Beijing warns of `poisoned' effect if TV documentary on orphans shown

 

THE CHINESE government has repeatedly warned Britain that relations between the two countries will be "poisoned" if a television documentary alleging that thousands of babies are deliberately allowed to die in Chinese orphanages is shown on Channel 4 tomorrow.

Mr Liu Jianchao, the Chinese embassay's first press secretary in London, admitted he had not seen the programme, entitled Return to the Dying Rooms, but that his government had written to Channel 4 claiming that the documentary was an attempt to "defame" China.

"It will poison the atmosphere between China and Britain. It is a very bad move, very detrimental. The film will not be conducive at all to Mr [Malcolm] Rifkind's visit," he added.

Coincidentally, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr Rifkind, is due to arrive in Beijing tomorrow in an attempt to improve relations between the two countries and to discuss the transfer of Hong Kong. A Foreign Office spokesman said the programme would not affect Mr Rifkind's visit and that it was solely a matter for Channel 4 to decide whether to cancel the broadcast.

However Mr Peter Salmon

Channel 4's controller of factual programmes, insisted that the documentary would be transmitted and that the company would not succumb to the intense pressure from the Chinese to withdraw it. "The Chinese government should stop trying to intimidate us," he added.

The Chinese government has written several letters to Channel 4 complaining that the documentary was a fabrication and would arouse the "concern and hurt the feelings" of its people.

The programme is a sequel to The Dying Rooms, which claimed baby girls were abandoned and left to die in China's orphanages because of the country's one-child policy. When this was shown last June it prompted worldwide outrage. Tomorrow's programme will also include the conclusions of a Human Rights Watch report on conditions in Chinese orphanages.

The report, which was published yesterday, says thousands of children in China's orphanages are deliberately starved, deprived of medicines and tied to their beds leading to a painful and slow death. After nine months of research, the Human Rights Watch report estimates that during the late 1980s and early 1990s, 90 per cent of China's orphans died within a year of being admitted to one of the country's largest orphanages in Shanghai. Across the rest of the country the death rate was 50 per cent.

After describing a "pattern of cruelty, abuse and malign neglect," the report concludes China's dying rooms "now constitutes one of the country's gravest human rights problems

Reuter adds: A doctor who worked in a Chinese orphanage for five years said yesterday in Brussels the Chinese authorities had ignored her complaints that children were being abused and left to die.

Dr Zhang Shuyun, who helped Human Rights Watch prepare its report on Chinese orphanages, said she saw children tied to beds, given tranquilizers and starved to death.

When she and other staff member at the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute tried to stop the abuse, Chinese authorities became concerned about reaction from the press and foreigners, she said.