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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31758

Mr DANBY (10:48 AM) —Dr Jiang Yanyoung and his wife, Dr Hua Zhongwei, were both arrested in Beijing on 1 June and have not been heard of since. Both are aged 72. There are tens of thousands of political prisoners in the Chinese Laogai, the Chinese gulag, but Dr Jiang and Dr Hua are not just two more anonymous victims of Chinese Leninist political system. In April 2003 Dr Jiang, a surgeon with good connections in China's health system, learned that the SARS epidemic in China was far more serious than the government was admitting. The government claimed there were only 19 cases, while Dr Jiang knew that there were at least 10 times that many. He decided that it was his duty as a doctor and as a citizen to make this information public. He was not the only courageous Chinese doctor to do this, but he was the most prominent. He said at the time:

I felt I had to reveal what was happening, not just to save China, but to save the world.

Indeed, the international community owes Dr Jiang a debt for the final defeat of the SARS virus. As is now known, the SARS epidemic began in China and was actively covered up by the government of that country. As a result it spread rapidly through China and then into countries such as Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan. China sought to block dissemination of accurate information about SARS—for example, by preventing the Taiwanese authorities gaining access to the services of the World Health Organisation. Dr Jiang's courage in speaking out on SARS made him a national hero in China but it also made him a marked opponent of the regime in Beijing. His experience with SARS led him to become more critical of the regime and less willing to accept its version of history. This led him to reassess the events of July 1989, when the government repressed the pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In March this year therefore Dr Jiang, supported by his wife Dr Hua, wrote an open letter to the National People's Congress, China's parliament, asking them to reverse their verdict on the events of 1989. After recounting the grim detail of those events and the bloody mayhem, he said that China's leaders had `mobilised all sorts of propaganda to fabricate lies and used high-handed measures to silence the people across the country'.

Finally Dr Jiang implored the party to reassess the 1989 student movement by reversing its verdict from `counterrevolutionry rebellion' or `political storm' to `patriotic acts that had the support of the overwhelming majority of the people of Beijing and the country'. He said, `Our party must address the mistakes it has made.' He concluded, `Anyone whose family members were unjustly killed should voice the same request.' The arrest of this 72yearold couple in China again shows that we need to understand that, despite the positive developments in the Chinese economic system, what we have there is a capitalist economy coexisting within a Leninist political system. It has an effect on even incredible heroes of China like these two famous doctors. Orville Schell, celebrated historian of China and dean of the University of California at Berkeley, recently concluded an article about Jiang by saying:

Jiang may become a millionaire, wear any clothes he likes, redecorate his living room, even buy a car, but he cannot inform the public about an epidemic or write government officials an honest letter of admonition. Does it matter? That depends on whether one believes that Leninist capitalism is a viable and stable form of government for China over the long term.

This issue is of great concern to Australia and goes to the stability of China. The existing conflicted state that China is in—between its economy, which is open to the world, and the kind of political system that arrests two doctors who have done the right thing not just by their own country but by the world—is an indictment of the oppressive political system that prevails there. The Australian government should formally protest the arrest of Dr Jiang and Dr Hua. We should demand their immediate release. We should make it clear to China that the continued arbitrary, cruel and, indeed, illegal arrests of people like these two elderly doctors does nothing but damage China's reputation and the prospects of good relations with countries like Australia—even under the formalist constitution that they have in China; and I would point to articles 35 and 41 of the Chinese Constitution. If the Australian-Chinese human rights dialogue has any meaning—and I have severe doubts about it being anything except a formalist and legalist cover for good relations between the two countries at an economic level—it should raise the issue of these two doctors.