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Terrorists for Democracy
China Brief (Jamestown) ^ | 3-11-03 and 3-26-03 | Gordon Chang

Posted on 04/01/2003 8:43:21 AM PST by tallhappy

By Gordon G. Chang

Politics itself is immoral and dirty. We have to use immoral, dirty means to overthrow this regime. Then we can set up a moral and clean regime. --Peng Ming

Peng Ming hopes to bring democracy to China, but he does not ask Beijing for the right to vote or even to speak as he pleases. The Hubei native is a revolutionary, and he will, if he gets his way, bring down the Communist Party by force. "We want to overthrow this regime--to grab complete power from them," he says. "We do not want them to give us certain rights to exist under them."

China's oppressed minorities, especially the tough Muslim Uighurs and even the normally peaceful Tibetans, have long used violence and terror to achieve independence from the Chinese. Now those who want to change Beijing's political system--not merely escape from it--are adopting rough tactics. "We are a revolutionary organization, and revolutionary organizations use extreme means," Peng Ming says. The middle-aged revolutionary has been plotting to bring down the world's largest authoritarian state for years. He formed the China Development Union Party in June 1998. Peng claims that his group, which had its offices in the Asian Games Village in Beijing, had 10,000 members at one time. When the authorities caught on to the nature of the party, Peng was jailed. After his release, he fled the People's Republic, staying just one step ahead of Chinese agents who chased him throughout Southeast Asia. He finally found asylum in America, where today he makes preparations for the next Chinese revolution.

The world wants to see the People's Republic change and hopes that change will occur gradually. The Chinese people have suffered enough during the last century as two revolutions racked their nation. We all expect that current trends, especially growing affluence, will lead to an evolution of the political system. The hardline authoritarian state, we hope, will give way to a democratic one.

But we have to see China the way it actually is, not the way we want it to be. The government in Beijing shows few signs of permitting structural reform of the country's political system. Members of the Communist Party may openly talk of political change, but senior leaders insist that they remain in control. How can reforms be meaningful if they cannot result in the ouster of the Communist Party? Younger cadres may wish to see a more open society, but the old men who lead that organization are only interested in window dressing.

So democracy advocates are losing patience. "The people have the right to overthrow the government in violent revolution," wrote Wang Bingzhang, a well-known activist. It seems that Wang will not be overthrowing any government anytime soon, especially the one in Beijing. In February, that same government put the poor fellow in jail for the rest of his life.

Wang was lucky that he only got a life sentence. He was, after all, facing the death penalty. The fifty-five-year-old dissident was charged with crimes relating to state secrets. He was also accused of espionage, "leading a terrorist organization," and engaging in "violent terrorist activities." He is the first democracy activist to be charged under Beijing's new antiterrorism laws, reports The New York Times.

Beijing said that Wang, called by some the "Chinese Mandela," advocated violence and terrorism in articles posted on the Internet. The official Xinhua News Agency says that Wang claimed in those articles that he "had plotted, organized and committed violent terrorist activities." He has also been accused of plotting to blow up Beijing's embassy in Bangkok and assassinate China's senior leaders back home. As The Asian Wall Street Journal tells us, "Dr. Wang is no Mahatma Gandhi."

Wang lived in exile in New York beginning in the early 1980s. In 1998 he entered the mainland under a false name and with a forged U.S. passport in order to meet other dissidents and form an opposition group, the China Democracy and Justice Party. He was caught after a nationwide manhunt and then deported. Agence France Presse says his return to China "then was considered one of the boldest challenges to Communist Party rule in years."

Some editorial writers, on the other hand, have portrayed Wang as a bit of a joke, "a Chinese Don Quixote, an impractical romantic with poor judgment." The leaders in the mainland capital, not known for their sense of humor, do not agree with this assessment, however. They apparently thought that the time was ripe for ending Wang's excellent adventure in subversion. Although officials claimed that they found him tied up in a temple in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, he was, in all likelihood, kidnapped by Chinese agents in Vietnam and dragged across the border into Guangxi.

Wang was held without charge for almost half a year before he was formally arrested early last December. At least some of the charges against Wang appear fabricated: the trial, which lasted just a few hours, was held amid extraordinarily tight security and, most tellingly, behind closed doors.

Wang, whether or not a terrorist, posed a threat to the continued rule of the Communist Party due to his unrelenting efforts to organize an opposition and his belief in the right to use force. So Beijing was taking no chances with him this time. "That suggests," writes The Asian Wall Street Journal, "there are still many within the government who see the Communist Party's rule as extremely precarious."

Peng Ming certainly agrees it is. "When I was in jail, the prison warden and guards in the jail were very respectful to me," he says. "Even when I criticized them, they would not criticize me back. Why? They said, 'This regime will not last long. Who knows you won't be our next leader. If we mistreat you now, you will come after us when you come to power.'" Peng believes that the attitude of the guards in Beijing's Chongtian prison shows that "the important organizations within the regime have already lost hope." Is this merely wishful thinking on his part?

"Now it's easier than at any time to overthrow the regime. There is a strange phenomenon. On the surface, the Communist regime looks like the strongest in history--nothing has seemed so strong in five thousand years," he says. "Yet, at the same time, it is at its weakest." Peng Ming is certainly exaggerating, but he at least points us in the direction of the truth when he says: "Now, no Communist official is loyal to or will sacrifice for the Party." Rampant corruption, for one thing, suggests that he is not too wrong.

Of course, that was not always the case. "During Mao's time, if anyone attempted a coup, there were people who would have fought with Mao, who would sacrifice to quash these forces," he notes. "But today, if there is someone who attempts a coup to overthrow Jiang Zemin, no military man will sacrifice for him. There is no one to quash even a small group."

So the almighty modern Chinese state cannot stop a small group? That's fortunate for Peng, because a small group is all he has. He claims to have training bases in Laos and Burma and an organization in China. In addition, he has a network of friends in North America and, it appears, Western Europe as well. Nonetheless, he seems only to scrape by, managing his organization from coffee shops around the world and living off of donations from a circle of sympathizers. Does his small group stand a chance?

Part II, Published 3-25-03

"It only takes a small group, and we are that small group," says Peng Ming, the revolutionary. "We don't need the general population, and we don't need the overseas dissidents. All we need is a few hundred determined people." And, in a sense, Peng does not need a large force if he can attract disaffected elements within society. "Now it's the easiest time to plot a coup from within the Party," he notes. The same goes for the People's Liberation Army, in which he claims to have recruited a small band of followers. Overthrowing the government "only takes a couple of people to plan, a dozen people to organize, and a couple of hundred people to act," Peng Ming believes.

Whether Peng is correct or not in his assessment of China's stability, modern society has become increasingly vulnerable. If a nation is a matrix, as network theorists assume, then how much of the grid do you have to wreck before you fundamentally alter the structure of the entire society? Not much, is the surprising answer: All you have to do is bring down critical junctures or, to use the nomenclature of today, hubs.

The regime in Beijing is fragile, just as most other governments in the world are today. And the greater its interdependency, the more fragile a government is. Peng Ming notes that, in the later stages of the revolution, two million Communist troops marched on Beijing, which was defended by 100,000 Kuomintang soldiers. Although the Communists surrounded the Chinese capital for six months, life in Beijing remained calm. The city in those days was able to supply water and other essentials from within its boundaries. "But today, water for Beijing comes from a central reservoir fifty miles away," Peng says. "If someone poisons the reservoir, no one in Beijing will dare drink water. In the past, one only had to dig two meters underground to get water. Now, even digging 200 meters will not get water." So Peng Ming, or any other revolutionary for that matter, needs to recruit just a few people to bring the Chinese capital to its knees.

And then there is the matter of size, which in Peng Ming's view does definitely matter. "Even if there is water underground, in those days Beijing only had one million people. Beijing now has ten million people. Once water is cut off, everything breaks up."

The same principle applies to gas and electricity. "Electricity is linked by grids," notes Peng Ming. "One can cut off the electricity supply by destroying a grid. Computer technology will destroy the supply. No need for heavy artillery and an army to invade. In those days, it took more than two million people to bring down that city. Now it only takes 200 people."

Poisoning water and cutting off electricity may be feasible for a small gang, but these actions can only lead to the fall of a state in the later stages of conflict. What does he plan to do before then? Peng Ming says that he will "trigger a banking crisis to lead to social instability." Referring to the banking problems, he says, "This is the regime's Achilles heel, and this is where we will attack."

His more general argument, which is not entirely implausible, is that the Chinese people are waiting for an opposition to form. "When we act, people will follow," he tells us.

Or maybe the people will follow someone else. The truth is that there are many organizations in China that seek to overthrow the state. As reported last November in Open Magazine, a Hong Kong Chinese language publication, the Ministry of State Security believes that there are more than sixty revolutionary organizations existing in China now. The authorities are constantly uncovering and smashing underground organizations, like the East Thunderbolt Party, which aims to overthrow the Communist Party and establish a democratic system. This group, many of whose members are demobilized soldiers, is organized much like the Communist Party in its earliest days. For every East Thunderbolt Party that is uncovered and destroyed, there is at least another to take its place.

If Peng Ming survives today, it is perhaps only because the mighty state is beset by plots and conspiracies. There is, after all, safety in numbers. "I think the police are as strong and as arbitrary as ever," says the Dui Hua Foundation's John Kamm. "But in a sense they are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the dissidence--not dissidents--in Chinese society, and they have to prioritize these days."

Peng Ming, if he is clever or maybe just lucky, could succeed in his goal. "I predict in five years, I will go back to China to take over," says the revolutionary from the safety of a small restaurant in the heart of New York's Chinatown. A devout Taiwanese woman told him that God revealed to her that the Chinese regime will collapse in half a decade. This woman, living in San Diego, was never interested in politics. Yet God gave her a vision: Peng Ming was standing on one side of the river and tried many times to cross it. The Almighty told her that within five years, Peng will cross the river. "I know people may not believe this," he says. "But I am a Christian. I believe."

In the meantime, Peng Ming believes that he will carry on the battle with less than Christian charity in his heart. "The Chinese Communist is ruthless," he says. "We have to be more ruthless. To use more ruthless means to overthrow it. Peaceful means will never get one to power."

And what happens when he finally grabs that power? As an initial matter, China's existing rulers should expect no mercy. "We will suppress them the same way they suppress us," Peng Ming says.

And the rest of the Chinese people should not expect democracy right away. "There are too many problems," he explains. "We have to eradicate the remnants of Communist power, and we can only do that if we have absolute power." He does promise rule of law, and then he plans to solve social problems such as unemployment. "Only then will people elect me as their leader," he says. Otherwise, they might elect a communist, he fears.

"Religious freedom can be immediately allowed," Peng Ming promises. "Nonpolitical organizations can be allowed. Freedom of the media can be gradually allowed. Political parties will be finally allowed. We have to establish rule of law first." Of course, no government has been able to establish rule of law without democratic institutions.

Peng Ming won't find much support for the government in exile that he wants to set up unless he first makes stronger promises on allowing self representation. If he gets into power, will he be the person who finally beings democracy to the Chinese people? Or will he be just another tyrant? "I will first be a bandit, a ruthless person," he tells us. "Eventually, I will be a gentleman."

The Chinese people know plenty of bandits and don't need another set of absolute rulers, no matter how wise or well intentioned they may be. What they need, more than anything else, is the opportunity to govern themselves. Yet, because Beijing's current leaders resist reform, conspirators and plotters will continue to try to topple the Chinese government by force. And if by chance it is Peng Ming who succeeds, we would like to think that he will immediately break the cycle of autocratic rule. But getting rid of the Communist Party will be the easy part. Making true progress on the road to representative government is much harder.

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, published by Random House.

TOPICS: Extended News; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: china; chinesecommunists; opposition; overthrow
Links: Part I
Part II
1 posted on 04/01/2003 8:43:21 AM PST by tallhappy
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To: tallhappy
"We have to eradicate the remnants of Communist power, and we can only do that if we have absolute power."

Same old song and dance, it sounds like. More of the old "All Power to the Revolutionary Councils!" Bah! Hang this guy - he's no better than the ones he wants to usurp.

2 posted on 04/01/2003 12:57:27 PM PST by FierceDraka (Semper Fi, Do or Die, Gung Ho Gung Ho!)
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To: FierceDraka
Nice comments comrade.
3 posted on 04/01/2003 1:19:10 PM PST by tallhappy
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To: tallhappy
Nice comments comrade.

Oh, don't get me wrong - I hate communism with a vengeance. My point was that if the guy quoted in the article says he needs absolute power to carry out his "noble" goals, they'd just be trading one gang of tyrants for another.

Oh, and please don't call me comrade - the word has been semantically perverted to mean "fellow Red" instead of the original definition of "brothers in arms". Reds get to taste my boot.

4 posted on 04/02/2003 6:33:19 AM PST by FierceDraka (Semper Fi, Do or Die, Gung Ho Gung Ho!)
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To: FierceDraka
Apply your observations to the American revolution. Washington, Jefferson, Frankln et al needed absolute control to deal with the British. According to you, thus, they'd be just another tyrant.

Your thesis is one of simple moral relativism.

5 posted on 04/02/2003 6:59:55 AM PST by tallhappy
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To: tallhappy
Your thesis is one of simple moral relativism.

Moral relativism? Hardly.

The Founders needed absolute control??? LOL If that had been the case, we wouldn't have the country we have today! Besides, if they had behaved in such a fashion, they would have found themselves stretching the ropes the colonists would have strung around their necks.

Thankfully, that was not the case. People who say they need absolute control DO NOT write documents like the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, nor do they create a Constitution that consists of checks and balances to safeguard the Liberties of the People.

Simile and metaphor can only go so far before they enter the realm of absurdity, my friend.

6 posted on 04/02/2003 11:02:44 AM PST by FierceDraka (Semper Fi, Do or Die, Gung Ho Gung Ho!)
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To: FierceDraka
You miss the point.

The revolutionists did take absolute control from the British. They did not work with them or within the system.

7 posted on 04/02/2003 11:28:36 AM PST by tallhappy
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