Chinese peddle 'confessions of a dissident' on video

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The Independent Online
Market forces in China know no bounds. On the sixth floor of a building on the north side of Peking's third ring road, China International Communications Centre (CICC) is running a brisk trade in video footage of detained Chinese dissidents.

It was this company which on Thursday faxed foreign television agencies in Peking, offering a 13-minute video, Just See the Lies of Wu Hongda, featuring the interrogation of Harry Wu Hongda, the American-Chinese who has been arrested for espionage. The price: $3,000 (pounds 1900).

Much cheaper was their June release, The Real Situation of Wang Dan's Hunger Strike, which provided footage of Wang Dan, the detained former student leader, for only $300.

When contacted yesterday, a company spokesman said the Wang Dan tape was still available, but there could be no negotiation about price. The Harry Wu Hongda video, which CICC said it made, was more expensive "because it is longer, contains quite new facts, and has a high press value". Only in China, perhaps, could state propaganda so easily turn a profit.

The man explained that CICC was a state-owned publishing house which "mainly dealt with cultural communications, especially overseas cultural exchanges". Thus was the world yesterday introduced to Chinese police methods of questioning those accused of spying. Given the nature of their products, the company must be owned or run by the public security services, but that connection was not spelt out.

Asked if they were working on any other videos, the man said: "Right now we don't have other videos. But we can make new ones if we have clients who ask us to do it." Next time, the Independent will ask for footage of Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous dissident, who has been under detention for 16 months without charge. Or perhaps recent pictures of the ailing Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping.

The foreign audience has not been impressed with CICC's latest video, which provided carefully edited "highlights" of the interrogation. In the clips shown, Harry Wu Hongda apparently admitted that two BBC films he helped make contained inaccuracies in their reports of human rights abuses in China. Mr Wu, 58, was detained on 19 June when he was trying to enter China from Kazakhstan.

In the black-and-white, fuzzy footage, Mr Wu blamed the BBC for errors of fact. However, contrary to the official Chinese press reports of Mr Wu's "confession", he did not backtrack on the main themes of the two features: that prison labour goods are sometimes exported, and that executed prisoners' organs are used for transplants.

"I think everybody understands the conditions under which such tapes are made," a US State Department spokesman, Nicholas Burns, said. "We would look at such tapes with a great deal of scepticism."

Mr Wu's wife, Ching-lee Wu, said: "I don't think it's a confession." She said her husband appeared to have lost 10lb in weight. "He looks terrible."

Most difficult to judge was the message which the Chinese government was trying to send to the US through the release of the video, and what it portends. Mr Wu's predicament will be high on the agenda when the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, meets his Chinese counterpart in Brunei on Tuesday. Sino-US relations have slumped to their most acrimonious level for years following the visit of the Taiwanese President, Lee Teng- hui, to the US last month.

Most analysts agree Mr Wu's future is caught up in the wider Sino-US row. David Shambaugh, reader in Chinese politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, at London University, forecast that Peking planned to use Mr Wu as a "political hostage".

"In Chinese trials, the key element is always to gain the confession of the prisoner ... then the question is what do they do with him?" The options range from a long prison sentence to throwing Mr Wu out of China.