Veteran Journalist Paul Mooney Explains Why He Thinks China Is A 'Thugocracy'

Xi jinpingJason Lee / REUTERSIs Xi Jinping a reformer or a ‘thug’?

We recently spoke with veteran journalist Paul Mooney on being denied a journalist visa from the Chinese government after covering the country for the last 28 years.

We also got his opinion on a number of other recent developments in China including this month’s Third Plenum and Xi Jinping’s “thugocracy.”

He says the country is going in a troubling direction.

On new Chinese President Xi Jinping:

When Xi Jinping came to power, there was a lot of talk of him being a reformer. I didn’t believe it, because these were the same rumours we heard when Hu Jintao came to office. Jintao was worse than his predecessor and Xi Jinping is worse than Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. I think it has gotten even worse. [The Communist Party’s] backs are against the wall…

Under Xi Jinping, there has been a huge backlash against constitutionalism. We see frequent commentaries and comments from officials condemning constitutionalism. Recently, there has been a long running debate with them claiming that human rights is a western concept. I don’t think human rights are a western concept. It’s a universal concept.

Let’s say that China has their own culture and history and they shouldn’t be forced to adopt western concepts of human rights. To me that’s just an excuse to fool people … the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of movement. They’re not following their own constitution. It’s just a big lie.

Are you optimistic about the media environment in China for Chinese journalists?

There are about 200-300 rights lawyers, activists, and dissidents that have been arrested in the last two months. Many of them were arrested because they had a movement going to publicize the personal wealth of senior officials. I know at least 20 of the people who have disappeared. They won’t even let their lawyers in to see them in many cases. They don’t tell the families where they are. No information at all.

We recently had this case with the Chinese journalist [Chen Yongzhou, who wrote about corruption at Chinese machinery firm ZoomLion]. The Chinese government paraded him on TV and he had to make a confession. He hadn’t even had a court hearing yet. According to Chinese law, the media is not supposed to have access to anyone until the court makes a decision.

I think there’s a pretty good chance that he was intimidated into making the confession. I don’t think he was guilty. The newspaper said that they had rigorously examined his reporting and they couldn’t find any mistakes, other than a few small typos. Then the newspaper backtracked … I think they did it just so he could get released or treated better …This is a step backward and that’s the message for the Chinese media.

Foreign journalists are not subject to the kind of restrictions or punishment that Chinese are, so I have a lot of respect for Chinese journalists. They are really bold and brave and push as far as they can. I think they are doing a better job now and the government is worried about it.

What are your thoughts on the recent 3rd Plenum and the announced reforms to the One-Child Policy and Labour camps?

It’s a good sign. I was surprised. They said back in January that they were going to put an end to the labour camps. But a lot it is vague. We don’t have any dates, we don’t have any details.

In previous 3rd plenums, when we had policies come out, it was years before we finally saw what they were going to do. We don’t know when or how these things are going to be implemented. They might have better luck [implementing the one child policy over the labour camp reforms].

In terms of the labour camps reform, the police are against it. They want to have the ability to go out and arrest people, without having to go through due process or through the courts. The government might say [labour camps] don’t exist anymore, but will something else take their place?

When I look back on the last year and all the people I know that have been arrested or detained, when I think about the lawyers that haven’t been able to see their clients, lawyers that have been beaten or intimidated, how can I feel confident that we are going to see any improvement in the rule of law? I’m suspicious on the reform to labour camps. It might just change into something else under a different name…

In China, it’s all about implementation. Not what they say, but what do they do. Too many people look at what they say.

Towards the end of the interview, Mooney laid out this pretty scathing assesment of the Chinese government:

China wants to be a world power. It has to start acting like a power and not a thugocracy … China should play by the rules of the law. They act like a screaming baby that wants to play by its own rules.

I saw a Chinese article recently complaining that the world doesn’t respect China. Well, you won’t get respect because you have a huge foreign reserve or the economy is booming. You get respect because you treat your own people with respect.

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