Who is Hong Lei Speaking For?

A former premier's aide hits out at Beijing's rejection of international calls to release Liu Xiaobo and his wife.
By Bao Tong
LiuXiaoboandLiuXia-305 Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in a photo taken in Beijing, Oct. 22, 2002.

The fact that the Associated Press was allowed to interview Liu Xia is something that the old leadership wouldn't have permitted. It is clearly the mark of the new leadership. It is heartening, and they are to be congratulated.

This must have been a small ray of light for Liu Xia, and I am happy for her. I also congratulate the new leadership, because this is how we go forward, one step at a time. You have doubtless gone up in the estimation of the Chinese public, and of people the world over.

Against such a backdrop, the response by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei to the well-meaning demands of 134 respected Nobel prizewinners, that these constitute "interference in China's internal affairs," is baffling.

I do not get it! I can't understand it! It is completely inexplicable! On whose behalf does Hong Lei speak? For the new or the old? We have no way of finding out, for now ...

... The transition from new to old leadership is at a crucial juncture. Given that there is some overlap, a certain amount of confusion and chaos is hard to avoid. But we should try to avoid it, and not miss opportunities because of it.

We shouldn't let it affect our work, and in particular we shouldn't allow it to jeopardize important tasks.

This can still be remedied; there is still time. One way to do this with the minimum amount of upheaval is for the words of these "spokespeople" not to represent China any more.

It is hard to be a "spokesperson." It is even harder to be a "spokesperson" in the middle of a transition from old to new.

But they can always be honest, and say things like "I have no new comment," or "I have received no new orders," as a way of dealing with it.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie.

Bao Tong, political dissident and former aide to the late ousted Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.

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