinese workers at a pier in Qingdao, China, on April 13. The Belt and Road Initiative is supposed to boost trade both by land and by sea. (STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)Chinese workers at a pier in Qingdao, China, on April 13. The Belt and Road Initiative is supposed to boost trade both by land and by sea. (STR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The idea, at first, sounded good: Plow trillions of dollars into infrastructure projects in the barren wasteland that is most of central Asia, and trade will start to bloom, economies will prosper, and peace will reign. However, most experts believe real world problems will result in the whole idea turning into nothing but a pipe dream.

(VCG/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES)

(VCG/VCG VIA GETTY IMAGES)

The concept is called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt, One Road, launched by Chinese regime leader Xi Jinping in March 2015. It has two elements: one landlocked route from China to Europe through Asia, called the Silk Road Economic Belt, and one seaborne route going from China to Europe past India and Africa, called the Maritime Silk Road.

Although estimates vary, China has called for up to $5 trillion in infrastructure investments over the next five years in the 65 countries along these routes. Ports in Sri Lanka, railways in Thailand, and massive roads and power plants in Pakistan are just a few examples of the planned investments.

Speaking at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in May this year, Xi said: “In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we should focus on the fundamental issue of development, release the growth potential of various countries, and achieve economic integration and interconnected development, and deliver benefits to all.”

His statement sums up the problems with the multitrillion dollar project: It talks about desirable outcomes but is exceedingly vague on the details. This is just like the BRI’s official plans. They call for improving intergovernmental communication, coordinating infrastructure plans, developing soft infrastructure, and strengthening tourism and trade, but the specifics are shaded over.

“There are no concrete action items set out in the Chinese government’s action plan for what has become one of Xi’s most visible policy initiatives. The document contains a number of generic proposals interspersed with platitudes about cooperation and understanding,” research firm Geopolitical Futures states in a July report.

But despite the lack of concrete programs, the vast sums involved show that the BRI has garnered support from many countries. China-led institutions, like the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, have also pledged $269 billion dollars for the project. Even Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced his support at the recent G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

It is completely overhyped. The numbers they published, $4 trillion to $5 trillion, they are completely unrealistic.

— Christopher Balding, professor of economics, Peking University

Objectives Measured Against Reality

China’s objectives, explicit and implicit, need to be measured against reality. On this account, most experts think the project is not economically viable—but it will allow China to gain political influence.

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“It is completely overhyped. The numbers they published, $4 trillion to $5 trillion, they are completely unrealistic,” said Christopher Balding, professor of economics at Peking University.

Economically, it is mostly about investment and exports. “China has surplus capital and excess productive capacity, which is motivating this set of initiatives. With a high savings rate in China and a slowdown in industrial investment at home, they are looking for overseas projects that can be financed and a new outlet for Chinese exports,” said James Nolt, professor of international relations at New York University.

The result is the BRI, which would see China team up with countries along the routes to raise money for building infrastructure to facilitate trade. And Chinese companies would do the construction.

The Chinese Overseas Ports Holding Company has expanded the Gwadar Port in Pakistan and has an operating lease until 2059. This is just the first, small step in connecting the Silk Road Economic Belt with the Maritime Silk Road. Highways, pipelines, power plants, optical connections, and railways are planned for the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, with a total investment of $62 billion.

Of course, local and international companies are going to bid for these projects as well, but with China providing most of the funds, Chinese state owned enterprises (SOEs) will get most of the contracts.

If Chinese companies got $5 trillion in contracts, this would indeed boost exports, but there are several problems with this notion even in theory.

First, infrastructure projects are very resource intensive, and with few exceptions China simply doesn’t produce commodities. Much of the value-added, therefore, will be absorbed by international commodity producers like Australia (though the Chinese steel industry will certainly get a boost).

Impossible to Finance

Then there is the question of financing these investments. The countries where the investments are going to take place, like Pakistan and Cambodia, don’t have the money to spend trillions and also can’t raise it in international financial markets. This leaves China to come up with a way to get the hard currency financing to achieve its economic goals.

At the beginning of the BRI, China still had almost $4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, and it was looking to diversify. These have dropped to $3 trillion in 2017, a threshold the central planners in Beijing have made clear they will not cross.

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“They have to tap international bond markets for that money, or they have to exhaust their foreign exchange reserves and even then go out and borrow. Even by global bond market standards, a $5 trillion bond sales program spread out over a couple of years is an enormous number. They are not going to shoulder that type of repayment risk and they are not going to deplete their reserves,” said Balding.

Research by investment bank Natixis estimates that such a borrowing binge would increase Chinese external debt from 12 percent to 50 percent of GDP. This would expose the country to exchange rate risks and put it in the same vulnerable position that the Asian tiger economies were in during the financial crisis of 1998.

Loans from China denominated in yuan from Chinese banks are not an option for two reasons. This “poses its own risks to the overly stretched balance sheets of Chinese banks. In fact, their doubtful loans have done nothing but increase during the last few years, which is eating up the banks’ room to lend further,” especially for risky projects, wrote Natixis Chief Economist for the Asia Pacific Alicia García-Herrero, in a blog post.

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In addition, recipient countries could only pay back a loan in yuan by selling goods and services to China, thus procuring the Chinese currency. This would be directly counterproductive to the goal of promoting exports from China with construction contracts and eventually through improved trade infrastructure.

“How is Pakistan to repay a yuan loan? They are going to generate a trade surplus in yuan. So China has to run a trade deficit with all the countries it lends to. Even if they don’t do that, Pakistan is going to have to generate some type of trade surplus with another country to have enough capital to pay back China,” said Balding.

Given that most of the infrastructure will be built to facilitate trade with China, this is highly unlikely. So in the end, China will be left to vendor finance these projects. The only way to achieve its economic objectives will be hard currency loans that are completely repaid, with interest—which China currently has no clear means of financing.

Bad Risks

All of the economic indicators regarding the most prominent BRI projects point against this repayment scenario.

There is a reason countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Pakistan, and Mongolia don’t have good infrastructure. They have a generally poor macroeconomic framework, underdeveloped institutions, and a high degree of corruption. Building roads and railways will not change that.

Additionally, “Central Asia, a patchwork of states whose borders were drawn to make the countries more easily controlled from Moscow during the Soviet era, is hardly a promising market for Chinese goods,” states the Geopolitical Futures report.

“People talk about [the BRI] as if China is giving away money. In almost every case, it’s the Chinese credit card company giving a credit card to a despotic dictator, like in Sri Lanka or Venezuela. None of that has ended well,” said Balding.

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The nature of the value proposition of the BRI leads to the worst countries needing the most infrastructure and the most financing. Economically stable and healthy countries like Malaysia and Vietnam need less investment than troubled states like the Kyrgyz Republic and civil war-torn Ukraine. These countries have an economic health ranking of 44 and 38.2, respectively, compared to Malaysia’s 66.8, according to a ranking by Oxford Economics.

“Where financial development is relatively weak and governments are heavily indebted, BRI financing will be crucial,” states the report by Oxford Economics. It is precisely these places that offer the lowest chance of repayment.

“While a new airport or railway can be built in just a few years, amassing the human and institutional capital needed for them to operate efficiently and contribute to economic and social progress is a slower process,” states a report by research firm TS Lombard.

Small Scope

Given the constraints in viable economic projects as well as available financing, the scope of the BRI will likely remain small, while China can still focus on its political objective to exert greater influence over the participating countries.

“What this leaves us with is a much more modest program of $15 billion to $30 billion a year,” commensurate with the $269 billion already pledged by the China-led institutions, Balding said. “I don’t want to say that it’s irrelevant, but it is irrelevant. The United States is spending $300 billion in direct investment every year overseas.”

One of the initiatives that makes sense but needs little infrastructure and investment is protecting ships from pirates. “The cooperation with Singapore to keep the sea-lanes safe is promising, and that would have happened either way,” said Nolt.

While Chinese propaganda is touting that the BRI will revive the spirit of the ancient Silk Road through central Asia to Europe, it may have missed the boat on that one.

Given advances in shipping technology, it is far easier and cheaper to transport goods by ship rather than by land. That’s why most of China’s and the world’s trade (80 percent) is done by sea.

In the end, keeping out pirates and building a few ports in Pakistan and East Africa is a worthwhile endeavor—but it’s one that falls far short of building trillions worth of landlocked infrastructure.

“The Silk Road was a constantly evolving marketplace that moved goods across a vast continent where they could be exchanged for other goods. And unlike today, Eurasia was the center of world civilization, home to the most important economies,” states the Geopolitical Futures report.

Today, the most important economy, also for China, is the United States, and it is best reached by sea through the Pacific Ocean, far away from the Maritime Silk Road and the One Belt.

CHINESE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS IN ASIA

BOATS AT THE GWADAR PORT IN PAKISTAN ON THE ARABIAN SEA. China Overseas Ports Holding Company is leasing the port until 2059 and has already started expanding it. China has been looking to secure sea trading lanes along the so-called Maritime Silk Road, and the Pakistani port is an important piece in the puzzle. (J. PATRICK FISCHER/CC BY-SA)

BOATS AT THE GWADAR PORT IN PAKISTAN ON THE ARABIAN SEA. China Overseas Ports Holding Company is leasing the port until 2059 and has already started expanding it. China has been looking to secure sea trading lanes along the so-called Maritime Silk Road, and the Pakistani port is an important piece in the puzzle. (J. PATRICK FISCHER/CC BY-SA)

A SKY TRAIN IN BANGKOK ON MARCH 20, 2013. Thailand will borrow a total of $69.5 billion to fund high-speed railways and other transportation mega projects, with most of the money coming from China and Chinese companies providing the construction. Thailand's railways will form part of the Kunming– Singapore railway system. However, Thailand will repay the loans with rice and rubber exports, thus running a trade surplus with China and going against the objective to generate export growth. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A SKY TRAIN IN BANGKOK ON MARCH 20, 2013. Thailand will borrow a total of $69.5 billion to fund high-speed railways and other transportation mega projects, with most of the money coming from China and Chinese companies providing the construction. Thailand’s railways will form part of the Kunming– Singapore railway system. However, Thailand will repay the loans with rice and rubber exports, thus running a trade surplus with China and going against the objective to generate export growth. (NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

THE BANKS OF THE IRRAWADDY RIVER IN BURMA ON OCT. 2, 2015. Although not officially part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project is an example of a Chinese infrastructure project in a very poor country that hasn't gone as planned. Construction has been suspended for six years, as both countries could not agree on how to proceed. (YE AUNG THU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

THE BANKS OF THE IRRAWADDY RIVER IN BURMA ON OCT. 2, 2015. Although not officially part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the $3.6 billion Myitsone Dam project is an example of a Chinese infrastructure project in a very poor country that hasn’t gone as planned. Construction has been suspended for six years, as both countries could not agree on how to proceed. (YE AUNG THU/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
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Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners and supporters, hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York on July 16, 2017. The persecution is now entering its 18th year inside China that started on July 20, 1999 by China's former leader Jiang Zemin. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)Hundreds of Falun Gong practitioners and supporters, hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Chinese Consulate in New York on July 16, 2017. The persecution is now entering its 18th year inside China that started on July 20, 1999 by China's former leader Jiang Zemin. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

For months, Li Guiqin, a 58-year-old retired scientist now living in the United States, would crowd into the back of an eight-seat van and cruise the streets of Harbin as she and others made phone calls to China’s public security officials, telling them to stop persecuting her faith community.

The constant motion was a must for this dangerous work. Staying stationary would have made it easy for the Chinese Communist Party’s omnipresent surveillance apparatus to triangulate her position and swarm in with the equivalent of a SWAT team.

So she and a few others—usually three or four, often retired, men and women who practiced the Chinese spiritual tradition of Falun Gong—plied the streets of the gritty northern industrial city near Siberia, making phone call after phone call from the van.

Some of the officials they reached responded with malice, some with indifference. But others responded with a hard-won acceptance of the truth that years of violence failed to conceal.

The Party began its nationwide persecution of the Falun Gong practice on July 20, 1999. Millions are believed to have been sent to labor camps, prisons, and illegal brainwashing centers, where practitioners are tortured in an attempt to force them to recant their beliefs. A large but unknown number are believed to have been killed for their organs.

And against all this has stood a stubborn group of meditators like Li Guiqin and her friends. They and numerous other Falun Gong practitioners in China have over the years adopted a range of creative methods for directly reaching the officials who have been ordered to persecute them, refuting the official narrative about Falun Gong and offering these public security agents a different course of action: to simply ignore the official orders.

‘I Have to Tell the Truth’

Li Guiqin, formerly a scientist at the Agricultural Science Institute of Heilongjiang Province, started to perform the slow-moving exercises of Falun Gong in the spring of 1995. She says she was cured of chronic gastritis and enteritis, which gave her frequent diarrhea.

By 1999, an official survey estimated that upwards of 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong—a number greater than the Chinese Communist Party’s membership at the time. Falun Gong sources say that in 1999, more than 100 million people were practicing.

Finding Falun Gong’s popularity unacceptable, the leader of the Party at the time, Jiang Zemin, demanded that the practice be wiped out.

Besides brutalizing practitioners, the regime launched a nationwide campaign of propaganda, marginalization, and incitement to hatred. Officials organized study sessions in work units and schools, forcing all employees and students to denounce the practice. State-run media manufactured stories of violence, insanity, and suicide, including the staged self-immolation incident of 2001.

Li Guiqin was detained three times, and in October 2002, she was was sentenced to three years in a forced labor camp for reeducation. In one incident, she had three of her front teeth knocked out as she was beaten unconscious by a frenzied guard.

Li’s response to all this is straightforward. “They make us tell lies and say what they want rather than how things actually are. But I have to tell the truth,” she said.

Falun Gong Calling

Across the country, dedicated volunteers like Li have been using both low- and high-tech methods to undercut the political campaign against Falun Gong. Grassroots initiatives like putting up posters and depositing fliers in bicycle baskets are at one end of the spectrum, while creating software that will automatically dial hundreds of phone numbers in sequence, or send one text message after another, is at the other.

Shao Changyong, now living in exile in New York City, uses high-tech methods. Practitioners like Shao—who was an engineering student at a military university when he began the practice, and later became a software lecturer—often create the tools and techniques that older volunteers like Li Guiqin use.

Shao came into contact with Falun Gong in the summer of 1994. He said he was stunned by its moral tenets: truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. “It was like finding a spiritual home,” he said. “My entire outlook on life dramatically changed.”

After a two-year labor camp sentence ended in 2005, he jumped feet first into “telling the truth”—the effort to show Chinese people and officials that Falun Gong was not the nefarious, mysterious organization that the Party claimed, but merely a collection of individuals who found meaning in a powerful faith practice.

In 2013, he learned of the phone-calling initiative, which had germinated a decade before when Falun Gong practitioners began contacting individual Chinese citizens to share the truth about Falun Gong and the brutal persecution. In 2004, practitioners had broadened their message by encouraging citizens to reconsider their membership in the Party, via a movement  to “tuidang”—Chinese for “quit the party.”

Since the communist takeover in 1949, “there has been decade after decade of tragedy, revolutionary movement after revolutionary movement,” Shao said. “They have resulted in the unnatural deaths of 80 million Chinese.”

The tuidang movement calls on Chinese people to take a moral stance against the regime by renouncing (often with an alias) the Chinese Communist Party, the Communist Youth League, and the Young Pioneers, a communist organization that nearly all Chinese children are made to join in primary school.

(Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

(Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)

To ramp up efforts, Falun Gong practitioners developed software to dial phones automatically with recorded messages. The software then allows listeners to leave a response and indicate, by pressing a few buttons, if they agreed to renounce their affiliation with the Party, using an alias.

For the summer of 2014, Shao fine-tuned this initiative to maximize its safety and effectiveness in Beijing, right under the nose of the communist leadership. He learned how to change the IMEI number identifying each phone, and determined which SIM cards were safest to purchase and how to buy them in bulk, as they had to be frequently discarded for safety.

He then shared the project with other practitioners in Beijing, including many elderly Chinese practitioners, who circled the city on public buses making calls that reached thousands of Chinese citizens every day.

Every night, Shao left home with 14 phones and turned them on when he was a distance away. He then biked around the city with the phones automatically dialing people with tidbits of censored news or entreaties to quit the Party. After three hours, Shao turned off all of his phones, removed the batteries, and returned home.

Seven hundred miles away, Li Guiqin, the retired scientist, started making phone calls in December 2013 after younger, tech-savvy practitioners in her region had worked out the particulars just as Shao Chaoyong had in Beijing. Besides having two phones automatically making calls, she also made direct calls while riding in the van around Harbin City.

After a few months, in August 2014, the practitioners decided to try calling Chinese public security officials to urge them to stop bolstering the Chinese communist regime in persecuting innocents.

Many Chinese officials hurled threats and abuse at Li, but she showed compassion, knowing the officials had also been deceived by the pervasive propaganda.

Haunted by the time they’d spent in labor camps and brainwashing centers, the practitioners soon stopped their direct calls.

But after several months, they attempted again, beseeching officials to quit the Party or to release arrested practitioners.

“We treated them like family,” Li said. Over time, even many Chinese authorities secretly agreed to quit the Party with aliases.

Turning the Tide

In China, the persecution continues. Between January and May of this year, at least 392 practitioners were sentenced to prison, according to Minghui, a clearinghouse for information on the persecution.

Despite the continued risk of imprisonment, torture, and even death, between 7 million and 10 million Chinese citizens continue to practice Falun Gong in mainland China, according to Freedom House, a U.S.-based human rights organization. Falun Gong sources suggest the figure is between 20 million and 40 million.

Through consistent, unwavering grassroots efforts to expose the communist regime, Falun Gong practitioners are turning the tide.

Over 278 million Chinese people have chosen to renounce their affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party and its related organizations.

More and more local procuratorates have rejected Falun Gong cases because of “insufficient evidence.” Between January and May, at least 53 practitioners were released without charge by authorities, according to Minghui.

Many officials who oversaw the persecution have been purged by Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, including Zhou Yongkang, the former security czar, and Li Dongsheng, the former head of the 610 Office, a Gestapo-like organization that coordinates the persecution.

And since May 2015, nearly 210,000 criminal complaints have been filed against Jiang Zemin at the Chinese regime’s highest court and procuratorate by Falun Gong practitioners and others who oppose the genocide Jiang oversaw.

Shao Changyong and Li Guiqin eventually left China to escape the persecution, and both now reside in New York City.

Li stands outside major tourist sites like Rockefeller Center talking to Chinese tourists, showing them how Falun Gong is freely practiced in every country aside from their homeland.

Shao works full-time for the Global Service Center for Quitting the Chinese Communist Party, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on exactly what he had long been doing in China—exposing a brutal persecution campaign, one phone call at a time.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/irene-luo/" rel="author">Irene Luo</a>, <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/" title="Epoch Times" rel="publisher">Epoch Times</a>
  • Category: General

A North Korean military officer (R) and a North Korea man (L) standing behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju, on December 14, 2012. On Feb. 18, the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced a suspension of all North Korean coal imports. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)A North Korean military officer (R) and a North Korea man (L) standing behind a pile of coal along the banks of the Yalu River in the northeast of the North Korean border town of Siniuju, on December 14, 2012. On Feb. 18, the Chinese Commerce Ministry announced a suspension of all North Korean coal imports. (Wang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images)

North Korean exports to China fell by 13.2 percent in the first half of 2017, Chinese customs authorities said at a recent news conference.

The amount of goods going the other way increased by 29.1 percent, although Chinese customs officials stressed that these goods were not banned by the U.N. sanctions that are intended to force the communist regime in Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Recent months have seen the escalation of tensions, as North Korea has test-fired multiple ballistic missiles as part of its desire to gain a reliable method of nuclear weapons delivery,

U.S. President Donald Trump had previously criticized the Chinese regime in a July 5 tweet for not applying more pressure on North Korea to halt their nuclear weapons program.

“Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40 percent in the first quarter. So much for China working with us — but we had to give it a try!” the president wrote.

In April, Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had met at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida; the first face-to-face meeting between the two statesmen. According to Trump, they “made tremendous progress,” though no deals or breakthroughs were made.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that Xi had acknowledged that the situation involving North Korea had reached “a very serious stage”.

Since the meeting, however, Trump has both praised and criticized the lack of progress and action by China. He said on June 20 via Twitter that although he “greatly appreciate[s] the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out.”

Trade with China accounts for approximately 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade, and most of its food and energy supplies come from its neighbor to the north. China purchases iron ore, zinc, seafood, and clothing from North Korea, and had previously bought large quantities of coal before suspending imports in February. State-owned oil giant China National Petroleum Corporation also suspended fuel sales to North Korea in June.

Despite the Chinese efforts to reign in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, real effects on Pyongyang have been few. North Korea’s latest missile test, on July 4th, suggests that the newly-developed Hwasong-14 missile could reach Alaska and parts of northwestern Canada.

The relationship between North Korea and China is complicated by their historical alliance and shared communist ideology.

Many Chinese officials profit from association with the Kim Jong Un regime, and differences in the two countries’ socioeconomic development and national interests notwithstanding, ties between the Chinese Communist Party and the Korean Workers Party ensure an otherwise unnatural closeness between Beijing and Pyongyang.

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  • Author: <a href="http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/author/ingo-timm/" rel="author">Ingo Timm</a>, The Epoch Times
  • Category: General

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Amidst the Chinese regime’s ever-escalating crackdown on free speech and freedom of the internet, WhatsApp has become the latest victim, as users in China report that the private messaging app has been blocked by the Chinese regime.

Numerous reports from WhatsApp users inside China indicate that the app became partially blocked beginning the night of July 17, as videos or pictures sent by users were no longer reaching their intended recipients. At that time users reported that text messages still went through normally. However, recently some users have reported that even text messages have been blocked.

The regime has long blocked other popular Western social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube through its “Great Firewall,” the unofficial name for the sophisticated internet censorship system used to control all aspects of online activity in China.

Users can still use a virtual private network (VPN) to send text and media content through WhatsApp, just as with other blocked Western websites and applications. The use of VPNs to circumvent censorship adds extra cost and inconvenience to the users, however, and Beijing has also started cracking down on VPN service providers as of late.

Many WhatsApp users in China reacted angrily to the latest ban on their use of the messaging tool. Some say the authorities are essentially cutting off China from the rest of the world’s internet, according to the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily.

Before the blocking on July 17, WhatsApp had been one of the few remaining messaging apps available for users in China that is not controlled by the Chinese regime. WeChat, the dominant messaging application in China with hundreds of millions of users, is owned by the Chinese company Tencent.

The dominance of WeChat has been widely attributed to the company’s close collaboration with the Chinese regime in implementing self-censorship and surveillance mechanisms in its application.

According to Citizen Lab, a Canadian research laboratory, WeChat performs censorship on the server-side, which means that when user sends a message it passes through a remote server that contains rules for implementing censorship.

A 2016 survey done by Amnesty International that ranks the world’s most popular messaging apps in terms of privacy protection for users gave WeChat a score of 0 out of 100, meaning that users of WeChat receive little or no encryption protection for their communications and the app is completely exposed to censorship and surveillance by the Chinese regime. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, received a score of 73 out of 100.

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