2/17/2009

Translation: Interview with Lai Changxing

In this week's edition of the Southern Weekly, Vancouver-based Chinese Canadian writer and journalist Guo Ding (丁果) steps in as the second guest writer in the paper's Lai series with an exclusive interview with Lai Changxing. Guo Ding is host of a popular talk show on Vancouver's Cantonese/Mandarin/Punjabi tv station Channel M that is watched by many in Vancouver's large Chinese community (ethnic Chinese made up 29% of Vancouver residents in the last census). I've translated the article below the cut. In the photo below from the online edition in the original Chinese, Guo Ding (left) interviews Lai Changxing (right).The Lai Changxing Interview: One-on-One with the Lucky Smuggler
Special Guest Writer: Guo Ding
It seems absurd that Lai Changxing has somehow managed to survive, but due to Canada's inflexible enforcement of the rules, at present, he has done just that. Lai Changxing's gangster bravura defies any description.

Once again astonishing the media of the world, Lai Changxing has recieved a temporary work permit in Canada.

Because people are left guessing, after 9 years of lawsuits, this is a signal from the rare smuggler who has been troubling the two great countries of Canada and China since the moment he fled China years ago.

I find myself once again opposite to Lai Changxing. This interview takes place over the course of several hours as we move through several venues. The backdrop is the furor recently set off by his recieval of work permit. Now for the first time, the world over is dicussing the issue of Lai Changxing. He still wears his signature cap and still lays out his old web of flattery on me. Ah, it's Guo Ding, it's been so long since we've had a discussion. In fact, since he absconded to Canada 9 years ago, I've had to track down "the great survivor" for an interview many times as he pops in and out of the media's attention.

Once before in the past, I wrote this paragraph in an article about him:

"Lai Changxing, the suspected ringleader of a smuggling ring, and I sit seperated only by a glass table. On the table are he has poured two cups of green tea.

As he pours the tea, I imagine that at this moment overseas he is famous near and far. By the auction today of the contents of his famous "Red Mansion" (translators note: the Red Mansion, alludes to the great ancient Chinese novel "Dreams of the Red Chambers", where Lai kept concubines for government officials, read more in the journalist Oliver August's non-fiction Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man), people have gathered round to see how he entertained his guests. Where to is that man who is now politely pouring me a cup of tea? No matter, now he causes me to look back in time, to that Lai Chanxing who first made his living sorting garbage, if not for the exacerbation of current trends, how could he have made such a tremendous rise and fall? Personality dicates success or failure, but character decides the overall picture. A chaotic world gives rise to ambitious mavericks. But in today's time of the rise of the rule of law, if these mavericks don't follow the right way, they will be reduced to nothing more than "theives". History has decided that Lai Changxing would be such a person."


Today, I find myself again facing him.

A friend of Lai Changxing's, a big shot and a bit of a wizard in investment circles, once said to me: Lai Changxing may not have read many books, but his intelligence is great. This kind of introduction in the criminal underworld has a sort of logic to it. It seems absurd that Lai Changxing would somehow manage to survive, but due to Canada's inflexible enforcement of their rules, at present, he has done just that. Lai Changxing's gangster bravura defies any description. Therefore as he tells it, this is a case of "political correctness".

Obviously, last time was different, the rumor of a pressing extradition was hanging over him. A temporary work permit gives Lai Changxing the appearance of relaxed feeling of "oh good", something that is clear to see from both his look and his manner of speech.

A little while before now, he happened to meet with mainland singer Dong Wenhua, making a comeback after ten years in seclusion, a meeting which has had the media furiously speculating. In answer to potential questions about this, he volunteered that "You're seen once with Dong Wenhua and of course people are going to make a great deal of that. The truth is, that's as far as it goes."

He says, "Look at me, I don't have any culture, how could I have some sort of relationship with Dong Wenhua?" Lai pauses for a second, "look beneath the words, the position from both sides is to distance ourselves, how could we have a deep relationship? But I'll acknoledge that Dong Wenhua and I are friends. We've known each other for four or five years, we're mutal friends, with no bad intentions. There's not much else to say. One time I hosted an business opening event and asked her to perform. Afterwards I offered to pay, but she refused. That is a friends help. She once even told me that if I ever ran into financial difficulties, she could help."

He added, "I feel that public opinion towards Dong Wenhua is unfair. Outside opinion has turned to dirty gossip. We are nothing but good friends concerned at each others well being. If not for the recent change in my standing with the government, she would not have been brought into the public eye. She has always been involved in only good affairs. I wish her only happiness and hope that the people will stop giving her trouble.

Lai Changxing is truly uncultured. But he knows far better then most cultured people how to deal with the media. He knows how to talk to reporters. He knows how to get himself on the front page and whitewash his public image.

This is not intelligence, but is the instincts of a maverick in a dangerous situation. He has a remarkable intinctive response, perhaps the reason for his rise to power.

He says, "I don't have any money, do you believe me?" There are times in the course of the interview where he seems to contradict this, but I don't argue. I'll leave that to the reader to decide.

If he were to say, "I recently ate sweet potato soup and salted fish" I would believe him. But this is not the same man who painstakingly maintained the story of his "peasant character" before his rise to power. Nor is this the man who would eat sandwiches with Sir Li Kashing (translator's note, HK businessman, the richest ethnic Chinese person in the world). But he is still the same man famous for his stubborn characteristics. Lai Changxing refused to be "eaten" (by the Chinese legal system) and now he's providing for his family's many mouthes, cooking without end and entertaining any who will come to talk with him. To use the words of one of his friends, "a starving camel is bigger than a horse. Many people will sponge off his generosity, his company will wear away the boredom, and there is nothing criminal about that."

Lai Changxing is unable to refuse to disclose these sorts of things to the media. He constantly says, I am free now, I want to be a simple farmer. A headline comes out in the media. Just so, he gains the sympathy of the honest people of Canada. As Canada is this sort of country, to speak of judicial independence then the direction of public opinion is quite important. The courts follow in step with the masses.

Lai Changxing is a gambler. He doesn't give up easily. He won't be repatriated to China like Yu Zhandong (the manager of the Kaiping, Guangdong Bank of China, who embezzled 480 million dollars and escaped to the US in October 2001. In 2005, he was arrested and sent back to China where he was sentanced to 12 years in prison, where he is still held).

He can say that for his continued existance, it was hard work every step of the way. This perhaps is what his lawyer has taught him. No one suspected that Lai Changxing's could make it to this point, except for his money. But China has not been able to get past his formidable lawyer, David Mateas, known in Canadian legal circles as perhaps one of Canada's number one human rights lawyers, recently decorated by the Governor General, receiving the highest honor a Canadian resident can be granted -- the Order of Canada.

The meaning of this, to put in context for Chinese residents, is that Da Shan (translators note, Mark Roswell, the most prominent white face in the Chinese langauge) also received the same medal last year. Mateas being awarded this medal naturally demonstratesthat Lai Changxing was able to gain some favorable influence.

The "Yuanhua Case" (translator's note: Yuanhua was the name of Lai's organization) has already reached the point of "put the lid on the coffin, then they'll be judged" in mainland China. But the main culprit, Lai Changxing, has gained a certain media noriety for reaching "criminal heaven" in Canada. I once described Lai Changxing's choice to go into exile: "this a country of vast size, America's neighbour, a member of the G7, a prosperous country and also a warm and peaceful country. At the time of America's war of independence, it conservatively chose to take in the Loyalists, and later the slaves who fled to freedom in Canada. Because of this history, the instinct is to sympathize with exiles and often it is hard to seperate them in their sympathies.

Also keep in mind it's great size, abundant resources and few people, and their rather hard to refuse "generosity". Sometimes, tradition is just incompatible with the modern day, forming a break in the internal logic.

Lai Changxing says, he wants to make money and pay taxes. This is also something he says for Canadians to hear, says for the Canadian media to hear. Obey the law and pay taxes, in Canada, that is the definition of a good citizen. And Lai Changxing's lifetime legacy is to be both a smuggler and a tax evader, how could this not be open to ridicule? In a time of globalization, Lai Changxing convinced the world that taxes are good, this is not easy. If China drops the charges against Lai, will he simply pay his overdue taxes? Is he able to?

As far as I know, today's Conservative Party government wants to extradite Lai and Gao Shan (translators note: another fugitive, a former bank manager) and rid Canada of the label of a place where criminals are sheltered from the law. In 2006, there was one repatriation that met with sucess. Lai Changxing told me that he hadn't heard until afterwards and on hearing said he felt as if they end had finally arrived and he felt fear and a wave of shame and embarassment for letting himself be put in such a narrow straits. Because of this, even with the work permit in hand, this should not be taken as Lai Changxing's final verdict. The masses might now be filled with moral indignation at Canada's failure to repatriate Lai, but please wait until the true end of the legal process before speaking of it.

Regardless, interviewing Lai Changxing, I've come to a deeper understanding of the China-Canada relationship. This affair shouldn't affect the political and economic ties we share, and even more, set out a foundation with which we can expand our friendship, for example, tourism agreements. Deal with it quickly, otherwise our bilateral relationship will suffer some setbacks. The history of Canada in China has had Norman Bethune and Da Shan, why should we look so unkindly on them for Lai Changxing?

No matter when all is said and one, because in dealing with this case, the Chinese government knows that in theses legal proceedings, in the West, especially in Canada are based around evidentiary hearings, a kind of rigid and circutious legal process that in the Lai case, Lai Changxing was able to benefit, but they are also something the Chinese judicial process might benefit from as well.

And Canada is able to know, that China with it's vast population, can imitate Canada's legal process, there can be less fears of economic crisis and bankrupticies.

Lai Changxin still needs to wait. It was from a humanitarian ideology that he was granted a work permit, be happy a little for just that, there is no need for the anger. The death penaly charge is past and he be able to feed himself. Never mind Lai Changxing, we can wait to see what fate has in store for him. He can take a breath. Do some work to distract himself with, go where he wants. That concludes the interview. I say to Lai: look out for yourself.

2 comments:

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