Half a World From Home, Chinese Dissidents Press for Reform
PARIS (AP) _ Half a world away from home, where gunfire and bloodshed shocked the world a year ago, a small group of Chinese exiles works to reform the political system that forced them to flee.
The world headquarters for the Federation for a Democratic China is a small office in a quiet, picturesque Paris neighborhood.
It tries to maintain pressure on the Communist government in Beijing by urging other governments to take political measures, publishing materials on human rights and keeping track of friends and ex-colleagues in Chinese jails.
The idea is to nudge the Communist Party toward peaceful political reform, says Wan Runnan, the federation’s secretary-general.
″The Communist Party cannot carry out necessary reform from within,″ Wan says. ″We must put pressure on the party from the outside to adopt democracy, including from foreign governments.″
The federation does not seek to overthrow the party, Wan says. ″But what people want is economic and social stability, without corruption in the party, and the best way to avoid this is a multiparty system,″ he says.
A year ago Wan Runnan was a rare breed - a successful, elite businessman who headed Stone Group Co., China’s largest privately funded company. But Wan lent his support, as well as staffers and equipment, to the student-led movement for democratic reforms in Beijing last spring.
The Chinese army’s violent June 4 suppression of the unarmed protesters left hundreds, possibly thousands, dead.
Six days later, while Wan was visiting a computer exhibition in Hong Kong, Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for him and six other intellectuals, accusing them of inciting the ″counterrevolutionary turmoil.″ Wan never returned.
Today he leads a humbler life in France, directing the federation’s protests of human rights violations, organizing discussions and conferences on the massacre and helping a now abandoned project to broadcast pro-democracy messages into China.
The federation’s chairman is Yan Jiaqi, a former aide to ousted Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang.
It is staffed by a dozen Chinese and has 2,000 dues-paying members in its branches around the world. Fees are nominal, only about $10 a year.
Yan’s often stiff demeanor has helped shift the spotlight to his deputy chairman, Wu’er Kaixi, the flamboyant, articulate former student leader who relishes media attention and has a penchant for fainting at public gatherings.
Yan and Wu’er frequently travel outside France, leaving Wan in charge in Paris.
But Wan does some traveling himself, recently visiting Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland.
″The events in China of last spring had two strong effects on East Europe,″ he says. ″People saw the widespread participation of ordinary citizens, and governments witnessed the suppression, which could only make them more sensitive to their own problems.″
Details of the federation’s budget were not readily available during a recent interview. But Wang Hao, secretary of finance, says there is a ″plan de finance.″ It costs about $38,000 a month to run the office itself, including rent and staff salaries, he says.
The federation in its infancy was beset by its share of controversy. There have been allegations of financial mismanagement, overzealous spending by Wu’er and discord among its leaders.
Exiled journalist Liu Binyan said in New York last week that he had been asked to take over the federation from Yan in September, but that he refused, noting the prickly relations among the leaders.
The federation, while it boasts most of the prominent dissident names, is not the sole voice of dissent, competing with the China Alliance for Democracy in New York, and the Washington, D.C.-based Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. The three were told to consolidate their offices if they wanted continued support from the U.S. government, according to Chinese sources in the United States.
The entire movement-in-exile was given a boost in April when Chai Ling, the impassioned student activist who headed the protest movement in its final days last June, surfaced with her husband in Paris in April after 10 months on the run.
Federation members insist gradual reform will come to China. ″If China doesn’t adopt democracy, then the country has no hope,″ says Zhang Lun, an aide to federation chairman Yan.
A 28-year-old former instructor of political science at Beijing University of Geography, Zhang advised the students at Tiananmen Square.
He escaped from China late last year using the ″underground railroad″ that spirited several activists from the country.
Now he receives a monthly $180 refugee allowance from the French government and wants to study sociology. He says, however, he can’t abandon the hopes and friends he left behind.
″I know many, many people who were arrested,″ he says, wincing. ″I just hope they can see daylight again.″