Is Harry Wu Telling the Truth?
by George P. Koo
Mountain View, CA
Asian Week op-ed, 4/26/96
The publicity attendant upon his arrest in China last summer endowed Harry Wu with far more influence than he possessed before his attempted clandestine entry. He is now appearing everywhere to disrupt and disturb American foreign policy on China and influence world opinion towards China. He has challenged the World Bank on their investment policy in China and told Boeing how they should not do business with China and is telling how Congress should vote on China's MFN and even predicting a subsequent overriding veto from the President. Just last week, Wu cancelled an appearance at Stanford University due to, according to his spokesman, a request to testify before the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Unfortunately overlooked by the media is Harry Wu's web of deceit built on grains of half truths elaborated with exagerations and gross misrepresentations. One only has to review Harry Wu's own words already in the public domain to come to this conclusion. Normally the veracity of any one person is not worth fussing about. In Wu's case, he is capable of doing considerable damage to public interest, especially in the coming months as the national policy towards China come to forefront of debate. Thus, the public has the right to know the dubious pulpit from which Wu is bullying governments, corporations and other legitimate organizations.
One simple example of his propensity to lie is to look at his own statement in the Playboy interview appearing in the February 1996 issue. He said, "I videotaped a prisoner whose kidneys were surgically removed while he was alive, and then the prisoner was taken out the next day and shot. The organs remain fresher that way. The tape was broadcast by BBC." One has to wonder about the professional qualifications of the interviewer to record such an outrageous statement unchallenged. Organ transplant from prisoners has been one of Wu's most dramatic accusations about China and pivots on the evidence, now discredited, presented by the BBC broadcast.
Recently I had the opportunity to review a videotape of that infamous BBC telecast and can find nothing that comes close to depicting any organ removal. It did include a snippet taken by the Sue Lloyd-Roberts, the freelance reporter pretending to be Wu's wife, of an open heart surgery taking place in a Chengdu hospital. Publicly, Wu has admitted that the scene from the civilian hospital had nothing to with organ removal from prisoners and attributed the use of the footage to an error in editing by BBC.
After his return from China, the Laogai Research Foundation, of which he is the executive director, issued the claim that no attempt to mislead was intended, since BBC never claimed the incision in the middle of the chest cavity to be related to kidney removal or implantation. ("Laogai" is an abbreviated Chinese term for "reform through labor.") According to the statement released by the Foundation: "The operating room video was used as a background shot." The disclaimer did not explain why Wu and his "wife" took the trouble of surreptitiously filming such a non-relevant and innocuous scene. They certainly didn't need to go all the way to China for a "background shot."
Wu's new documentary
In his absence, Ching-lee Wu, his wife, spoke in Wu's stead at the Stanford meeting and used the occasion to unveil a "new documentary" on public executions in China. This film was co-produced by Wu's Laogai Foundation and Freedom House and reflected Wu typical approach of mixing historical facts with unsupported assertions skillfully woven with "background shots." Although Mrs. Wu claimed that the documentary contained new information taken from recent six months, the naration cited a quotation from Mao in 1951 as a cornerstone for what is happening in China today. There was a brief street scene of a building which the audience was told as where executed prisoners' organs were taken. The name of this place was deliberately obscured in the video by the familiar electronic technique used to obscure the face of a person whose identity is being protected --effective but obvious to the viewer.
Wu frequently made the claim, including in the Playboy interview, that it was his protest of the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 that got him in trouble with the Chinese authorities. It took a reporter from San Francisco State University to point out to Wu that he was 19 and in college at the time. Wu himself claimed to have graduated from college three years later. The implication was that the authorities generously waited until Wu graduated before dealing with his infractions. When Mike Mattis questioned him about the accuracy of attributing his political problems to the purported protest, Wu's response was to deny making such protests and shifted the blame to "a mistake in translation" of his statements. This interview was published in November, 1995 issue of Prism, a monthly publication of SFSU.
Inconsistencies and shifting statements abound from Wu's public utterances and activities. The issue isn't that they exist and is pointless to analyze every one of the inaccuracies. The real puzzle is why and how the media have so willingly swallowed Wu's utterances. I believe there is more to this behavior than simply that today's media are overcome by the tabloid mentality and are too lazy to conduct the necessary due diligence. I believe Wu has sponsors and supporters with vested interests in containing China through public opinion, irrespective of truth and facts. One of Wu's more obvious sponsors is the AFL-CIO.
Wu's AFL-CIO connection
Shortly after Wu's arrest in China became known, an ABC Nightline program revealed that his clandestine trip into China via Kazakstan was financed by the AFL-CIO, and the attorney who accompanied Wu was on the AFL-CIO payroll. After the two were detained, she was promptly released and that was how the world first heard about Wu's arrest. In retrospect, she was an essential part of Wu's cover and protection.
An article covering Wu's participation in the picket line at Boeing, in the November 30, 1995 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, quoted Wu as saying, "The strike by Boeing members is really a strike against the Chinese government. It is a strike which the American labor movement must win." Matt Bates, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, on whose behalf Wu was appearing, said, "Clearly, a major part of the fight here is over the loss of jobs to overseas producers." With a 15-year suspended sentence awaiting him, Wu is unlikely to return to China, not even under cover. Consequently, Wu is now more useful to the AFL-CIO by becoming a public anti-China spokesperson on behalf of American labor.
When I tried to find out more about the Laogai Research Foundation, I found out that the Foundation is in the AFL-CIO's Washington D.C. headquarter building. Directory assistance for area code 202 (Washington area) cannot provide a listing for the Foundation. I then tried to reach the Foundation via the AFL-CIO. The headquarter switchboard transferred my call to their Food and Allied Services Trade who then switched the call over to a line with a recorded message representing the Foundation. My recorded message requesting for information was eventually forwarded to Harry Wu in Milpitas, California. At the Stanford meeting Mrs. Wu, after confirming that I had indeed received a package of information from Wu's Laogai foundation, asked me how then I can continue to attack Wu? After careful examination, I told her, I found the material from Wu to raise more questions and doubts than answers.
The AFL-CIO's motivation is naive but transparent. The AFL-CIO seems to believe that by stopping imports from China, they can preserve American jobs. For example, organized labor accused Boeing of exporting jobs to China. Actually, as Boeing's spokesman rebutted, by subcontracting certain sections of the 737 to the Chinese, Boeing is assured of continued future sales. Keeping all the manufacturing at home won't do any good, if China's orders for planes all go to European Airbus. Conversely continued sales to one of the largest markets in the world would allow Boeing and the Machinist Union to keep more jobs. It is not a very complicated logic or economics, but has so far eluded the American labor leadership.
According to data presented to the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee in May 1995 by Robert Kapp, president of the Washington-based US-China Business Council, America exported $9.3 billion worth of goods to China in 1994, equivalent to the support of approximately 187,000 jobs. According to Department of Commerce data presented at the same testimony, China will be buying $90 billion worth of power generation equipment, $65 billion worth of commercial jets, $40 billion of telecommunication equipment, $18.2 billion of oil field and gas machinery and $4.3 billion of computers in the coming years. Getting a fraction of that business will create many more jobs than the low cost goods imported from China that AFL-CIO objects to. These are goods America can no longer produce competitively even if imports from China is curtailed.
AFL-CIO'S agenda on China and its dependence on Wu is no secret; the media simply have not seen fit to report the matter. In a testimony before the House of Representatives in July, 1995, Peggy Taylor, Director of Department of Legislation of AFL-CIO, made specific mention of "this lucrative trade" in organ transplants from prisoners as reason to deny Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status to China. There is no need to speculate as to where her "data" came from.
What's at stake for the American public
At the airport interviews immediately upon his release and return to the United States, Wu freely admitted to the San Francisco Bay area reporters that lying, stealing, impersonating a police officer and adopting other underhanded means were perfectly acceptable while undercover in China. He has never responded on whether it is also acceptable to lie to the American public. However, he was at Columbia University recently to receive another of many awards. He was delighted to discover a fellow native of Shanghai in Li Qiang, a law student. He spoke to Li in Shanghai dialect and according to Li admitted that human rights conditions in China now has never been better compared to recent 50 years but "the Americans don't know anything."
While the Clinton Administration is working to open foreign markets and promote trade as the surest means of creating jobs, the AFL-CIO is working to undermine such efforts by sneaking Wu across the Chinese border. The public has the right to know the truth. Cut through all the hypocrisy about defending human rights, and one sees Wu performing dubious activities to support AFL-CIO in their efforts to stopping the flow of low cost goods from China. It's lucrative work for Wu.
AFL-CIO needs to review its policy towards China. The issue before the leadership is whether such a broad brush smearing of one of the America's major trading partners would not simply erode its credibility and neutralize the potency of the organization on those occasions when they actually need to intervene in specific trade issues.
Responsible journalism requires a willingness to look at all sides of the issues. Being a gullible pushover for easy to digest sensationalism is hardly discharging its duty to the public. Too much is at stake for someone not to take up the challenge and set the record straight. I have assembled a list of questions to ask Wu based on information derived solely from the western media and not sources from China. I am not a professional journalist, only someone interested in separating truth from fiction, and I would be delighted to share the list of questions with any journalist interested in making the investigation. China is no utopia, has many social and political problems, and the road to rule of law will be long and steep. But China is not what Harry Wu says it is. The American public and political leadership need to know the real China in order to be able to make sound and well-grounded decisions that will affect the populations of both great nations for generations to come.
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