Diplomatic cables show United States officials keeping an eye on the nearly 13-year-old persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice in China. The cables carefully note the often-panicked demands by Chinese officials for the United States to intervene in lawsuits that Falun Gong practitioners have brought against high-ranking figures implicated in the persecution.
A review of diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks from 1999 until 2010 reveals some little-known details about the persecution against the practice, Falun Gong practitioners’ responses, and the Chinese Communist Party’s reaction.
It also shows that Falun Gong is a recurring theme in the minds of Chinese officials. They worry ceaselessly about the lawsuits brought by Falun Gong practitioners overseas, and often nestle their complaints about it in dialogues on issues such as trade and economic policies, North Korea, or other issues of international significance.
U.S. diplomats are repeatedly subject to special pleading by their Chinese counterparts, who ask them to “do something” to intervene on behalf of Chinese officials, frequently to prevent default judgments against them in court after they fail to respond to court notices.
The cables show U.S. diplomats providing cordial responses and standing their ground against Chinese officials’ angry tirades, though in a number of cases later facts show that the Communist Party indeed managed to wring concessions from Western governments.
A characteristic example occurred in 2003, in a discussion with Ambassador Yang Jiechi, where Yang raised concerns about Falun Gong legal actions against Jiang Zemin in the United States.
Jiang Zemin was the head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1999 when he launched an all-out persecution against Falun Gong, a mind-body practice with five meditative exercises and spiritual teachings based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.
In a letter Jiang sent to the Central Committee of the CCP on the night of April 25, 1999, Jiang expressed concern at such a large group not being under the direct control of the CCP and at the challenge its beliefs provided to the materialism and atheism promulgated by the CCP.
After hearing the Chinese side out, “We responded with our own concerns about harsh judicial treatment of Falun Gong adherents in China,” the cable says.
In that meeting Yang said that the CCP was “very much concerned” about how the case may “damage U.S.-China relations.”
In fact, the State Department did step in for Chinese officials who were being sued, by requesting “the courts dismiss lawsuits raised against Chinese leaders visiting the United States on official travel,” according to one cable.
Chinese officials quoted in the cable pose the U.S.’s failure to intervene on their behalf against Falun Gong practitioners in lawsuits as a “roadblock” to U.S.-China relations.
That is what Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei told Charge d’Affaires David S. Sedney in February 2007. He warmed up by explaining that the United States and China “have built positive momentum” through reaching consensus on North Korea, Sudan, and other issues. He continues that 2007 is a “pivotal” year for U.S.-China relations, and “we should not allow ‘roadblocks’ such as the Falun Gong to hinder our progress.”
In that cable He Yafei is reported as also demonstrating that, as in official Chinese discourse, he sees little difference between the political and legal processes. Failure to attempt to prevent the courts from hearing the case—in this case, one against CCTV, the official state mouthpiece—would be tantamount to supporting Falun Gong, he argues.
The U.S. Charge attempted to explain the idea that in the United States, the judiciary is independent. He Yafei simply “repeated his previous points and emphasized the risks to bilateral relations.”
The cables show that the United States quietly extended support in at least one Falun Gong refugee case, and conducted interviews with Falun Gong practitioners in an attempt to understand how decisions are made in the Falun Gong community.
The incoming leader Xi Jinping demonstrated how seriously CCP officials take Falun Gong practitioners’ lawsuits when responding to questions from U.S. Ambassador Clark T. Randt in 2007. Among the first things Xi was noted as saying about his May 2006 trip to the United States was his relief at not being met and served a lawsuit by Falun Gong practitioners.
“Xi said he and other Chinese officials are not worried or annoyed by noise or protests during visits but are worried about the legal consequences and burdens if served papers as part of stateside legal actions,” the cable said.
The cables also show how the CCP is throwing its weight around in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore all acted as proxies for the Chinese regime’s war on Falun Gong, according to the cables. These concerns appear in the cables as early as 2003, presaging more high-profile instances of interference and pressure seen in the last several years in Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia.
The Party also seems to manage to include elements of its campaign against Falun Gong across a range of initiatives. The boost of state support for a Chinese Oprah-like figure, Yu Dan, who espoused a form of obsequious Confucianism on a popular television program, was backed up by the idea that “the more people buy into Confucian” ideas, the less they will be likely to turn to Falun Gong.
In a range of other areas the CCP also singles out Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa), according to the cables. Drives to confiscate satellites fixate on people who tune into Falun Gong-related broadcasts, the cables say.
Wen Jiabao in December 2007 successfully argued against Bo Xilai competing for the vice premier position by pointing out that Falun Gong practitioners had beset Bo with lawsuits. (Bo Xilai was an enthusiastic participant in the persecution when he was Party secretary of Liaoning Province, presiding over the Masanjia labor camp, which is known for its specialized, brutal torture methods of practitioners, and where, in one instance, women Falun Gong practitioners were thrown into male cells so that they would be gang-raped, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.)
Wall Street Journal reporter Ian Johnson was repeatedly denied a journalist visa because of his reporting on Falun Gong in 2000 and 2001, soon after the persecution against the practice began, the cables show.
He finally got a visa after a series of meetings between newspaper management and Chinese and U.S. officials in 2007. In these meetings, Falun Gong was repeatedly identified as “the enemy.”
The cables also show that the Party has done its utmost to maintain momentum for the persecution of now 13 years, despite waning interest even from Party security organs in suppressing peaceful religious believers.
And it has extended the role of the extralegal agency originally created specifically to persecute Falun Gong, the 610 Office, to target other groups. One cable cites Chinese state documents that a U.S. official found online, documenting the Party’s strategy to enforce its security directives at a neighborhood level in Beijing.
“The language of the document is militaristic and divides the task of anniversary preparations into ‘prewar’ and ‘wartime’ duties,” the cable says, referring to the 60th anniversary of the CCP. Security actions include “monitoring key groups” and “cracking down on Falun Gong.”