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Questioning the Premier

Jonathan Richmond

Tomorrow you’ll get the chance to hear and question the premier of one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. Should MIT be hosting a leader of a government that has illegally invaded and brutally suppressed a nation, that discriminates against ethnic minorities, that silences its critics by throwing them in jail?

Yes, because the more free speech we can promote the better. Understand, however, that it will be the audience as much as the speaker who will determine whether free speech will work the way it’s supposed to.

The premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhu Rongji will speak about science, technology and education. But is this material really of interest coming from a politician whose government has shown contempt for the human rights of his own people, at whose hands science and technology are for the promotion of the state rather than the welfare of the people, and for whom education means providing state-approved answers rather than promoting the sort of questioning that is fundamental to intellectual inquiry in a free world?

While Chinese students are likely to find themselves behind bars for asking the most basic questions about the role of the individual in society, you have the opportunity to ask those questions without any negative consequences. You have the opportunity to show that the barbarity of the Chinese government is intolerable and to leave the impression that when it comes down to it America’s leading institute of technology cares more about the welfare of people than about talk about technology in the face of continued mass misery.

While you will of course be free to ask whatever questions you choose, I would urge you to avoid asking questions about science or technology and instead provide a voice for those that Zhu’s government silences. Here are some questions you might consider asking.

1. Why, when Tibetans are unanimous in demanding their own state, does China persist in illegally occupying the land of Tibet?

2. Why is China putting Tibetans who assemble at protests against this occupation in jail for three years at a time? Why are beatings and torture used in Tibetan prisons?

3. Why did the Chinese government kidnap the young child chosen as the next Tibetan Panchen Lama and why is he continuing to be held as a political prisoner?

4. Could you explain why Chinese police officers are allowed to savagely beat citizens they suspect of offenses? Could you please explain the benefits of your policy of locking up those who disagree with you? Why has your government refused to acknowledge the wrong in killing the innocent students and others who assembled in Tiananmen Square to demand political change? There are large numbers of demonstrators outside this hall protesting the brutality of your government. What would you do to them if they were in your own country?

5. Many Americans consider it a patriotic duty to hold their government accountable to the public. Do you feel that it is impossible for the citizens of China to show they love their country by demanding that its government become more responsive to the will of the people?

6. Could you explain why there has been interference with the experimental local electoral processes taking place in China where it has appeared possible that a candidate not preferred by the Communist Party but preferred by the people would be elected?

7. The people of Taiwan have chosen to be independent from the Peoples’ Republic of China because they prefer a democratic system of government. Since all young Chinese people are calling for freedom and democracy, do you not think more progress would be advanced by making the PRC a part of Taiwan rather than the other way around?