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The U.S. Factor in Jiang Zemin’s Decision to Crackdown on Falun Gong

When former Chinese leader, Jiang Zemin, launched the persecution of Falun Gong, one of his primary motivations was to target a perceived threat by the United States.

Two Chinese Communist Party internal documents (see Appendix) show how Jiang Zemin in 1999 motivated and ordered the Communist Party to crackdown on Falun Gong. The two documents—a letter and a speech by Jiang addressing his politburo (the small circle of men who effectively run the country)—indicate that one of Jiang’s reasons in using heavy measures towards Falun Gong was to fend off the “U.S. threat.”

This “U.S. factor” in Jiang’s decision to crackdown on Falun Gong is so far not widely recognized in the West. Instead, most China watchers put forth two theories about the Chinese government’s motivation to repress Falun Gong: 1) The number of Falun Gong practitioners exceeded the number of Communist Party members and Jiang perceived this as a potential threat and 2) Rebellions by religious groups in Chinese history often led to dynasty changes and the Communist Party is always alert to the rise of religious groups.

However, in Jiang’s argument that he put forth to the politburo members, he articulated his strong suspicion of U.S.’s support to Falun Gong and how this amounted to an imminent threat from the U.S.
It was this suspicion that drove Jiang to crackdown on Falun Gong.

Jiang’s Suspicion, A Perceived Threat

On the night of April 25th, 1999, over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners peacefully assembled outside the central government compound to appeal for a peaceful resolution to police violence that had unfolded in a near-by city. Through the tinted windows of his limousine, Jiang circled the compound, observing the appeal. Later that night, he wrote a letter to warn his politburo comrades: “All these problems should be examined seriously. After the event, western media immediately reported with fomenting romance. Does this have any relations with overseas, Western forces? Is there any plotting or dictating from any ‘Master-Hand’ behind the scene?”

Why was Jiang so suspicious of the Western Forces, or the United States? The answer lies in the previous ten years of Jiang’s reign in China.

Jiang became the Communist Party’s General Secretary in 1989, right after the June 4th Tiananmen Square Massacre.  U.S.-Sino relations collapsed after June 4th. Consequently, Jiang’s government had since regarded the U.S. as its number one external threat, expecting the U.S. to support and energize groups inside China to topple the Communist regime.

In 1999, before the ten year anniversary of the June 4th Tiananmen Massacre, Jiang’s suspicion escalated when US-lead NATO started military operations in the Yugoslavia Republic (a former Communist regime) on March 24. By that time, the Chinese Communist Party already became the single largest remaining Communist regime in the world, and naturally became the primary perceived enemy of the free world.

On May 8th, American (NATO) missiles hit the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia. This incident further unsettled Jiang and, in his eyes, confirmed his suspicion that the U.S. was plotting to take down his regime. Later that month in China, a big anti-American wave was stirred up inside China: the U.S. Embassy in Beijing was besieged and pelted with rocks and eggs by students trucked from Beijing universities; the U.S. Consulate building in Chengdu was set on fire by angry youngsters. All the while, the state-run media machine ran in full force, decrying the United States and inciting hatred towards the U.S. among Chinese citizens.

Jiang Zemin’s next move in fending off the “American threat” was to crackdown on Falun Gong.

Ordering Falun Gong “Eradicated”

On the night of April 25th, even though Zhu Rongji, then the Chinese Premier, evaluated the Falun Gong mass appeal as a benign social event and resolved it peacefully and calmly, Jiang could not help to develop his own theory in which the Western Forces were the “Master-Hand” inciting Falun Gong against him.

On June 7th, Jiang personally addressed his politburo and talked about two threats this time: One external and one internal. He saw the external threat in what happened to Yugoslavia Republic and warned his comrades, “We must urgently think and analyze, in depth and at full scale, the trend and new characteristics of the international affairs at the end of this century and the beginning of next century. Regarding the US-headed Western hostile forces’ strategic plot to ‘Westernize’ and to ‘split’ our country, we must clearly recognize it and keep high alert.”

Jiang then claimed Falun Gong was an internal threat and further presented his suspicion on Falun Gong’s international background, “Obviously, one person as Li Hongzhi (the founder of Falun Gong) could not have such capability (to mobilize the 10,000 person appeal). There is deep political, social, and even complicated international background behind the ‘Falun Gong’ problem (event).  It is the most serious event since that political storm in 1989. We must treat it seriously, study it deeply, and take powerful measures (against it).”

A Gestapo-like Agency to Implement the “Eradicate Falun Gong” Policy

He then ordered to establish the Falun Gong Control Office in his speech. “The central committee has already agreed to let comrade Li Lanqing be responsible for establishing a “Team for Falun Gong” which specifically leads the way in dealing with Falun Gong. Comrade Li Lanqing will be the director and comrades Ding Guangen and Luo Gan will be vice directors, and those comrades in charge of the related departments will be the members of the Team. (The CCCCP Team on Falun Gong) will coordinate to study the concrete steps, methods and measures for resolving the Falun Gong problem. The Central Committee, each national organ and governmental department, each province, each autonomous region, and each municipality directly under central government must closely cooperate (with the Team).”

The Falun Gong Control Office was established three days later on June 10, and code named as “610 office” with its sole purpose to crackdown on Falun Gong.  The 610 office soon established its local branches in various levels of the regime, became an extra-government agent that specialized in persecuting Falun Gong in China.  In a resolution passed unanimously (420-0) in July 2003, by the U.S. Congress, the Congress called the “6-10 Office” an agency charged with “overseeing the persecution of Falun Gong members through organized brainwashing, torture, and murder.”

Jiang’s Dangerous View of the United States

It is clear from the two internal documents that Jiang regarded Falun Gong as a group backed up by the U.S. government. Furthermore, the powerful and systematic measures he took to “eradicate” Falun Gong throughout China demonstrates that he felt he was not simply dealing with a popular exercise and meditation practice, but rather, a “U.S. threat” aiming to over-throw his regime.

Today, more than five years have past since Jiang’s fateful decision to target Falun Gong, and in that time, no evidence has surfaced that would suggest any U.S. government involvement in the Falun Gong group or movement. Nevertheless, his campaign to “eradicate” Falun Gong has evolved into a large scale killing and torture machine in China, one of the largest and worst religious persecutions in the world today, what many human rights lawyers are calling genocide.

The U.S. factor has frequently been used to justify the persecution of Chinese citizens by the Communist Party regime. The state propaganda has made many people to believe that there is indeed an international “anti-China force” led by the United States. Over the past more than five years, the U.S. factor has again played a significant role in Jiang’s decision of persecution of Falun Gong. When Americans put their hope on China to settle the problems wrought by Kim Jong Il, will the Chinese Communist regime truly cooperate with a “hypothetical” enemy?

Leon Chao is a  commentator on Sino-U.S relations.