The dark secret is now out in the open. “The Monster. Because they eat their children.” That’s how the wife of a former top police official of China has described the Chinese government in a recent interview with the Associated Press in France.
Grace Meng now lives alone in exile in Lyon in France with her two children, under round-the-clock protection of the French police, after a suspected attempt by Chinese agents to kidnap her and her children by Chinese agents and take them to an uncertain fate. So intense is her dislike of the Chinese system that she has stopped using her Chinese name Gao Ge and uses a European name Grace Meng, using her husband’s name as her surname.
Her husband Meng Hongwei was a member of the government elite. China had sent him to France to take up the prestigious role of president of Interpol, the first Chinese to head the Interpol. He was supposed to occupy the post from 2016 to 2020, but on a visit to his home country from France in September 2018 he failed to return to his family. Later the Chinese government arraigned him in court on charges of corruption, accused of taking bribes amounting to $2 million. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail. His wife, a BBC report says, has said the charges against him were politically motivated. “It’s a fake case. It’s an example of a political disagreement being turned into a criminal affair,” she has told the AP. From 2004 till 2018, he also held the post of vice minister of public security in China.
President of China Xi Jinping has initiated a ruthless anti-corruption campaign, “disciplining” one million officials. Critics say the campaign has been used to great effect to silence some of his political rivals. The view of her wife is that a move towards constitutional democracy would automatically tackle the deep-rooted problem of corruption in China at the roots.
Her experience tells the covert ways of the Chinese system of justice. The last communication she had with her husband was two text messages she sent on September 25, 2018 from Beijing. The first said: “Wait for my call.” The second arrived four minutes later in the form of an emoji of a kitchen knife, signalling danger. She is now completely in the dark of the whereabouts of her husband. Multiple letters sent by her lawyer to Chinese authorities have gone unanswered. That speaks volumes of the system of justice in China.
The story of Meng Hongwei is unique because through her wife the story has come out from the mouth of an insider, but there have been several other cases of high-profile disappearances in China in recent years with little known about them. Political dissidents, entertainers and businessmen who had fallen foul of the authorities had been at the receiving end of such disappearances. Peng Shuai disappeared after she had accused a former top Communist Party of China official of sexual assault against her.
Among other notable people who had vanished from sight for unexplained reasons in the recent past are business leader Jack Ma and actress Fan Bingbing. One of the top businessmen of China, co-founder of Alibaba Group, and a proponent of a market – driven economy, Jack Ma disappeared from the public eye for three months between October 2020 and January 2021 that coincided with a regulatory crackdown on business. Fan Bingbing, too, disappeared from public view for nearly three months in 2018, possibly arrested on charge of tax evasion.
Businessperson Duan Weihong disappeared in 2017 for four long years. Her husband Desmond Shum did not hear from her till he was preparing to write a book on corruption among Chinese elites. Earlier, Duan had written an article on the family wealth of a top politician of China. Earlier this year, she called her husband and requested him not to publish the book. She was reported to have said: “No good comes to those who oppose the state.” It is believed the call was closely monitored by security agencies.More recently, real estate baron Ren Zhigiang disappeared from public view after his criticism of the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in China. He was later sentenced to 18 years in prison on corruption charges after a one-day trial. He was an outspoken critic of the Communist Party of China.
All these go to show that China is not a nation ruled by law, but by the dictates of the CPC. Enforcement of law is a grey area. A muzzled Press and the social media help the authorities keep disappearances a secret. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of CPC monitors charges, people drop out of sight for months. Later, heavy sentences are announced with no detail about the charges and evidence against the accused.
The story of the disappearance of Peng Shuai proved, however, to be a little different. The Chinese authorities have found it to be a hot potato. For, twice a Grand Slam champion, Peng is a celebrity in the international tennis circuit. A former top-ranked player in women’s doubles, she won the Wimbledon in 2013 and French Open in 2014. Her disappearance has drawn all the more adverse international reaction as she has participated in three Olympics; while Beijing is set to host the Winter Games from February 4, 2022.
The first concrete action has come from the World Tennis Association, with WTA cancelling all its tennis events in China slated for 2022. WTA president Steve Simon has made it clear that the cancellation of events could continue beyond 2022. The U.S. Tennis Association has commended WTA and its president for his “courageous leadership to ensure that rights of all individuals are protected, for his strong stand on defending human rights in China.”
At a political level, the European Union has said it wants China to offer verifiable proof that Peng is safe. U. S. President Joe Biden has already announced that the USA is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games in Beijing to highlight the broader issue of human rights violations in China. EU and several other Western countries are also expected to join the diplomatic boycott. Their leaders and diplomats will not take part in the opening and closing ceremonies while their athletes will participate in the sporting events. The gravity of the boycott can be gauged from the fact that U. S. first lady Jill Biden led the American contingent in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2021.
Shortly after Biden’s announcement, the White House has officially stated that the U. S. has “serious concerns about the human rights abuses that we have seen in Xinxiang.” The U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum meanwhile has compiled evidence of increasing government repression against Uyghur Muslims in the western Xinxiang region of China and a campaign to hide their severity. The Committee of Conscience of the Museum, a think-tank funded jointly by the U. S. Government and private sources, by presidential mandate, engages in global human rights research. The move for boycott of the Winter Olympics, in fact, was first proposed by the U. S. House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi who is a vocal critic of China’s repression in Tibet.