More than 100 million people.
“I just want that to sink in. That is an incredible number to try to fathom or … imagine,” Bremberg, a former ambassador, says, adding:
And that includes not just [Josef] Stalin and the tens of millions killed under Stalin’s brutal regime at the [Union of Soviet Socialist Republics], but also Mao Zedong, the … deadliest mass murderer ever, in terms of his leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that saw the murder of upward, conservatively upward of 60 million people.
Bremberg joins today’s episode of “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which received The Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize earlier this year; its China Studies Program; and whether it’s possible for the U.S. to move away from or lessen its economic reliance on China. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Samantha Aschieris: Today I have the honor of welcoming Ambassador Andrew Bremberg to “The Daily Signal Podcast.” Ambassador Bremberg serves as the president of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which was awarded The Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize earlier this year for its China Studies Program.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Ambassador.
Andrew Bremberg: Thanks for having me.
Aschieris: So, to kick us off, can you tell us a little bit about the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation?
Bremberg: Absolutely. We are an education nonprofit that was actually chartered by the Congress back in 1993 when we thought all the victims of communism were in the past, basically.
And since then, we’ve strived to educate Americans about the history and victims of communism throughout its century of totalitarian brutality and of course, not only under the Soviet Union that dominated Central and Eastern Europe for the latter half of last century, but unfortunately, as we see today, the resurgent, even more deadly Chinese Communist Party that is really becoming much more aggressive, not only in terms of human rights violations in its own country, but its diplomatic approach in the region and around the world.
Aschieris: Absolutely. And as I mentioned in my intro, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was awarded The Heritage Foundation’s Innovation Prize for your China Studies Program. Can you tell us a little bit more about the China Studies Program itself?
Bremberg: Yeah, so, our China program is led by Dr. Adrian Zenz, who is, I would say, the top world expert on what is happening in Xinjiang, in the Northwestern region of China, there are ethnic minority practices and issues around forced labor. So that’s his area of specialty.
And in leading our program, he has done groundbreaking research over the last several years documenting how the policies put in place by the CCP, particularly in Xinjiang, constitute a genocide.
You and your listeners may recall right at the end of the Trump administration, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo made a legal determination that a genocide was happening in Xinjiang and actually, Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken, when he took over, reaffirmed that decision.
So this is a bipartisan consent observation that, in fact, a genocide is taking place and the largest area of body of research they used for that determination was the work done by our foundation by Dr. Adrian Zenz.
So since then the continued work has just been amazing to see.
Last year we began publishing what were called the Xinjiang Police Files. The largest hack of its kind had taken place of Xinjiang police stations in Western China. And we were not the hackers, but we were the recipients of this, tens of thousands of files, if you imagine, what would you get if you hacked a prison.
And we started releasing that last year, including the first photos ever from inside the detention camps, previously undisclosed speeches by senior government and senior party leadership that they clearly show they were acutely aware and, in fact, directing the activities taking place in Xinjiang.
As well as, and this is just so surreal, personally identifiable information, including biometric information on hundreds of thousands of individuals that had been processed in Xinjiang, examined for detention, and put together.
So this year, as part of the work without the innovation grant, we launched what’s called the Xinjiang Person Finder. So we were able to take all the data we had gotten from this hack, put it in a searchable format, and allow individuals to search for their family members and loved ones and find out what was the status, at least as of the end of 2018, of their family members.
Because, again, many of your listeners may not be aware, in this region of Xinjiang, upward of 2 million people have been detained. And typically, while it’s known that they’ve kind of disappeared, what’s actually happened to them is usually not disclosed. This is something the government keeps hidden in secret.
So these files provided countless individuals the first verifiable information on the status of their family members in years.
Aschieris: Thank you so much for explaining that. I will certainly make sure to include a link to the Xinjiang Police Files in our show notes for our listeners who are interested in learning more and taking a further, deeper look into that report.
As you mentioned, both the Trump administration under Secretary Pompeo and now with Secretary Blinken recognizing that there is a genocide taking place in China—is enough being done, from your perspective, from our leaders to address this genocide that’s going on?
Bremberg: Unfortunately not. While steps have been taken, and I always want to commend positive steps, it’s far short of what is necessary.
So we helped advocate and work with members of Congress and the current administration to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. This was done at the end of 2021. That put a requirement on any imports into the United States that were coming from Xinjiang would basically be presumed to have been made by forced labor and be barred.
Unfortunately, the implementation of this new law has been spotty and the companies listed that would bar importation of different products is woefully insufficient. There are many known companies that produce their materials or raw materials in Xinjiang that aren’t included.
And of course, there’s attempts by U.S. importers to get around these restrictions and to continue to import products that are obviously made by forced or slave labor.
I’ll just add to that, this is an area of our continued research already this year.
We’ve already published one scholarly paper and another one we expect to be coming led by Dr. Zenz that closely examines the actual forced labor practices taking place in Xinjiang.
The one that already published this year compared it with the other, more publicly known and understood forced labor practices that had taken place years ago in Uzbekistan and showed how the approach taken by many in the United States—our own [Customs and Border Protection], potentially—but also in European countries, basically don’t adequately take into account what it looks like for people to be subjected to forced labor in a scenario that’s government sponsored. Right?
When we think of forced labor, we typically think of the kind of sweatshop by a company that’s maybe breaking the law and getting away with it. But that’s a very different reality when faced with a regime that engages in forced labor mostly as a tool of domestic civil and political control.
Aschieris: Now, as we’re talking more about the Chinese Communist Party, you brought up the resurgent, more deadly Chinese Communist Party, and I wanted to just take a step back and just have you talk about how many people has communism killed.
Bremberg: Well, thanks for that. Yes. So, we try to broadly educate our audiences both online, in person—and visitors to our museum, I should just add. Last year we opened our new Victims of Communism Museum that’s downtown in Washington, D.C., just two blocks north of the White House.
And in all of our material we try to educate people because many, unfortunately, are not aware that communism as an ideology has killed more than 100 million people. I just want that to sink in. That is an incredible number to try to fathom or … imagine.
And that includes not just [Josef] Stalin and the tens of millions killed under Stalin’s brutal regime at the USSR, but also Mao Zedong, the … deadliest mass murderer ever, in terms of his leadership of the Chinese Communist Party that saw the murder of conservatively upward of 60 million people.
So that’s the scope of the ideology that we are dealing with.
And while many of us were either perhaps weren’t even born or were children when the wall fell and it appeared as though communism was over back in 1989 to 1991, unfortunately, we’ve seen under [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping quite clearly that the Chinese Communist Party has no intention of migrating away or liberalizing its approach to communist ideology.
In fact, as we’ve seen under Xi and particularly just in the last three years, an increasing return to its Maoist, most brutal communist roots.
Aschieris: I’m so glad that you brought up the museum because that is something that I did want to highlight for our listeners. This museum was open last year, so definitely recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the D.C. area.
Just to go back to the work of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, if you could speak to some of the people, some of the victims that you’ve met through the different work that you’ve been able to do and the foundation has been able to do.
Bremberg: Oh, wow. I mean, it’s been incredible. The first temporary gallery exhibit that we hosted at our museum when we opened last year was of the Tiananmen Square massacre from 1989. That exhibit was really emotionally very powerful.
We had Chinese Americans and Chinese dissidents that had fled China after 1989—many of whom had been arrested, then released, and then made it to the United States—come together to help put together an incredible exhibit of their own personal effects. I mean, tents from the square, banners that as college students [they] were waving as the tanks rolled in and killed thousands of people. So that was incredible.
Working with the Uyghur diaspora and the Uyghur community has been really heart-wrenching. These are individuals most of whom either had been studying, working, traveling out of China, out of the region, but had most of their family members still in Xinjiang.
And the heart-wrenching stories that we’ve seen of what’s happened to their family members has just been pretty truly incredible.
One individual, our website, we have a video that tells her story. Her name is Noramon. She is a Uyghur and had not heard from her family in years. Of course, she had known generally what had happened, but actually, just last year when using our search tool in examining the hacked Xinjiang Police Files, she was able to confirm exactly when and where her family had been detained.
So it’s been horrific to see the personal stories.
Just this spring I testified in the House around the plight of political prisoners in China and that the U.S. needs to do much more standing up for political prisoners and ensuring their release.
And I would just also add, this has been a focused area of our research as well, has been the issue of organ harvesting. This is a topic many people are not familiar with, and when they hear about it, kind of want to not even think about it because it sounds so horrific.
But this is a practice that the Chinese Communist Party has been engaged in for years where mostly either religious or ethnic minorities or political prisoners are taken and their organs are harvested.
And while this was a practice that the regime kind of grudgingly admitted to, they might have been engaged in the past. They’ve since said they are not. And one area our research has focused on recently has been to demonstrate in the data that this is obviously a lie.
One paper one of our fellows just published last year went through Chinese medical journals. So these are their own medical journals that their doctors are publishing, talking about how they’ve performed surgeries, what they’ve done.
And made clear in their journal publications was that their practices had turned transplant surgeons into executioners, that the methods they were using to harvest organs was clear by the methodology. They weren’t waiting for someone who had maybe had died from a disease or a car accident, but they were in fact executing these prisoners.
Aschieris: As we’ve been discussing, I mean, just the human rights record alone of the Chinese Communist Party is atrocious. And then we look at the communist regime’s aggression toward Taiwan, its role in the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet it’s the world’s second-largest economy. Is it possible for the U.S. to move away from or lessen its reliance on China? And if so, how do we do that?
Bremberg: Yeah, without a doubt, it is certainly possible and is definitely in our interest to do so.
I mean, we have to recognize it will be a challenge, but China is in a challenging moment right now. As they have clamped down on their own citizens and in their own economy, they are struggling economically.
So now is the time to make those important decisions to basically deleverage our relationship with them and make it on a much more sustainable path.
We were never economically integrated with any country like the Soviet Union or anything like that to the degree we are with China. And we certainly can make those changes. And I think some of that work has been done.
We’re really proud of the work we’ve done to help support the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and what they’re doing right now. And they’ve made recommendations that really go to this, and I think that’s going to be an important place for U.S. foreign policy going forward.
But I just want to touch on, you mentioned both COVID and the experience dealing with China and COVID and human rights. When I was posted as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, that was the front line for the [World Health Organization] and unfortunately, the terrible lies that the Chinese government was telling their own citizens, other countries, and the international community in both those cases, dealing with them in the context of the WHO and in the context of the Human Rights Council.
This is something that not just the United States needs to take a leadership role in addressing, but other countries need to kind of wake up and realize that this is a regime that you can’t trust and is lying to you. It’s lying to you about what they did and didn’t know with regard to the origins of the COVID virus coming and how it came out through Wuhan. It’s lying about their human rights record.
And this is something that countries don’t hold them accountable for.
Now, I should say, sure, the challenge of the Chinese Communist Party can be a little scary to some people, but they’re not 20 feet tall. They are imperfect individuals running their own regime and they respond to pushback. And it’s a failure of U.S. leadership and of other countries’ leadership to ensure that we push back when they misbehave.
And just one quick example of that that I think was a real loss was China had agreed when Hong Kong was turned over back to mainland China that it would abide by a system called “one country, but two systems,” implying explicitly that Hong Kong would maintain its sense of self-governance.
And of course, we saw at the height of the pandemic in 2020 when the world is on fire dealing with this virus that China helped get out that that’s the moment it chose to implement this national security law and crush any semblance of democratic self-rule in Hong Kong.
And the concern is, you mentioned Taiwan as well. What was the message China heard from the United States or from other countries in response to such a blatant violation of its own international legal commitments? And it was largely silenced, or as I joked, sometimes a sternly-worded letter.
And that’s the type of leadership and change we need to see both in the United States and around the world, that when a communist regime like China that understands the language of power acts out that way, there need to be consequences to those actions so that we can deter much more dangerous actions that could ever lead us to any sort of actual military confrontation or hot war.
So I just want to make that point, that I think the diplomacy and the window for that right now with China is so important right now, that we need to be showing them that certain actions will just not be tolerated.
Aschieris: Absolutely. Ambassador Bremberg, just before we go, I wanted to ask how our audience members can follow along with the work of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.
Bremberg: Great. Yes. Please check out our website at victimsofcommunism.org. We also have the Xinjiang Police Files, which has its own website, as you mentioned. And then you can follow us on all the social media platforms, particularly, I guess Twitter, or now X, which is @vocommunism.
Aschieris: Awesome. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your insight, and thank you so much for joining the show today.
Bremberg: Great. Thank you.
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