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Congressional Research Service, Human Rights in China and U.S. Policy, July 18, 2011

CRS report by Thomas Lum.
July 18, 2011

Executive Summary

This report examines human rights conditions in China, including the 2011 crackdown on rights activists and dissent; ongoing human rights abuses; recent PRC efforts to protect human rights; and the development of civil society. Ongoing human rights problems in China include the excessive use of violence by public security forces, unlawful detention, torture of detainees, arbitrary use of state security laws against political dissidents, coercive family planning policies, state control of information, and religious and ethnic persecution. Tibetans, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong adherents have been singled out for especially harsh treatment. For additional, comprehensive information about human rights conditions in China, see the Congressional- Executive Commission on China, Annual Report 2010, and the U.S. Department of State, 2010 Human Rights Report: China.

The Chinese leadership’s resistance to major political reform and fuller support of civil liberties has been driven largely by its fears of social unrest and political instability. Moreover, some public opinion surveys suggest that many Chinese people, while wanting greater freedoms, do not support rapid political change. Nonetheless, Chinese society has become more assertive. Incidents of social protests are frequent, numerous, and widespread. Economic, social, and demographic changes have given rise to labor unrest. PRC citizens have become increasingly aware of their legal rights, while emerging networks of lawyers, journalists, and activists have advanced the causes of many aggrieved individuals and groups. The mass media continues to push the boundaries of officially approved discourse, and the Internet has made it impossible for the government to restrict information as fully as before.

The PRC government has attempted to respond to some popular grievances, develop the legal system, and cautiously support the expansion of civil society, while suppressing activists who attempt to organize mass protests and dissidents who openly question sensitive policies or call for fundamental political change. This approach has produced modest improvements in some human rights conditions, but also allowed for continued, serious abuses. In recent months, the government has intensified efforts to suppress legal activists, rights defenders, and other individuals and groups whom it has deemed to be threatening to social and political stability.

The United States government has developed a comprehensive array of policy tools aimed toward promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in China, but their effects have been felt primarily along the margins of the PRC political system. U.S. government efforts to promote human rights in China have included sanctions; openly criticizing PRC human rights policies and calling for the release of political prisoners; bilateral dialogue; “quiet diplomacy;” and hearings and investigations. The U.S. Congress has appropriated funding for democracy, human rights, rule of law, environmental, and other programs in China, including Tibet, and supported Internet freedom and public diplomacy efforts aimed at the PRC. Some policy makers contend that U.S. engagement with China has failed to produce meaningful political reform and improvements in human rights conditions. Other experts argue that engagement has helped to advance economic and social change in China, to develop social and legal foundations for democracy and human rights, and to open channels through which to directly communicate U.S. concerns.

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