There are all kinds of excuses we can come with as to why this is okay, and why we should just let it go as an “internal matter.” But I don’t see it that way. Reading this article made me sick, and hearing in my head all the pre-rehearsed excuses of the apologists just makes me sicker.
China has detained a prominent member of Hong Kong’s international press corps who traveled to the mainland to obtain a collection of secret interviews with a Communist leader purged for opposing the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Security agents apprehended Ching Cheong, chief China correspondent for Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, on April 22 in the southern city of Guangzhou, where he was scheduled to meet a source who had promised to give him a copy of the politically sensitive manuscript, according to the journalist’s wife, Mary Lau.
Lau said Chinese authorities warned her and the Straits Times not to disclose her husband’s detention, and she stayed silent for weeks in the hope he would be released. She said she decided to go public last week after a mainland official told her privately that the government was preparing to charge him with “stealing core state secrets.”
If charged, Ching would be the second journalist for a foreign newspaper arrested by the government of President Hu Jintao in the past year. Zhao Yan, a researcher in the Beijing bureau of the New York Times, was arrested by the State Security Ministry in September on similar charges and has been held incommunicado without trial since.
The arrests could have a chilling effect on foreign news operations in China. The Chinese government often jails Chinese journalists and writers — the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says there are more journalists in prison in China than anywhere else in the world — but in the past it has generally refrained from arresting individuals employed by foreign news agencies.
What’s your definition of a police state? Does China qualify? To me, it is where people are afraid to speak because the police have the power to arrest and hold them at will, as Stalin’s secret police and the Gestapo did. Is this an examnple of the behavior of an enlightened government or of a police state — or of something in-between? The question is sincere. I generally choose not to refer to China as a police state, as there are aspects of the country that seem to go against the classic definitions. But each time I read stories like this, I am forced to reconsider.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.