History Vindicates Treatment of the Red Dragon

| September 14, 2009
International Voices forum

If my Chinese classmates are anything to go by, there is a lot of anger in China about the way the Australian media has reported the detention of Stern Hu.

‘Unfair’, ‘inaccurate’ and ‘irresponsible’ are common words in class discussions about the coverage here of Hu’s arrest. One student described the Australian reporting as “anti-Chinese racism”. What is missing in the debate, unfortunately, is a little bit of history.

In the aftermath of Hu’s arrest on July 5, many Chinese were unhappy about insinuations in the Australian media that the detention of Hu was unfounded and ridiculous.
Indeed, there was speculation in the media that Hu was arrested as revenge for the failed Chinalco–Rio Tinto deal. While this is yet to be proven, the Australian media should make no apologies for being sceptical about the motives behind Hu’s arrest. A brief look back into history suggests they had every reason to be.
China by no means brings a clean slate to the Stern Hu situation.
In March 1979 Wei Jingshen, an electrician at Beijing Zoo, embarrassed China’s new leader Deng Xiaoping by speaking out against Deng’s dictatorship. He was arrested for “selling military secrets” and was swiftly condemned to 15 years in prison. In a recent interview with the Herald, Wei spoke of his experience.
“I was locked up because I offended Deng Xiaoping,” he said. “But of course they fabricated a charge that I stole state secrets – this is the approach the Chinese Government likes to take with people to put them down.”
Wei remained in prison until 1993 when he was briefly released to coincide with China’s bid for the 2000 Olympics. China wanted to prove to the IOC that it was becoming a more open, democratic country, but when China lost the Olympic bid to Sydney, Wei was promptly thrown back in prison. He remained there until 1997 when he was deported to the US after strong pressure from then President Bill Clinton.
International Voices forumThe imprisonment of Wei, however, was by no means the last such incident. In 1999 Song Yongyi, a research librarian at a Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, was detained for five months in China for allegedly providing state secrets to foreigners. Mr. Song had been collecting documents for his research about the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. The documents in question were widely available in China at the time and had not previously been considered classified.
Mr. Song experienced four long months in prison before he was even formally arrested. He was charged with the purchase and illegal provision of intelligence to foreigners. It was only after vigorous campaigning and petitioning by American academics and politicians, including Clinton, that Mr. Song was freed.
China may argue that the Wei and Song cases should not be considered precedents to the Stern Hu situation. Indeed, Stern Hu is not a Chinese citizen, as Wei and Song both were.
Furthermore, China may say that Wei and Song were arrested for political reasons, and that Hu’s arrest is a business matter. What the Wei and Song cases do show, however, is that China has a history of detaining people on fabricated charges for ulterior motives. To use the old adage; where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
As things stand, nobody knows what Stern Hu did or didn’t do, and he may indeed be guilty of the allegations against him. But given what we know about China’s past, the Australian media has every right to press both nations’ governments for the truth about Hu.
China has provided no evidence to dispel the rumours and opinions put forward by the Australian media. While China is correct to expect their legal process to be respected, they also know they have the ability to show no wrongdoing has occurred. It is in China’s interest to reassure Australia and other western countries that their businesses are safe from dubious interference.
Unfortunately for Mr. Hu, the Australian government is not brave enough to give him the support the US gave Wei Jingshen and Song Yongyi. As yet, Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith have refused to intervene directly, insisting Stern Hu’s case is a “consular matter.”
In the meantime, it will be left to the media to act as St. George fighting the dragon.
If Australia’s ‘anti-Chinese racist’ media has been wrong to insinuate Stern Hu’s arrest was outrageous, or at the very least, suspicious, it’s time for China to prove it and release their evidence against Hu. If not, leave the Australian media alone.
Timothy Matchett is a graduate journalism student at the University of Sydney, having previously completed his MA in history in 2008.


  1. jeffhardy

    September 16, 2009 at 11:06 am

    RE:History vindicates………..

    Indeed security will be a major concern about cloud computing and other kind saas where we outsource services from others. More over how can we trust the people who are working in those companies, now we need to trust the people who are working in our company as well as a bunch of other who will not be much bothered about our data — Jeff