A les­son in China’s lack of honor

The Washington Post - - CAPITAL BUSINESS - fred­hi­[email protected]­post.com

Not long be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump ex­pounded on how “honor­able” he finds China’s Com­mu­nist regime, my friend Ti-Anna Wang found her­self and her 11-month-old baby in cus­tody in the Hangzhou air­port.

How she came to that predica­ment, after fly­ing half­way around the world, of­fers a use­ful les­son on the regime’s honor or lack thereof — and on the vin­dic­tive, bul­ly­ing lengths it will go to keep one young woman from vis­it­ing her ail­ing fa­ther.

Ti-Anna, 29, barely knows her fa­ther, be­cause in 2002 he was ab­ducted by Chi­nese se­cu­rity agents while on a visit to Viet­nam, bun­dled across the bor­der, thrown into jail and, even­tu­ally, sen­tenced to life in prison after a one-day closed trial. His osten­si­ble crimes were es­pi­onage and ter­ror­ism. His true of­fense was ad­vo­cat­ing democ­racy in China from his ex­ile in North Amer­ica.

In the fall of 2008, Ti-Anna took a year off be­fore start­ing col­lege to ad­vo­cate her fa­ther’s free­dom. As part of that ef­fort, in Jan­uary 2009, she wrote an op-ed on these pages.

“When I was born in 1989, my par­ents named me Ti-Anna in com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Tianan­men Square mas­sacre,” she wrote. “This year, be­fore I re­sume my school­ing, I hope to raise aware­ness about my fa­ther’s case and tell his story to re­mind peo­ple that de­spite China’s eco­nomic suc­cess, it is still a coun­try that has yet to em­brace uni­ver­sally ac­cepted val­ues of hu­man rights.

“Any gov­ern­ment that jails its own peo­ple for po­lit­i­cal dis­sent still has a long way to go to be­come a re­spected mem­ber of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Much has changed since Ti-Anna wrote those words. She went to col­lege and law school. She mar­ried and had a child.

What kind of strength does it take to keep a grand­fa­ther locked up as his health de­clines?

But her fa­ther, Wang Bingzhang, re­mains in soli­tary con­fine­ment, per­haps now China’s long­est-serv­ing po­lit­i­cal cap­tive. And since she wrote that op-ed a decade ago, Ti-Anna has never been per­mit­ted to see him, though other rel­a­tives are al­lowed vis­its from time to time.

So when last sum­mer she was granted a mul­ti­ple-en­try visa, she was, she told me, “pretty ec­static.” She had ap­pealed in her let­ter of re­quest for “good­will and com­pas­sion.”

“I as­sumed if they read the let­ter and gave me a visa,” she said, “they were go­ing to let me in.” A fair as­sump­tion, you might think. But when she landed in China on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, she was pulled aside at pass­port con­trol, ush­ered into a hold­ing room and told, after an hour, that she would not be per­mit­ted into the coun­try. Her hus­band and baby could en­ter. Her brother Times Wang, trav­el­ing sep­a­rately, was al­lowed to en­ter.

But Ti-Anna was told: “You need to leave right now.” No rea­sons were of­fered; no ap­peal was per­mit­ted.

“It felt very pur­pose­ful,” she said. “It’s way more ag­o­niz­ing to get the visa, make all these plans, have all this an­tic­i­pa­tion and then not be able to en­ter the coun­try.

“Im­me­di­ately, of course, I be­gan to think: ‘If I don’t get to see him this time, I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again.’ This felt like the clos­est I would ever get. And then I would think of my dad. I can only imag­ine that he was look­ing for­ward to it as much as I was.”

Six hours later, Ti-Anna was marched, with her hus­band and daugh­ter, onto a jet, pho­tographed in her seat and sent off to South Ko­rea. Her fa­ther, who was later al­lowed a 40-minute visit with Times, called the ac­tion “ex­tremely cruel.”

Why would the regime grant a visa and then deny en­try? Maybe some­one had a change of mind. Maybe one min­istry over­ruled an­other. Or maybe Trump’s “honor­able” in­ter­locu­tors sim­ply wanted to tor­ment a young woman a bit more and send a mes­sage to any­one else who might dare to crit­i­cize them.

Not long ago, China’s strong­man Xi Jin­ping boasted that China “has achieved a tremen­dous trans­for­ma­tion: It has stood up, grown rich and is be­com­ing strong.”

But what kind of strength does it take to keep a grand­fa­ther locked up as his health de­clines? Where is the strength in de­priv­ing him of the chance to meet a grand­daugh­ter?

And what kind of na­tion uses its strength to toy with the emo­tions of his daugh­ter?

“It’s al­most laugh­able that they would see me as a threat,” she said.

Laugh­able, maybe. But not funny. And not honor­able.

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