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Wei Jingsheng picinterview with Wei Jingsheng

Wei Jingsheng endured nearly 20 years in Chinese prisons for his outspoken criticism of Deng Xiaoping and for his advocacy of democracy.

Q What has this event meant to you?
WJ (via translator) It's been a very memorable experience. There are so many human rights supporters here, not only from America but from Europe and so I get to interact with a lot of different people—some that I know and some that I'm meeting for the first time..

Q What will you take with you when you leave?
WJ I'll know who supports my causes in China and who doesn't.

Q You just met the President of the Unites States. Was that just a photo-op or do you feel that it will have some meaning?
WJ I spoke to him for a half-hour before, in 1997. The feeling then was the same as it was this evening.

Q Obviously right human rights and Chinese trade is a big issue.
What's been paid attention to tonight is that your average American citizen is slowly coming to understand the situation in China. It shows what knowledge of the situation in China the average American citizen has. Everybody knows that my opinion on the PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations status) is that I'm against the passing of the PNTR. Clinton is obviously on the other side of that issue.

Q Clinton mentioned that American people should care about what happens in China, what happens in East Timor, what happens in Libya. What should he say to the American people about why they should care?
WJ Human rights are shared by all people of the world and if some people still suffer without them, then nobody has them at all. Particularly in China, which is such an influential country and such a world power today. If there's a problem and human rights don't develop in China, there could be serious issues that develop in China that will effect the whole world. You know I would hope that Clinton would be supportive of these issues, but obviously the stance he's taken with the PNTR and other Chinese human rights issues ... but then again he's very happy that everyone was here together tonight for this event and that, you know, maybe PNTR and such matters might be influenced by the success of tonight's event.*

Q Tonight your portrait was shown and your words were read. Do you feel that's important?
WJ I don't want everybody to study every sentence that I utter, but I hope that people support what we're supporting in China. Not only would this benefit people in China, but it would also benefit people who are living comfortable lives elsewhere. The sentence I said—the sentence that was uttered tonight—was about when I was put in the death cell. Many people don't really won't understand the optimism of what I was saying at that time, but I believe that if you don't have an optimistic world view when you're in such a dire circumstance, there's no way you can overcome it.

Many people have said, "It's not meI'm not courageous. I had to do it." Where does strength come from to become a human rights defender?
WJ When I was living in China, people don't have anything to eat. There's people living in such poverty that it's impossible not to develop human rights in China. When I was in China many years ago, I saw many people starving to death. I saw people standing at train stations, not wearing any clothes, begging for money. Seeing people who had such terrible lives made a real impression on me—it was simple. At that time, I decided my life's present course, supporting human rights.

Q Do you feel that we have made progress in the human rights movement? Where is the human rights movement today?
I'm afraid that in the last few years it's even gone backwards. Although people all over the world are coming to understand the human rights situation more and more in Europe, in the States, and all across the world, the relevant governments don't pay attention to human rights problems as much as they should. For example, with the PNTR vote today, 80% of the American public opposed PNTR, supposedly, but 70% of Congress supports it. And that's an example of how governments are not paying attention to human rights. This is a problem of American democracy.

Q What personal feeling do you leave, having met all your colleagues? What inside do you, what personal feeling do you feel as you go?
WJ It was wonderful to see everybody organize and support each other's causes underneath the banner of human rights; although Western governments and Western human rights organizations are all our friends, we should also rely on ourselves to continue support for human rights.

*Note: On September 19th, 2000 the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation guaranteeing Permanent Normal Trade Relations between China and the United States. The Senate vote followed the passage of the bill in the US House of Representatives in May. President Clinton is expected to sign the bill. The legislation ends a 20 year policy of reviewing China's trade status each year, and grants China low-tariff access to US Markets. The annual review gave the US the ability to penalize China for human rights abuses.


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