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 2003," October 2, 2003
The Commission finds that human rights conditions in China have not improved overall in the past year. The Chinese government continues to violate China’s own constitution and laws and international norms and standards protecting human rights. The Commission recognizes that some developments are underway in China, particularly in the area of legal reform, that could provide the foundation for stronger protection of rights in the future. However, these changes have been incremental, and their overall impact has been limited. Such limitations illustrate the complexity of the obstacles the Chinese people face in their continuing effort to build an accountable government that respects basic human rights and freedoms.
Chinese citizens are detained and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and belief. Law enforcement authorities routinely ignore Chinese domestic law, or exploit loopholes in the law, to detain suspects and defendants for periods greater than Chinese law or international human rights norms and standards permit.
China’s poor record of protecting the internationally recognized rights of its workers has not changed significantly in the past year. Chinese workers cannot form or join independent trade unions, and workers who seek redress for wrongs committed by their employers often face harassment and criminal charges. Moreover, child labor continues to be a problem in some sectors of the economy, and forced labor by prisoners is common. Although the government has begun to modify its policy of discrimination against migrant workers from rural areas, these workers still face serious disadvantages as they seek employment away from their home regions. Workplace health and safety conditions are poor in many Chinese workplaces. Fatalities among mine workers are especially common. Despite having enacted new and relatively progressive laws designed to improve health and safety standards, the Chinese government lacks the will or capacity to enforce these laws.
Scores of Christian, Muslim, and Tibetan Buddhist worshippers have been arrested or detained during 2003. Chinese Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Buddhists seeking to practice their faith outside officially-sanctioned churches, mosques, and temples are subject to harassment and repression. Government authorities continue to repress spiritual groups, including the Falun Gong spiritual movement, chiefly through the use of anti-cult laws.
Chinese citizens do not enjoy freedom of speech or freedom of the press. The Chinese government suppresses freedom of expression in a manner that directly contravenes not only international human rights norms and standards, but also China’s own constitution. Some individuals and groups that cannot obtain government authorization manage to publish on a small scale, but only by employing methods that risk administrative and criminal punishment.
China’s new family planning law retains the broad elements of China’s long-held policies on birth limitation. These include mandatory restrictions on absolute reproductive freedom and the use of coercive measures, specifically severe economic sanctions, to limit births. However, the new law also mandates prenatal and maternal health care and services for women.
The Chinese government is taking significant steps to address HIV/AIDS, but progress has been hard to achieve and public ignorance of the disease remains widespread. Public health policies in some provinces have fostered the spread of HIV/AIDS and have left patients and orphans in dire distress. Complaints by these victims have been met with fear and forceful repression.
China has built a progressive legal framework to protect women’s rights and interests, but loopholes remain, and implementation of existing laws and regulations has been imperfect, leaving Chinese women vulnerable to pervasive abuse, discrimination, and harassment at home and in the workplace.
Recent policy changes in China indicate progress toward scaling back the restrictive residency registration (hukou) system, allowing rural migrants in urban areas to more easily obtain status as legal residents. In a welcome development, the Chinese government abolished an often abused administrative detention procedure called "custody and repatriation" in response to public outrage over official complicity in the death of a detainee. But local governments often fail to implement central government policy directives adequately, and ingrained discriminatory attitudes and practices toward migrants impede reform.
China has continued its efforts to reform and strengthen basic legal institutions. Experimental efforts by local people’s congresses and local administrative bodies, if sustained and further expanded, could improve China’s human rights performance by improving the accountability of public officials and transforming expectations regarding the role of public opinion in governance. The Chinese government has made progress in its effort to improve the capacity, efficiency, and competence of its judiciary and is considering reforms that may enhance judicial independence in limited respects. Accession to the WTO has had a positive impact in the areas of legislative and regulatory reforms by raising awareness of the importance of transparency at all levels of government. It is also helping to drive positive reforms in China’s judiciary.
Despite the long-term promise of these changes, their overall impact remains limited at present. Although local governments have attempted to provide more information to their citizens and have begun to open their processes to public scrutiny, public hearings and real consideration of input by the public are limited in practice. The judiciary continues to be plagued by complex and interrelated problems, including a shortage of qualified judges, pervasive corruption, and significant limits on independence.
Legal restraints on government power remain weak in practice. Nevertheless, Chinese citizens are using existing legal mechanisms to challenge state action in increasing numbers and are exhibiting signs of greater empowerment in confronting the state in some areas. Prompted in part by an official focus on constitutional development, Chinese citizens engaged in a spirited discussion of constitutionalism for much of the year. In mid-2003, however, central authorities became concerned about the scope of this promising discourse and prohibited discussion of constitutional amendments and political reform in the media or in unapproved academic forums until further notice.
The Chinese government opened a preliminary dialogue with envoys of the Dalai Lama during late 2002 and 2003. The Dalai Lama’s unique stature positions him to help ensure the survival and development of Tibetan culture, while contributing to China’s stability and prosperity. Although the envoys’ visits are a positive step, repression of ethnic Tibetans continues and the environment for Tibetan culture and religion is not improving.