The Shanghai stock exchange, which has been creating global stock market convulsions while trimming 39 percent off its value since June, will be closed for the next two days. The Chinese holiday started on Thursday in Beijing with a big parade and show of military might to commemorate the 70th anniversary of V-Day and the defeat of Japan in World War II.
The massive military pageantry and display of weaponry was widely seen as a move by President Xi Jinping to reassert his authoritarian rule in the wake of a sputtering domestic economy, $5 trillion in value shaved off the stock market in a matter of months, and the need to devalue the country’s currency on August 11 in a bid to boost exports.
Tragically, what has received far less attention than melting China stocks is the mass arrests of dissidents, human rights activists, attorneys and religious leaders. More recently, the government has begun to “detain” journalists and finance executives in an apparent attempt to scapegoat them for the stock market’s selloff.
The mass arrests began in July, the same time the China stock market started to crater in earnest. Last evening, the Financial Times had this to say about the disappearance of Li Yifei, a prominent hedge fund chief at Man Group China.
“The whereabouts of Ms Li remained unclear on Wednesday. Her husband, Wang Chaoyong, told the Financial Times that her meetings with financial market authorities in Beijing had concluded, and ‘she will take a break for a while.’ ”
Bloomberg Business had previously reported that Li Yifei was being held by the police as part of a larger roundup of persons they wanted to interview regarding the stock market rout.
The reaction to these authoritarian sweeps has worsened the stock market situation in China. Volume on the Shanghai market, according to the Financial Times, has skidded from $200 billion on the heaviest days in June to just $66 billion this past Tuesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, a Wall Street Journal reporter was interviewed by phone from Beijing on the business channel, CNBC. He said “waves” of arrests were taking place. That interview followed an article in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, which appeared with no byline (perhaps for the safety of the Beijing-based reporter) that shed more light on the arrests:
“Chinese police on the weekend began rounding up the usual suspects, which in this case are journalists, brokers and analysts who have been reporting stock-market news. Naturally, the culprits soon confessed their non-crimes on national television. A reporter for the financial publication Caijing was shown on China Central Television on Monday admitting that he had written an article with ‘great negative impact on the market.’ His offense was reporting that authorities might scale back official share-buying, which is what they soon did. On Sunday China’s Ministry of Public Security announced the arrest of nearly 200 people for spreading rumors about stocks and other incidents.”
Also on Tuesday, David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, publicly demanded that China release attorney Zhang Kai and religious leaders who had been swept up by the government the very day before Saperstein had been scheduled to meet with them. In an interview with the Associated Press, Saperstein called the state actions “outrageous,” particularly since he had been invited to China to observe religious freedom in the country.
Christianity is growing rapidly in some regions of China and strong religious leaders or movements are seen as a threat to communist party rule. Religious leaders had been protesting the state’s removal of crosses from the tops of churches.
On July 22, the New York Times reported that over 200 human rights lawyers and their associates had been detained. Using the same humiliating tactic as used recently against the financial journalist, The Times reports that some of the “lawyers have been paraded on television making humiliating confessions or portrayed as rabble-rousing thugs.” One of the lawyers who was later released, Zhang Lei, told The Times: “This feels like the biggest attack we’ve ever experienced. It looks like they’re acting by the law, but hardly any of the lawyers who disappeared have been allowed to see their own lawyers. Over 200 brought in for questioning and warnings — I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, is also demanding the release of female prisoners in China, including Wang Yu, who was arrested with her husband in July.
According to a detailed interview that Wang Yu gave the Guardian prior to her detention and disappearance on July 9, people are being arrested, grabbed off the street, sent to mental hospitals or detention centers. She said: ‘You could disappear at any time.’
As a documentary made by the Guardian shows, one of Wang Yu’s cases involved the alleged rape of six underage girls by the headmaster of their school. Wang Yu took the case and organized a protest, handing out literature on child protection laws to pedestrians and people passing by in automobiles.
Parents of the young girls who had originally consented to their legal representation soon withdrew the consent, saying they were being monitored by the government and had been told not to speak to journalists or lawyers. Wang Yu said that cases like this are happening every minute and everywhere in China.
Yesterday, the Mail & Guardian reported that Wang Yu’s whereabouts remain a mystery.
On August 18, Reuters reported that Chinese government officials “had arrested about 15,000 people for crimes that ‘jeopardized Internet security,’ as the government moves to tighten controls on the Internet.”
Against this horrific backdrop, China’s authoritarian President Xi Jinping is slated to visit the United States late this month for a meeting with President Obama and state dinner at the White House. According to the Washington Post’s David Nakamura, a bipartisan group of 10 senators sent President Obama a letter in August calling on him to raise the issue of human rights abuses when Xi visits. The Post published the following excerpt from the letter:
“We expect that China’s recent actions in the East and South China Seas, economic and trade issues, climate change, as well as the recent cyber-attacks, will figure prominently in your discussions. While these issues deserve a full and robust exchange of views, so too do human rights. Under President Xi, there has been an extraordinary assault on rule of law and civil society in China.”
Given the delicacy with which President Obama is likely to broach this subject with Xi, a mass demonstration outside of the White House by human rights activists and lawyers in this country during the White House visit might send a more powerful message. Last year, U.S. consumers and businesses purchased $466.8 billion in goods from China. Should these human rights abuses continue, China should be made aware that consumers in the U.S. know how to check labels for country of origin.