Happy Lunar New Year from the USC US-China Institute!
U.S. Congressional–Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2005," October 11, 2005
The Commission finds no improvement overall in human rights conditions in China over the past year, and increased government restrictions on Chinese citizens who worship in state-controlled venues or write for state-controlled publications. Citizens who challenge state controls on religion, speech, or assembly continue to face severe government repression. The Commission notes that the Chinese government continued to pursue certain judicial and criminal justice reforms that could result in improved protection of the rights of China's citizens. Yet these positive steps were clouded by new detentions and government policies designed to protect the Communist Party's rule and tighten control over society. These detentions and policies violated not only China's Constitution and laws, but also internationally recognized human rights standards.
The Chinese government engaged the international human rights community over the past year, hosting visits by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, permitting the International Committee of the Red Cross to open a regional office in Beijing, and committing to a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 2005. During her recent visit to China, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said, "China has declared its commitment to human rights and has raised expectations for the country to match its growing prosperity with a firm commitment to advancing human rights." Arbour also expressed concern over China's commitment to human rights and raised several political prisoners of concern with government officials.
China has an authoritarian political system controlled by the Communist Party. Party organizations formulate all major state policies before the government implements them. The Party dominates Chinese legislative bodies such as the National People's Congress and fills important government positions at all levels by an internal selection process. Chinese authorities have introduced limited elements of political participation at the lowest levels of government to enhance their ability to govern. These elements include direct elections for village and residents committees, local people's congress elections, and some popular input into the selection of low-level government and Party officials. The Party controls these selection and electoral processes by screening, and often selecting, the candidates. Chinese citizens are attempting to use the limited political space created by official reforms to protect their rights and interests, but Party officials and local governments often suppress these efforts, leading to social unrest.
After several wrongful conviction scandals this year, the central government permitted a broad public critique of the criminal judicial system. This discourse confirmed the extent to which coerced confessions, police incompetence, pervasive presumptions of guilt, extrajudicial influences on the courts, restrictions on defense attorneys, and other problems undermine the fairness of the criminal process. Domestic reaction to the wrongful conviction scandals created new momentum for some criminal justice reforms. Many Chinese scholars and officials continue to push for reforms within the boundaries set by the Communist Party and Chinese legal culture and seek to engage foreign counterparts in this process. The Chinese government continues to use administrative procedures and vaguely worded criminal laws to detain Chinese citizens arbitrarily for exercising their rights to freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted in December 2004 that the Chinese government has not adequately reformed these practices.
The Chinese government does not recognize the core labor rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining. The government prohibits independent labor unions and punishes workers who attempt to establish them. Wage and pension arrears are among the most important problems that Chinese workers face. The government issued new regulations seeking to address the problem of unpaid wages and pensions, but in many cases Chinese workers continue to struggle to collect wages and benefits because the relevant agencies do not enforce the regulations. Workplace health and safety conditions are poor for millions of Chinese workers. China's state-run news media have reported, with some exceptions, workplace accidents more openly and promptly than in previous years, even when workers have been killed or injured. Forced labor is an integral part of the Chinese administrative detention system, and child labor remains a significant problem in China, despite being prohibited by law.
The Chinese government continues to harass, abuse, and detain religious believers who seek to practice their faith outside state-controlled religious venues. Religious believers who worship within state-controlled channels are subject to government regulation of all aspects of their faith. In 2005, the government and Party launched a large-scale implementation campaign for the new Regulation on Religious Affairs to strengthen control over religious practice, particularly in ethnic and rural areas, violating the guarantee of freedom of religious belief found in the new Regulation.
The religious environment for Tibetan Buddhism has not improved in the past year. The Party demands that Tibetan Buddhists promote patriotism toward China and repudiate the Dalai Lama, the religion's spiritual leader. The intensity of religious repression against Tibetans varies across regions, with officials in Sichuan province and the Tibet Autonomous Region currently implementing Party policy in a more aggressive manner than officials elsewhere. Sichuan authorities sometimes impute terrorist motives to Tibetan monks who travel to India without permission.
The Chinese government continues to repress Catholics. Chinese authorities are currently detaining over 40 unregistered clergy and have taken measures this year to tighten control of registered clergy and seminaries. Despite assurances of its desire to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See, the Chinese government has not altered its long-standing position that, as a precondition to negotiations, the Holy See must renounce a papal role in the selection of bishops and break relations with Taiwan.
The government continues to strictly regulate Muslim practices, particularly among members of the Uighur minority. All mosques in China must register with the state-run China Islamic Association. Imams must be licensed by the state before they can practice, and must regularly attend patriotic education sessions. Religious repression in Xinjiang is severe, driven by Party policies that equate peaceful Uighur religious practices with terrorism and extremism.
In the past year, the Chinese government continued a campaign begun in 2002 that focused on harassing and repressing unregistered Protestant groups and consolidating control of registered Protestants. Hundreds of unregistered Protestants associated with house churches have been intimidated, beaten, or imprisoned. The Chinese government opposes the relationships that many unregistered Protestant house churches have developed with co-religionists outside China.
Chinese non-profit associations and organizations are growing in number and engaging in valuable educational work and issue advocacy. While some ministries and local governments support these groups, some high-level leaders consider the emergence of an independent civil society a threat to government and Party control. Central authorities use regulations to limit and control the development of civil society in China, forcing many groups to remain unregistered or operate underground. In 2005, Chinese authorities moved to curtail the activities of international and domestic civil society organizations, particularly environmental groups that challenged government policies.
Chinese judicial officials announced ambitious reform goals in 2005 that would address structural problems affecting the Chinese judiciary. These include changes to court adjudication committees, the system of people's assessors, and judicial review of death penalty cases. Party authorities and local governments, however, continue to limit the independence of China's courts. Internal administrative practices of Chinese courts also compromise judicial efficacy and independence. The Chinese judiciary has improved the educational level of Chinese judges and the quality of their judicial opinions. Rural courts, however, are rapidly losing judges to urban areas.
The Chinese government does not respect the freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed in China's Constitution. Chinese authorities allow government-sponsored publications to report selectively on information that, in previous decades, officials would have deemed embarrassing or threatening. But in the past year, officials have become less tolerant of public discussion that questions central government policies. Chinese authorities have tightened restrictions on journalists, editors, and Web sites, and continue to impose strict licensing requirements on publishing, prevent citizens from accessing foreign news sources, and intimidate and imprison journalists, editors, and writers.
Constitutional enforcement remains a politically sensitive topic in China, and the near-term prospects for the establishment of a more robust constitutional enforcement mechanism are remote. The Chinese government has ruled out establishing a constitutional court or giving people's courts the power to review the constitutionality of laws and regulations, but has affirmed the right of citizens to petition the National People's Congress Standing Committee for review of regulations that violate the Constitution or national law. The effect of this right remains limited, however, since Chinese citizens have no right to compel such review or to challenge the constitutionality of government actions. The Chinese government has enacted laws to curb administrative abuses, but Chinese officials retain significant administrative discretion. Existing legal mechanisms provide only limited checks on arbitrary or unlawful government actions.
Minorities that are willing to accept state controls and the official depiction of their ethnic groups and histories have been able to preserve their cultures while joining Party and government ranks. Minorities that demand greater effective autonomy and control over their cultural identities, however, regularly confront government policies that violate the Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law. Government policy in Tibetan areas and in Xinjiang most often contravenes the Chinese Constitution and law. The government grants minorities in southwest China that have accepted central authority, like the Zhuang, Yao, and Yi, more freedom to exercise their lawful rights. Since 2000, China's autonomous regions have experienced increased economic output and improved transportation and communication networks, but central control over development policy and financial resources has weakened economic autonomy in minority areas and disproportionately favored Han Chinese in Tibetan, Uighur, and other border areas. Central government investment has expanded educational access for minorities since 1949, though minority literacy rates and levels of educational attainment remain below those of the Han. Government-sponsored Han migration to minority areas has exacerbated ethnic tensions, particularly in Tibetan areas, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.
The Chinese government promotes conservation, recycling, and the use of renewable energy sources to address environmental degradation and the depletion of natural resources. Weak environmental laws, poor enforcement, and small government budgets for environmental protection hamper these efforts. The Chinese government promotes international cooperation on environmental matters and is receiving foreign technical assistance for environmental projects in China.
The Chinese Constitution and laws provide for the equal rights of women, and a network of women's groups advocate to protect women's rights. But Chinese women have fewer employment opportunities than men, and their educational levels fall below those of men. The government has acknowledged these gender discrepancies and is taking steps to promote women's interests. Chinese women face increasing risks from HIV/AIDS as the disease moves from high-risk groups dominated by men into the general population.
Trafficking of women and children in China remains pervasive despite government efforts to build a body of domestic law to address the problem. China's population control policies exacerbate the trafficking problem. China's poorest families, who often cannot afford to pay the coercive fines that the government assesses when it discovers an extra child, often sell or give infants, particularly female infants, to traffickers.
The two greatest public health challenges facing China today are infectious diseases and rural poverty. The central government is taking steps to improve the public health infrastructure in rural areas, but China's poor lack preventive healthcare, and weak implementation of laws that provide for free vaccinations leave many adults and children unprotected. Central government efforts to address China's HIV/AIDS epidemic continue to expand and deepen, but local governments often harass Chinese activists who work on HIV/AIDS issues. Government controls inhibit the flow of health-related information to the public, potentially affecting public health in China as well as international disease monitoring and response efforts.
The Chinese government continues its population control policy, which is scheduled to continue through the mid-21st century. Coercive fines are the main enforcement mechanism, although reports of local officials using physical coercion to ensure compliance continue, even though this practice violates Chinese law. The severe gender imbalance resulting from the population control policy has grown worse over the past two decades. The Chinese government has established a commission to draft legislation to criminalize sex-selective abortion.
National and local authorities are gradually reforming China's household registration (hukou) system. In 2005, central authorities took some steps toward removing work restrictions on migrants in urban areas, but hukou discrimination in public services remains prevalent. Hukou reforms are enhancing the ability of wealthy and educated citizens to choose their place of permanent residence, but strict economic criteria often exclude poor rural migrants living in urban areas, preventing some of China's most vulnerable citizens from receiving public services.
Chinese citizens resort to thousands of "letters and visits" (xinfang) offices for redress of their grievances because of deficiencies in the legal system and the absence of alternative channels for political participation, but only a small fraction of their appeals are resolved. Citizen frustration is finding an outlet in collective petitions that take the form of mass demonstrations or strikes. Because Chinese authorities punish local officials more severely for large protests, citizens think that collective petitioning is more likely to gain results. The government passed new regulations in 2005 designed to make the xinfang system more responsive to citizen complaints, but these regulations also expand the role of xinfang offices and the incentive for citizens to resort to collective petitioning.
The Dalai Lama has said that he does not seek independence and aims for a solution based on Tibetan autonomy within China. But China's leaders do not seem to recognize the benefits of moving forward in the dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his envoys. Chinese laws on regional ethnic autonomy contain provisions that could benefit Tibetans and their culture, but poor government implementation of these laws largely negates their potential value. Chinese government statistics suggest that Tibetans are not yet prepared to compete in the economic and ethnic environment created by central government policies. The Tibetan rate of illiteracy is five times higher than China's national average. Most Tibetans do not have access to a bilingual education system that can impart skills to help them compete for employment and other economic benefits. Chinese laws and official statements lend credibility to Tibetan concerns that programs such as Great Western Development and projects such as the Qinghai-Tibet railroad will lead to large increases in Han migration. The rights of Tibetans to their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly are subject to strict constraint. Government officials persecute prominent Tibetans, especially religious leaders, believed to have links to the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese government forcibly repatriates North Koreans seeking refuge in China from starvation and political persecution, contravening its obligations to handle refugees as required by the 1951 Convention Related to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The Chinese government classifies all North Koreans in China as "illegal economic migrants" and denies the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) access to this vulnerable population. Living conditions of North Koreans in China are harsh, and women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and prostitution. There is a compelling case for the Chinese government to recognize the North Koreans in China as refugees and allow the UNHCR access to them: the North Korean government regularly denies food to particular groups on political grounds, and refugees returned to North Korea face long prison terms, torture, or execution.
The Hong Kong people continue to enjoy an open society in which the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly are respected, but the Commission is troubled by a continuing pattern of central government interference in Hong Kong local governance through interpretations of the Basic Law. The Commission emphasizes its belief in the importance of the central government's obligation to give Hong Kong the "high degree of autonomy" promised in the Basic Law and strongly supports the provisions of the Basic Law that provide for the chief executive and the entire legislature to be elected through universal sufferage. The Hong Kong judiciary demonstrated its continued independence by protecting the right of citizens to demonstrate in a case overturning the convictions of eight Falun Gong practitioners, despite the central leadership's ongoing campaign to eliminate the Falun Gong movement.
The Chinese government tolerates intellectual property infringement rates that are among the highest in the world, and has not introduced criminal penalties sufficient to deter intellectual property infringement. Steps taken by Chinese agencies in the past 12 months to improve the protection of foreign intellectual property have not produced any significant decrease in infringement activity. The Chinese government has made progress in bringing its laws into compliance with its WTO commitments. Although significant flaws remain, the new body of commercial laws has improved the business climate for foreign companies in China. With new, more transparent rules, the Chinese trade bureaucracy has reduced regulatory and licensing delays. The government has not fully implemented the key WTO principles of national treatment, non-discrimination, and transparency in such areas as distribution and agriculture. To address these problems, the Chinese government must continue economic reforms, establish a more transparent and consistent regulatory and licensing system, implement and enforce distribution rights for foreign companies, and strengthen enforcement of intellectual property laws.
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