NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — An eccentric Chinese billionaire told reporters Tuesday that he has brought to two women to New York City to undergo surgery for disfiguring burns they suffered when they set themselves on fire during a protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 2001.
Chen Guangbiao, who bills himself as China’s No. 1 philanthropist and made his fortune in recycling and renewable resources, introduced the two women to U.S. and Chinese reporters at an unorthodox and sometimes tense news conference at a hotel near Central Park.
Inside a hotel ballroom, Chen began by singing a song he wrote himself, which included the soaring lyric, “The whole world will witness my Chinese dream!”
Then he talked of having a plan to buy The New York Times. He has said the paper, which has published investigations into the enormous wealth amassed by the relatives of Chinese leaders, should be more “more authentic and objective” in its coverage of China.
He also warned Americans not to trust the government of Japan, which is involved in a territorial dispute with China over several remote islands.
Finally, Chen had the two women display their horrific burns, which seared off their hands and left their faces masks of scarred flesh.
Outside in the cold, dozens of practitioners of the Falun Gong spiritual movement picketed the event, saying the two burn victims were propaganda tools of the Chinese government.
The women, Hao Huijun and her daughter Chen Guo, were among a group of people who set themselves on fire in the square to protest the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners. One woman and her 12-year-old daughter died.
Months later, the survivors were later paraded before reporters by Chinese authorities to denounce Falun Gong as a cult and say they had been deceived into the suicide attempt.
In brief remarks to reporters in New York, Hao and Chen condemned Falun Gong again as a cult.
Some reporters for U.S.-based Chinese media asked the women whether they were actually government plants, who staged the immolations to discredit the movement.
“The self-immolation was our own fault,” Chen said, through a translator. “We acted on our own behavior.”
Guangbiao said he planned to spend more than $2 million on medical care for the women and brought them to New York because doctors here had said they could restore the women to 80 percent of their former appearance.
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