Westminster Statement, September 11, 2019
“A personal note to the British Foreign Office”
The London China Tribunal is wrapping up soon, but the UK foreign policy apparatus will remain. So tonight, I want to speak directly and candidly to the British Foreign Office. As part of this experiment in plain speaking, I want to step away from presenting the London China tribunal — or myself for that matter — as the voice from Mount Olympus.
Aside from professor Arthur Waldron, the London China Tribunal is not composed of China experts. The Tribunal is, in fact, a jury — a very, very educated jury, manned by remarkably accomplished individuals of good reputation. Over a full year, these individuals read the research on harvesting — fully, completely, comprehensively. They also called witnesses and cross-examined them. Then they came out with the conclusions that you are familiar with.
Is it fair to say that the Tribunal members staked their reputations on the research that they read? I think it is. And some of that research is mine. However, I am human, and I am fallible, just as they are. And if you are still skeptical, well, I’m okay with that. Skepticism is a sort of human right, the default stance of living in a free society. And all of us should tread carefully before we accept allegations of mass murder.
So I want to take this opportunity today to go back in time, back to the basics, back to how I created my own investigation into mass murder. And in doing so, I want to candidly address the issues of credibility and bias — issues the British Foreign Office has implicitly called into question throughout this entire process of discovery. In other words, I am asking you, and the people in this room, to be the jury.
Let’s start with the obvious: I am not Falun Gong, or a Muslim, and I am clearly not Chinese. So the motivations for my investigation into Chinese organ harvesting of prisoners of conscience was a sort of accident. I had been writing about the Party’s surveillance of Falun Gong practitioners and other dissidents since 2002, around the time I left Beijing to finish my first book, Losing the New China. By 2005, I was thinking about my next book. Falun Gong was clearly the biggest issue in China but there was a major gap in the existing literature. Research by Falun Gong practitioners was — quite understandably — emotionally charged, while self-proclaimed outsiders overcompensated with excessive formality, bias against spirituality, or avoiding witness accounts in favor of handing out surveys at spiritual gatherings.
That partially explains why I maintained a degree of skepticism about the first public organ harvesting allegations from both the Epoch Times and even the Kilgour-Matas report, Bloody Harvest in 2006. Yet I was firmly convinced that a comprehensive account of the conflict between the Chinese State and Falun Gong was long overdue, and I began a lengthy interview process to fill that gap.
One of my very first interviews was in Toronto with three women who were fresh out of labor camp. Even in that early stage, I recognized that their stories were relatively routine — demonstrations at Tiananmen followed by capture, incarceration, and attempts to force practitioners to reject Falun Gong using torture, brainwashing, threats to the family, and humiliation.
One of the women — call her Wang – was the least articulate but had a very appealing salt-of-the-earth quality. At one point Wang mentioned a “funny” physical exam. I asked her to explain. Wang did not consider the matter important and started to go on with her real story. I persisted — had she been hunger striking? No. Taking Medication? No. Was anyone else examined? Yes, other Falun Gong. What were the tests? A urine sample, a large blood test, an EKG, some tapping around the stomach and groin, x-rays, and then the doctor spent a lot of time shining a light into Wang’s eyes. Was there a peripheral vision test? No. Focus or reading test? No. No vision test, nothing involving actual sight? No. Test of ears, nose or throat? Genitals, reflexes? No. In fact, there was nothing that could constitute a proper physical examination. The tests were aimed at the health of her liver, kidneys, heart, and corneas — the major retail organs.
At no point did Wang seem to grasp the implications of what she was relating. Instead Wang was irritated at me, the stupid white guy who kept asking about some insignificant medical examination but didn’t understand the significance of her spiritual battle. While I didn’t believe at the time that Wang had been seriously considered as a candidate for organ harvesting — probably too old, I thought, although I would ultimately learn that I was wrong about that — I still remember feeling a chill as my comfortable cloak of skepticism fell away.
I mention Wang’s interview in detail for three reasons:
First, because there is nothing quite like the moment when it dawns on you that this thing might actually be true. The converse of that is that not one of the breakthrough interviews that followed — from Falun Gong refugees to Uyghur medical staff to Taiwanese surgeons — surprised me all that much.
Second, because it indicates that my system was too conservative. After The Slaughter was published in 2014, my subsequent research for Bloody Harvest/The Slaughter: an Update published in 2016 indicated China had made far greater strides in transplantation than we had understood. By exploiting techniques such as ECMO, Wang’s organs were just a year or two from being viable for successful transplant.
Third, Wang’s interview became a rare and valuable benchmark for me: an interview free from bias.
Bias, the psychological effects of severe trauma, or even unconscious attempts to spin testimony to fit into an organ harvesting storyline was unavoidably a danger to the credibility of my investigation.
Foreign Office: Can you hear me now?
Yet hear this too: It seemed equally absurd — and even bigoted — for reporters, NGOs and government investigators to simply regard all Falun Gong witness testimony (or Uyghur or Tibetan testimony for that matter) as having little value — essentially devaluing the entire currency to zero simply because there were counterfeit bills in circulation.
So, when it came to the 50-plus Falun Gong refugees from the “Laogai System” (labor camps, psychiatric centers, long-term detention centers and black jails) that I interviewed in three continents — my strategy was to avoid revealing any tripwires or special areas of interest such as organ harvesting to the witnesses and simply explain that I was writing a “comprehensive history of the conflict between the Chinese State and Falun Gong.”
Then I had to live up to that representation by employing a kitchen-sink approach: Questions about their early spiritual background, how they got involved in Falun Gong, their first arrest, and the various tortures they suffered — these were all explored at length.
These are subjects that most practitioners who had undergone severe trauma have a strong desire to talk about, but it also would acclimatize them to my demand for a level of detail that they were not accustomed to — The guards knocked you down? What color was the floor? — so that any questions about medical examinations or fellow practitioner disappearances would blend in seamlessly with my ongoing interest in their general physical and mental status.
That was a highly demanding requirement for everyone, especially my translator. It meant time above all. Time to allow the witness to vent, to explore their spirituality, to act out, or even to tell me what they thought I ought to know, rather than what they knew first-hand. And after all that, I would still be there, waiting for their story.
This explains why most of my interviews went on for about four hours on average, and a handful of my interviews were carried out over two or three days. In Wang Yuzhi’s case, I encouraged her to tell me her dreams, on the theory that her subconscious might pick up clues as to her actual status as a “patient” in a military hospital — clues that her conscious mind had rejected — and a vivid example of this appears in Wang Yuzhi’s “meat falling out of lab-coats” dream.
Over the years I made my interview tapes and notes available to the Amnesty International Secretariat and other organizations that had, at some point, expressed skepticism over prisoners of conscience being harvested. None of them accepted that challenge. If they had, they would have found eight unambiguous cases of Falun Gong refugees that had been medically tested for organ harvesting — cases that would stand up to rigorous scrutiny.
If witnesses coming out of labor camp can be difficult, interviews with medical personnel and former security and police personnel from the Mainland are just as challenging. The tendency towards bias or selective testimony usually stems from self-preservation (especially concerns about political or career viability), having family in China, or both.
One exception? Former surgeon Enver Tohti. With family in China (and fearing UK prosecution), he confessed at a Westminster hearing to having directly participated in live organ harvesting. By contrast, about half of the medical and law enforcement personnel that I quote in The Slaughter, including two of the key witnesses from Chapter 1, “The Xinjiang Procedure” asked to keep their names and locations secret. Given that they have family within Chinese boundaries, their request must be respected. Yet there is no substitute for sustained public testimony. Enver Tohti’s forthright admission of personal guilt — repeated in his testimony to governments around the world — still serves as the gold standard for the international medical world.
Some witnesses, such as Hao Fengjun, the 6-10 Officer, or “Minister X” from Shanghai, claimed that they had no direct knowledge of organ harvesting and I am inclined to believe them. But the problem of incomplete testimony is personified by the former director of Longshan Labor Camp, Han Guangsheng. Having defected to Canada on a business trip, Han’s asylum request to the Canadian Government was never granted. Instead, Han found himself in a sort of legal no-mans-land, and he was eager to present himself to me as “China’s Schindler” — an ethical man who had saved lives while caught in the middle of a ferocious persecution.
It took three eight-hour days of interviews and a couple of dinners to tarnish that morally glamorous facade and establish the truth: Han understood the ethical dilemma that he was in, yet he was a weak leader. He repeatedly gave in to his security staffs’ habit of using electric batons on young female Falun Gong practitioners, including a 15-year old girl, and an elderly woman who ultimately died of starvation due to a damaged throat (the woman’s force-feeding was administered while Han was director of Longshan Labor Camp).
Han’s confessions emerged tentatively, but with increasing clarity over three days. Yet even after establishing a reasonable level of mutual trust, he was unwilling to speak to me about organ harvesting or any medical examinations that had been carried out on the female prisoners under his command — any oblique connection to organ harvesting threatened Han’s ongoing legal prospects.
Sometimes an on-the-record witness can create havoc simply because their personal circumstances change. Although investigative phone calls to Mainland Chinese hospitals in 2006 seemed to establish that many hospitals were selling Falun Gong organs, skeptics could dismiss such evidence by claiming that hospitals were simply eager to make a sale. So one of the key affirmations that organ harvesting of Falun Gong was taking place in at least one Mainland Chinese hospital back in 2004 or early 2005 came from Dr. Ko Wen-je, a surgeon at National Taiwan University.
However, Doctor Ko, became “Candidate Ko” in the Autumn of 2014. Running for mayor of Taipei, under media pressure, Ko publicly denied my published account of the interview. After his election, “Mayor Ko” made it explicitly clear through a backchannel that I was expected to change my book – and that he expected to see the changes ahead of time, to match the new image that he had just created. However, I had kept the full correspondence where Ko had signed off on the specific text in the book. In October 2018, faced with the unchanged text of The Slaughter being published in Mandarin, Mayor Ko attempted to pit his credibility against mine in the Taipei court system. Within two days, the Taiwanese prosecutor publicly declared that Mayor Ko “had no case.”
The good news is that the Mayor Ko kerfuffle may change Taiwanese medical practices. After admitting that 9000 Taiwanese citizens have gone to the Mainland for organs, the Taiwanese Ministry of Health has pledged to stop it. Perhaps they even will someday. Yet strip the politics away for a moment. The deeper meaning of the Dr. Ko episode – and the widespread acceptance, even in a vibrant democracy such as Taiwan, that truth can be distorted for political expediency? This is a global tragedy.
China is rich, powerful, and to those who are easily impressed by power, prestigious. The international medical community is not immune to these temptations. For every Dr. Ko who has stood up for the truth, perhaps just in one unguarded moment, there are thousands of surgeons who have never given a moment’s thought about standing up at all.
There are a handful of Western surgeons who have stood up for Chinese medical reform — but have been blatantly exploited as allies in China’s cover-up of crimes against humanity. As long as we accept that silence and hypocrisy is the price of “medical diplomacy” with China — a diplomacy that has brought us some pleasant words from Beijing but no actual medical reform, the international medical community will be complicit in a serious crime.
A word about numerical estimates — as a former business consultant in Beijing, I carry a deep-rooted distrust of Chinese official numbers. I used to advise my corporate clients that even if they are looking at tapioca production figures, mainland numbers are often coded political messages that barely reflect reality. I don’t reject official numbers outright. For example, official numbers are often false, but the trajectory of official numbers over time — the acceleration of liver transplant volume for example — may be correct. Yet I instinctively look for other ways to get at the information, if only to serve as a point of comparison. The 2016 Update, which relies on the transplant volume accounts of individual hospitals — Sun Yat-sen in Guangzhou, Tianjin Central Hospital — rather than Beijing’s so-called official numbers — this is one method.
it is a fact that individual Chinese hospitals often brag about their accomplishments and exaggerate their numbers, but it is also a fact that we actually adjusted for this phenomenon in the 2016 Update, and still came up with a range of 60,000 to 100,000 Chinese transplants a year, rather than the 10,000 figure that Beijing was claiming at the time. And it is also a fact that a year ago, Huang Jiefu, Beijing’s spokesman on organ harvesting to the world, embraced a number rather close to ours — about 40,000 transplants by 2020.
Another method to get a numerical perspective on the problem is the witness interview method that I used in The Slaughter, which premised about 65,000 Falun Gong killed for their organs between 2000 to 2008. Today, I would double or triple those numbers.
However, there is little purpose to making any of these estimates if there is no clear motivation by the Chinese State to carry out mass murder. And that is why I did not throw away interviews simply because the subject could shed no light on organ harvesting. More than half of the chapters in The Slaughter have little to do with the “how” of organ harvesting, but are about the “why,” the motivations and the context: What was the appeal of Falun Gong? Why did the CCP target it? Coming from a non-violent spiritual movement, how did practitioners think about fighting back? What were the key moments of escalation, how did the struggle change over time?
As I said in The Slaughter, organ harvesting of political and religious dissidents, organ tourism, these are “toxic allegations,” and I believe in addressing the motivational question in full — money alone isn’t quite enough, although the financial imperative is obvious in the Wang Lijun case and throughout the 2016 Update. What emerges is that the CCPs motivation for organ harvesting clearly changes over time: from simply carrying out an order to eliminate Falun Gong, to a public and increasingly global struggle against a recalcitrant movement that will not convert, to a mass cover-up of decades of organ harvesting crimes. We see the same pattern developing with the Uyghurs.
Apologies to many journalists out there, but this simply can’t be covered by a single soundbite. Understanding those shifts calls out for a complex narrative. It demands that we question the easy narrative that the Falun Gong persecution was an isolated event. The discovery that “Eastern Lightning” House Christians were also being tested for their organs emerged organically from the interviews with Fang Siyi and Jing Tian, yet organ harvesting of death-row prisoners began in the 1980s, and that is why I began to suspect that the Uyghurs were the first prisoners of conscience to be harvested and to look closely at the specific CCP reaction to the Ghulja Incident in 1997 and later, the specific challenges of the Tibetan resistance. An accurate history is essential for the West, but mostly to the depleted families of China. And that history is just beginning: What the Party has done in two decades will ripple through generations for centuries to come.
In closing, I wish to comment on the current relevance of the Tribunal’s final judgement. While much of my work is clearly historical analysis, my recent work is focused on the following facts: Two years ago, literally every Uyghur man, woman, and child — about 15 million people — were blood and DNA tested, and that blood testing is compatible with tissue matching. As the press, and even the UN, has widely reported, there are now one to two million Uyghurs in re-education camps. Finally, the first of nine planned crematoriums was completed in Urumqi in early 2018 and is apparently manned by 50 security guards. Three fast-track lanes are open for human organs in regional airports. And the Uyghur witnesses to the Tribunal presented accounts of physical examinations that matched Falun Gong accounts. Exactly. And that is why the Tribunal believes that organ harvesting is ongoing.
My involvement in this investigation was an accident. Yet having seen the hell-fire reflected in the witnesses’ eyes, I cannot un-see it. So let the foreign office take note: You can ignore my published work if you wish, but I am here to stay. Enver is here to stay. The large numbers of MPs who care about this issue are here to stay. The vast majority of the people in Committee Room 12, the people who turned out tonight when parliament is otherwise empty? They are here to stay. And what the Tribunal is telling the Foreign Office — the executive summary, the policy takeaway if you like — is that we are growing.