A food safety factory shutdown has Americans hunting for baby formula. Readying themselves for a covid-19 lockdown, Chinese in Beijing emptied store shelves. Emerging from lockdown, some in Shanghai are visiting well-provisioned markets. U.S.-China agricultural trade is booming, but many are still being left hungry. Food security, sustainability and safety remain issues.
U.S. Congressional–Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2002," October 2, 2002
An evaluation of human rights and the rule of law in China reveals a complex picture of contradictory trends and isolated improvements, overshadowed by the Chinese government’s persistent violations of fundamental, internationally recognized human rights. China’s leaders have worked to develop a market-oriented economy while maintaining firm Communist Party control. Over the past two decades, China has made important strides toward building the structure of a modern legal system. Chinese citizens today enjoy greater individual autonomy and more personal freedom than they could have imagined during the days of Chairman Mao Zedong. Nevertheless, China’s leaders still do not respect fundamental international standards on many human rights for the Chinese people.
A wide gap remains between the law on paper and the law in practice. The Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of worship, assembly, speech, and other fundamental liberties, but provisions elsewhere in the Constitution undermine such freedoms. Furthermore, the political considerations of central and local leaders often trump constitutional and other legal protections. Chinese authorities often ignore legal protections for suspects and defendants in criminal cases. Although China has passed numerous laws and regulations on working conditions, these protections are frequently ignored by factory managers or go unenforced by local officials. This gap between law and practice is rooted, in part, in the Communist Party’s desire to maintain unquestioned authority and power, the Chinese government’s deliberate manipulation of the legal system, and a lack of public awareness of the law. The gap is also the result of official corruption, decentralization, and the sheer size of China.
Some believe that long-lasting change in China depends on the expansion of specific legal mechanisms that empower the Chinese people to assert their rights and interests. China’s 20-year program of legal construction is accelerating as China implements its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments requiring greater transparency in the lawmaking process, more effective procedures for challenging administrative action, and greater judicial independence. Although these commitments are aimed primarily at improving the legal framework for commercial transactions, they complement other government efforts designed to provide Chinese citizens with limited remedies for official misconduct. No one can be certain that these legal reforms will spur political liberalization and greater respect for human rights in China. However, they contribute to an essential legal framework in which human rights may be protected.