When the United States talks about China, it talks about military power, it talks politics, it talks economy – but it doesn’t talk about human rights, according to a former Chinese political prisoner in a lecture held Monday at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Harry Wu spoke to an audience in the Nebraska Union of about 75 students and faculty members about U.S. and Chinese relations.
The lecture, hosted by the University Programming Council, focused on China’s governmental, economic and military role in the global community.
Wu, who spent 19 years in a Chinese labor camp, is the author of several books about Chinese labor camps, including his autobiography, “Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag, and Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade Against China’s Cruelty.”
In 1992, he founded the Laogai Research foundation, which aims to increase awareness of Chinese Labor camps.
One issue that doesn’t get discussed about China is human rights, Wu said.
Right now, all the focus is on the Diaoyu Islands (also known as the Senkaku Islands), a group of islands North of Taiwan in the South China Sea. Japan, Taiwan and China are all trying to have control over these small islands.
“China in the past, didn’t care about these islands,” Wu said. “Recently, China said, ‘Hey, this is our island.’ Why is China suddenly interested? Oil.”
Currently, 70 to 80 percent of oil is imported into China from other countries, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wu said if China were to seize control over these islands, it could shift the balance of power.
Wu said the reason why China might view the U.S. as a threat and “always takes America as a major target” is because the countries are very different.
“One is about freedom, democracy, privatization and development,” he said. “The other, socialism, communism, no privatization and no development.”
China is also expanding its power to extract resources from other countries, Wu said.
“Today, China is expanding their power everywhere, like Africa,” Wu said. “In Africa, there’s oil sources and mining.”
Wu has gotten some heat over the years for his views on the Chinese government. Twenty years ago, he said, Chinese students opposed his views on China’s Communist Party. They waved signs with the words, “troublemaker,” on them.
Jiuzhou Qin, a senior electrical engineering senior from China, said modern students no longer have the same view on the Chinese government than they did before.
“The perspectives are different now than what we were 20 years ago,” Qin said. “We aren’t students with ‘troublemaker’ signs. I know we still have a lot of problems, like air pollution and corruption. I don’t like my government, but I love my country.”
Peter Bock, a senior management and marketing major, is a member of UPC. Bock proposed having Wu as a speaker earlier this year.
“We wanted something academic and relatable with current events,” Bock said.
The purpose of the lecture was give students an opportunity to learn a new perspective on U.S. and China relations.
“Students will leave with a new perspective on how other countries run, and hopefully they’ll be more aware on global issues,” said Nora Williams, a sophomore advertising major who helped set up the event. “This involves the future of the U.S. and China, and it’s an important topic because a lot of people aren’t aware of our country’s relation to others.”
Although there is no end in sight for the communist party, there’s hope for more and better personal exchanges between China and the rest of the world, Wu said.
“I appreciate one thing about China, and that’s the personal exchanges,” Wu said. “So many Chinese come to America, Britain, whatever. And so many Americans, British, Indian, whatever, come to China. That wasn’t happening a few years ago.”