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Prominent Chinese Dissidents Troubled About Bush-Jiang Meeting - 2002-10-24

Two prominent Chinese dissidents Thursday called on President Bush to urge visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin to make urgently needed human rights reforms. The dissidents spoke in Washington a day before the two leaders are to meet at Mr. Bush's Texas ranch.

Han Dongfang and Harry Wu said the often desperate plight of Chinese workers must be addressed when the two world leaders meet Friday. Mr. Han, a former railway worker jailed for taking part in the Tiananmen Square protests, now lives in Hong Kong and is active in the labor movement there. Mr. Wu spent 19 years in Chinese prisons. He is now a U.S. citizen, and is the executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, a non-profit organization that monitors conditions in China's prison camps.

Mr. Han said the two leaders should discuss what he describes as the often terrible conditions facing millions of Chinese workers. He said that while many products in American stores are manufactured in China, the plight of the workers who produce them is deplorable. "They are working seven days a week, 14, 15 hours a day, and make even no minimum wage," said Han Dongfang. "It's very often just five cents per hour is their wage."

According to Mr. Han, Chinese workers are often trapped into jobs with no future for them or their families. He said the United States must be made aware of the working conditions in China. "China is becoming the world's largest factory, it's the factory of the world," he said. "And it's the world's largest sweatshop, and girls and boys are forced to work that way, it's close to slave [labor]."

Both dissidents indicated they are troubled by Mr. Bush's decision to host the Chinese Communist leader at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The two leaders will meet Friday following a barbecue in honor of the Chinese president at the ranch. On Wednesday, Mr. Jiang attended a dinner in Houston with former President George Bush, the father of the current president.

Mr. Wu said no matter how much trade develops between the United States and China, Americans should acknowlege the difficulties facing Chinese workers. He said while American companies are making money from their factories in China, the rights of their employees are denied. "These Chinese workers are not allowed to have a trade union," said Harry Wu. "No way. But in their facility, they allow the Communist Party to set up their party branch."

Following Friday's talks, the two presidents travel to Mexico for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting. Followers of the Falun Gong spiritual movement have staged protests during Mr. Jiang's visit to the United States, accusing the Chinese government of persecuting the movement.