Broadcast: August 5, 2008

Reporter: Tony Jones

Well-known host Tony Jones of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed Erping Zhang before the Beijing Olympics. Below is a transcript of the interview:

The director of the Association for Asian Research in New York City, Erping Zhang, speaks to Lateline about the situation in China.

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well, now to our guest, Erping Zhang, the director of the Association for Asian Research in New York City. His work focuses on China's political economy, foreign policy, social change and human rights issues. In the late 1990s, Mr. Zhang was the Falun Gong Movement's chief spokesman. He's addressed a range of international bodies about China, including the European Union and US Congress. Mr. Zhang holds degrees from the Beijing International Studies University and from the John F. Kennedy School of government at Harvard University where he's also an Edward Mason Fellow. And he's in Melbourne at the moment and joins us there.

Thanks for being there Erping Zhang.


TONY JONES: Very good thank you. Can you tell me what you believe is at stake for China's ruling Communist Party with these Olympic Games?

ERPING ZHANG: Well, it appears clear that the government of China has politicized the games to the maximum by, first, to unite this granting public through nationalism and through this Olympic Games. On the other hand, the use of the Games to crack down on the dissenting voices like the underground church groups and the round up of 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners prior to the games and also members of Tibetan groups and also dissenting intellectuals. So it's the most politicized Games we have seen.

TONY JONES: You say they've rounded up 8,000 Falun Gong practitioners. I mean, does anyone know if that is true, can you prove it, do you know where those people are?

ERPING ZHANG: Yes. Well, there are reports from different sources from rights groups that they were rounded up, you know, in the run up to the Games, and sent to a place that nobody knows, even the family members cannot identify the location. The similar situation occurred to the outspoken intellectuals and other, you know, pro-democracy activists.

TONY JONES: Is there any way of foreign journalists calculating exactly how many people have been detained prior to these Games?

ERPING ZHANG: It's very hard to know. That's the problem with China, because there's no transparency, and there's no, you know, free access to information, and that's why we are so concerned about the Internet blockage, and also the lack of access to the general public by the foreign reporters.

TONY JONES: I'll come to the Internet question in a moment because I know you made a specific study on that. First of all, we saw in the first of those reports, we saw those demonstrators last night close to Tiananmen Square, people angry enough to risk open dissent, saying that they'd been removed from their houses, their houses had been pulled down to make way for the new housing or for streets or whatever to be widened. Do you know how many people in Beijing have been affected in this way?

ERPING ZHANG: Well according to ABC American reports, of the 17 million people living in Beijing, 1.5 million, at least, have been forcefully evicted from their homes to make room for the Olympic constructions. Of course, for these people, and the other people who are disallowed to participate in the Games, it's not a very pleasant experience. For example, I saw one media report listing the 11 categories and 43 types of individuals, these are Chinese, not allowed to participate in the Games. These are the Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners, pro democracy activists, all the hostile foreign journalists. So, this is just a very much against the Olympic charter number six, which says, you know, any form of discrimination based on gender, race, religion, politics is incompatible with it belonging to the Olympic Games, but sadly the feeble IOC is not enforcing this Olympic charter at this moment.

TONY JONES: You've written yourself, however, that the Beijing Games will be an occasion of nationalism, pride, and of hope for many Chinese. That's not a bad thing, is it?

ERPING ZHANG: It's not a bad thing. The Games itself has high ideals and high hopes, and the Chinese people deserve to celebrate this opportunity. But on the other hand we don't want the government to utilize this sports event to politicize and set up legitimacy for themselves while suppressing the dissenting voice and also to cover up, you know, the evil doings that they've been conducting.

TONY JONES: How do you know that this exposure, the spotlight of the world to at least some degree being on China, won't lead inevitably as some people hope to a new openness, rather than entrench the regime and the one party state?

ERPING ZHANG: Well, the way it shows that this Games is highly staged and highly orchestrated by the regime. We see the big foreign sponsors, corporate sponsors, you know, spending over $US50 billion to share the limelight of the games, not pressuring the regime to open up the media, open up the society to, you know, to truly comply with the international community centers And also we are, we see that the high security actually essentially, you know, isolate Olympic Village, become a small society in China, which has nothing to do with the true reality of society where you have, you know, 150 million floating population from the rural countryside with no jobs and you have people in labor camps and mental institutions because of political, religious beliefs. And those kind of realities are not presented.

TONY JONES: There was a wave over here when it was revealed that the Chinese authorities did not intend to allow open Internet access to reporters who are going to report on the Games. But of course the problem still exists, no matter what changes they make for those reporters, the problem still exists for the whole country, does it not, because of the system put in place, which I think is known as the Golden Shield, which creates instead of an Internet, a kind of giant intranet. Can you tell us how that works?

ERPING ZHANG: Well starting in 2000, the year 2000, Beijing has determined that the Internet is perceived to be a threat for undermining the authoritarian regime so they spend $US800 million to build up this firewall system called Golden Shield, nicknamed the Great Firewall of China. They hired over 50,000 cyber cops to monitor the online information flow. Essentially they build up three gateways between the Chinese Internet and the world cyberspace in Shanghai, Chengdu and Beijing. So every information that is communicated between the Chinese Internet and outside world has to go through these three gateways, so all that Beijing needs to do is filter and control the three gateways. That effectively turning the Chinese Internet into an intranet.

TONY JONES: So, you say there are 50,000 basically cyber censors who work at these gateways. Is that correct?


TONY JONES: What, monitoring sites the Chinese government doesn't like, or specific information?

ERPING ZHANG: Yes, you know, with the three gateways, and a 40-plus monitoring centers throughout China, the, what happens is they filter and block information such as the websites of Tibetans, Falun Gong, the pro democracy, Taiwan, even human rights and including the name Jiang Zemin actually was blocked, who was the former head of the state. So any information that is deemed as dangerous or threatening to the regime will be blocked. It is quite effective because of the use of key word filtering; they use the domain name, redirection, connection, reset, quite a number of ways to effectively block the overseas Internet information.

Fortunately, according to yesterday Washington Post, there's a group called Global Internet Freedom Consortium. This group has website is called They offer several free anti-censorship software that people can use. And actually some journalists based in Beijing are already using this software to access overseas websites and also sending secure emails. So it's highly recommended to people to use, to access, you know, the to get all this free software to operate in China.

TONY JONES: It will be interesting to see whether this interview gets censored and it appears on the Internet in China, but we'll have a look at that obviously overnight to see what happens tomorrow. In the meantime, where did the technology come from to actually do this, for the Chinese government to do this?

ERPING ZHANG: Well, thanks to the foreign conglomerates like Yahoo, Google, Cisco and Microsoft, over 300 foreign companies have signed a so-called self disciplinary pledge with the Chinese authorities meaning that they will self-censor themselves based on the content, you know, deemed as dangerous by the Beijing authorities. So the Chinese users inside China are unable to access foreign prohibited websites and there's one reporter who tried to send an email overseas and got sentenced to 10 years jail term thanks to Yahoo's email system. They provide his personal email to the Beijing authorities and this is a case that we know. But we believe there are many other people who have been sent to jail without the public awareness.

TONY JONES: The argument made by these companies is that the system, the regime, will change over time, it will become freer, and inevitably things like this Internet site you are talking about, which will unscramble the censorship, will emerge in China and they'll get free access to information. Is that how you think it's going to work?

ERPING ZHANG: It's not likely because the facts speak the opposite. The people in China are still unable to access, you know, the overseas websites including the Chinese language website of BBC. Until recently only limited within the Olympic Village for the media center The majority of people cannot access, you know, to overseas sites and the most alarming thing is recently there was a media report in the United States, reporting that the Cisco company internal document indicates they agree to collaborate with Beijing in terms of censoring any content related to the Falun Gong websites. So that's kind of alarming because the US companies are not allowed to collaborate with foreign government in terms of such a censorship on the US soil.

TONY JONES: Tell me, we are nearly out of time unfortunately, but tell me what you think will happen inside China once the spotlight, the international spotlight goes off again. I mean, it's going to be on for this period of the Games, there'll be this period of great hope and so on. But what will happen afterwards, do you believe?

ERPING ZHANG: Well people will come back to the reality. You have the inflation rate is up 11 per cent, 7.1 per cent, compared with the past. Then you have, you know, I mentioned 150 million so-called floating populations of peasants migrating from rural area to the city looking for jobs. You have 20 million each year people looking for jobs, and plus 20 per cent of the college graduates looking for jobs and the disparity issue, you know, between the inland and the coastal residents, and then you have the disparity between the rural and the urban dwellers. So there's also social unrest factor.

In the year 2005 the government admitted there was 87,000, you know, large scale protests. That's tenfold increase compared with 1993. That's an indicator of, you know, the grass root dissatisfaction with the regime. Also, if you look at the financial sector, 70 per cent, last year probably 50 per cent of the Chinese growth come from the capital investment, FDI, foreign direct investment, so essentially an exported economy, not self sustainable over, you know, if they want to continue the 10 per cent GDP growth assured over the natural resource and energy supply domestically.

TONY JONES: Well Erping Zhang, we're out of time I'm afraid. Hopefully we'll be able to speak to you again at some point, maybe after the Games are over. But we thank you very much for taking the time to come and talk to us, a very different perspective of what's going on in China right now. Thank you.

ERPING ZHANG: Thank you.