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 2006," September 20, 2006
China has an authoritarian political system controlled by the Communist Party. Party committees formulate all major state policies before the government implements them. The Party dominates Chinese legislative bodies such as the National People's Congress (NPC), and fills all important government positions in executive and judicial institutions through an internal selection process. Party control extends throughout institutions of local government. Chinese authorities have ruled out building representative democratic institutions to address citizen complaints about corruption and abuse of power, and instead are recentralizing government posts into the hands of individual Party secretaries. The absence of popular and legal constraints to check the behavior of Party officials has led to widespread corruption and citizen anger. The Party has strengthened the role of internal responsibility systems to moderate official behavior, but these systems have provided some local Party officials with new incentives to conceal information and abuse their power. In 2005, the central leadership called for strengthened controls over society to address mounting social unrest and to suppress dissent.
Since the 1980s, officials have introduced limited reforms to allow citizens to vote in village elections. While these reforms are a step forward in permitting citizen participation at the local level, the reforms are designed to strengthen Party governance and do not represent Party acceptance of representative government. Since the late 1990s, the Party has experimented with reforms that allow a limited degree of citizen participation in the selection of local Party cadres, but the Party retains tight control over the candidate pool and the selection process. Since 2000, Chinese authorities have experimented with the use of legislative hearings to solicit public views on pending legislation, and the NPC held its first controlled public hearing in September 2005. In March 2005, the central government announced new transparency requirements for local governments. The requirements mandate county and provincial governments to increase transparency and popular participation in government decisionmaking. Implementation of these "open government" requirements varies, but some local governments have taken steps toward greater transparency.
The Chinese government continues to engage the international community on human rights and rule of law issues to varying degrees. The government announced in 2006 that it plans to amend its Criminal, Civil, and Administrative Procedure Laws and reform the judiciary to prepare for ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The government hosted visits by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in late 2005 and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in March 2006. Both UN officials commended the Chinese government for its open attitude toward increased dialogue, but Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, also reported that his work was monitored and obstructed by Chinese authorities. In May 2006, China was elected to serve for a three-year term on the newly established UN Human Rights Council. The government's application for membership in the Council noted that it has acceded to 22 international human rights accords. As a member of the new Council, the government has pledged to fulfill its obligations under the terms of these accords, and is obligated under the rules of the Council to submit to peer review of its human rights record.
Chinese scholars and officials continued to engage foreign governments and legal experts on a range of criminal justice issues during late 2005 and 2006. Chinese law enforcement agencies expressed a growing interest in cooperating with other countries to combat transnational crime, and in expanding cooperation with U.S. law enforcement agencies on money laundering, fighting terrorism, and other issues. Numerous international conferences and legal exchanges with Western NGOs, judges, and legal experts took place, including programs on public accountability, pretrial discovery, evidence exclusion, criminal trials and procedure, bail, capital punishment, and prison reform. In 2006, the U.S. and Chinese governments continued to conduct a series of bilateral cooperative activities on wage and hour laws, occupational safety and health, mine safety and health, and pension program oversight.
Government censorship, while not total, is pervasive and highly effective, and denies Chinese citizens the freedoms of speech and of the press guaranteed to them in the Chinese Constitution. The government has imprisoned journalists who provide news to foreigners, such as Zhao Yan, Shi Tao, and Ching Cheong. Editors of publications that criticize government policies, such as Yang Bin of the Beijing News and Li Datong of the China Youth Daily, have been dismissed. The government blocks the Web sites and radio and television broadcasts of foreign news organizations, such as those of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Free Asia, and the Voice of America. In 2005, the government banned dozens of newspapers and confiscated almost one million "illegal" political publications. Beginning in May 2005, the government blocked the Commission's Web site from being viewed in China.
Modern telecommunications technologies such as the Internet, cell phones, and satellite broadcasts, allow Chinese citizens access to more information sources, both state-controlled and non-state-controlled. But government restrictions on news and information media, including on these new information sources, do not conform to international human rights standards for freedom of expression. The Chinese government imposes a strict licensing scheme on news and information media that includes oversight by government agencies with discretion to grant, deny, and rescind licenses based on political and economic criteria. The Chinese government's content-based restrictions include controls on political opinion and religious literature that are not prescribed by law, and whose primary purpose is to protect the ideological and political dominance of the Communist Party.
The government's restrictions on religious literature do not conform to international human rights standards. Only government-licensed printing enterprises may print religious materials, and then only with approval from both the provincial-level religious affairs bureau and the press and publication administration. In addition to confiscating religious publications, the Chinese government also has fined, detained, and imprisoned citizens for publishing, printing, and distributing religious literature without government permission. Cai Zhuohua, a house church pastor in Beijing, and two of his family members were imprisoned in 2005 for printing and giving away Bibles and other Christian literature. In Anhui province, house church pastor Wang Zaiqing was arrested in May 2006 on the same charges.
The Communist Party's concern with growing social instability dominated its policy statements over the past year, and served as justification for increased government vigilance over activities and groups that potentially threaten Party legitimacy. Top Party, court, and law enforcement officials repeatedly linked the government's policy of pursuing periodic anti-crime campaigns, referred to as "Strike Hard" campaigns, to the goal of maintaining social stability. Government efforts to maintain social stability have led to a greater reliance on the coercive powers of the police to subdue potential threats to Party rule.
Abuse of power by local police forces remains a serious problem. The Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) has acknowledged the existence of continuing and widespread abuses in law enforcement, including illegal extended detentions and torture. New SPP regulations that detail the criteria for prosecuting official abuses of power went into effect in July 2006, and establish standards for the prosecution of police who abuse their power to hold individuals in custody beyond legal limits, coerce confessions under torture, acquire evidence through the use of force, maltreat prisoners, or retaliate against those who petition the government or file complaints against them.
The Chinese government continues to apply vague criminal and administrative provisions to justify detentions based on an individual's political opinions or membership in religious, ethnic, or social groups. These provisions allow for the targeting and punishment of activists for crimes that "endanger state security" or "disturb public order" under the Criminal Law. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded in his March 2006 report to the UN Commission on Human Rights that the vague definition of these crimes leaves their application open to abuse, particularly of the rights to freedom of religion, speech, and assembly.
Chinese authorities use reeducation through labor and other forms of administrative detention to circumvent the criminal process and imprison offenders for "minor crimes," without judicial review and the procedural protections guaranteed by the Chinese Constitution and Criminal Procedure Law. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in 2004 that the Chinese government has made no significant progress in reforming the administrative detention system to ensure judicial review and to conform to international law. Although proposed reforms would provide some added procedural protections, they would still not provide an accused individual the opportunity to dispute the alleged misconduct and contest law enforcement accusations of guilt before an independent adjudicatory body.
Although illegal in China, torture and abuse by law enforcement officers remain widespread. Factors that perpetuate or exacerbate the problem of torture include a lack of procedural safeguards to protect criminal suspects and defendants, over reliance on confessions of guilt, the absence of lawyers at interrogations, inadequate complaint mechanisms, the lack of an independent judiciary, and the abuse of administrative detention measures. The Chinese government emphasizes its ongoing efforts to pass new laws and administrative regulations preventing, punishing, and compensating cases of torture by law enforcement officers. Both the SPP and the Ministry of Public Security have announced their support for audio and video taping of interrogations of criminal suspects accused of a limited number of crimes. The Chinese government recognizes that problems of misconduct, including physical abuse, exist within Chinese prisons and reeducation through labor centers, and it is making progress toward increasing accountability for such behavior.
In 2006, Chinese authorities increased restrictions on lawyers who work on politically sensitive cases or cases that draw attention from the foreign news media. Law enforcement officials also intimidated lawyers defending these cases by charging them, or threatening to charge them, with various crimes. Since mid-2005, local authorities have also used harassment and violent measures against those who participated in criminal or civil rights defense in sensitive matters. Beijing lawyer Zhu Jiuhu was detained during the past year. Self-trained legal advocate Chen Guangcheng was sentenced on August 24, 2006, to four years and three months' imprisonment, and Shanghai lawyer Zheng Enchong is currently under house arrest after being released from prison on June 5, 2006. Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been held incommunicado since authorities reportedly abducted him on August 15 from his sister's home in Shandong province. Guo Feixiong, who served as a legal advisor to Gao's law firm, was arrested and later released in late 2005, and is currently in detention after being taken from his home on September 14.
Chinese criminal law includes 68 capital offenses, over half of which are non-violent crimes. The Chinese government reportedly has adopted an "execute fewer, execute cautiously" policy. In 2006, the Chinese judiciary made reform of the death penalty review process a top priority and introduced new appellate court procedures for hearing death penalty cases. The Supreme People's Court announced that it would consolidate and reclaim the death penalty review power from provincial-level high courts. These reforms are designed to limit the use of death sentences, consolidate criteria used by courts to administer those sentences, and ensure constitutionally protected human rights.
The Vice Minister of Health acknowledged that the majority of human organs used in transplants in China originate from executed prisoners. Under the World Health Organization's guiding principles on human organ transplantation, organ donations by prisoners, even when reportedly voluntary, may nonetheless violate international standards if the organs are obtained through undue influence and pressure. New Ministry of Health regulations include medical standards for organ transplants, but do not provide guidance on what type of consent is required for taking organs from executed prisoners.
The Chinese government does not respect the internationally recognized right of workers to organize their own unions. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), a Party-led mass organization, is the only legal labor federation in China. It controls local union branches and aligns worker and union activity with government and Party policy. The ACFTU began a campaign in March 2006 to establish union branches in foreign enterprises doing business in China. Chinese workers who attempt to form independent workers' organizations, or whom the government suspects of being leaders of such organizations, risk imprisonment. The government secretly tried labor rights activist Li Wangyang and sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment in September 2001 for staging a peaceful hunger strike. Li had previously served most of a 13-year sentence for organizing an independent union. In May 2003, the government sentenced labor activist Yao Fuxin to a seven-year prison term for peacefully rallying workers to demand wage and pension arrearages from a bankrupt state-owned enterprise. Both Li and Yao remain in prison.
Weak protection of worker rights has contributed to an increase in the number of labor disputes and protests. According to ACFTU figures, the number of labor disputes rose sharply in 2005. The ACFTU reports that there were 300,000 labor-related lawsuits filed, a 20.5 percent increase over 2004 and a 950 percent increase compared to 1995. Strikes, marches, demonstrations, and collective petitions increased from fewer than 1,500 in 1994 to about 11,000 in 2003, while the number of workers involved increased from nearly 53,000 in 1994 to an estimated 515,000 in 2003. Poor workplace health and safety conditions and continuing wage and pension arrearages were the most prominent issues resulting in labor disputes during the past year. Chinese industry continues to have a high accident rate, with death rates in the mining and construction industries leading other sectors. According to official statistics, 110,027 people were killed in 677,379 workplace accidents through December 2005, and more than 10,000 workers died in the mining and construction sectors during 2005.
Forced labor is an integral part of the Chinese administrative detention system. Authorities sentence some prisoners without judicial review to reeducation through labor (laojiao) centers, where they are forced to work long hours without pay to fulfill heavy production quotas, and sometimes are tortured for refusing to work. China's Labor Law prohibits forced labor practices in the workplace, and authorities have arrested employers who trap workers at forced labor sites. In 2002, the Chinese government began to cooperate with the International Labor Organization on broad issues of concern regarding forced labor, including on potential reforms to the reeducation through labor system, and on improving institutional capacity to combat human trafficking for labor exploitation.
The use of child labor in some regions of China is reportedly on the rise. Labor shortages in the economically developed southern and eastern coastal provinces are causing employers to turn to child laborers, according to NGO reports. This development coincides with intensified efforts by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security to fight the illegal employment of children, suggesting that the government is more concerned about such abuses than before. Government authorities consider statistics on child labor that have not been officially approved for release to be state secrets, and this policy thwarts efforts to understand the extent and causes of the problem.
Chinese government restrictions on the practice of religion violate international human rights standards. Freedom of religious belief is protected by the Chinese Constitution and laws, but government implementation of Party policy on religion, and restrictions elsewhere in domestic law, violate these guarantees. The Chinese government tolerates some aspects of religious belief and practice, but only under a strict regulatory framework that represses religious and spiritual activities falling outside the scope of Party-sanctioned practice. Religious organizations are required to register with the government and submit to the leadership of "patriotic religious associations" created by the Party to lead each of China's five recognized religions: Buddhism, Catholicism, Daoism, Islam, and Protestantism. Those who choose not to register with the government, or groups that the government refuses to register, operate outside the zone of protected religious activity and risk harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses. Registered communities also risk such abuse if they engage in religious activities that authorities deem a threat to Party authority or legitimacy.
The 2004 Regulation on Religious Affairs (RRA) has not afforded greater religious freedom to Chinese citizens, despite government claims that it represented a "paradigm shift" by limiting state control over religion. Like earlier local and national regulations on religion, the RRA emphasizes government control and restrictions on religion. The RRA articulates general protection only for freedom of "religious belief," but not for expressions of religious belief. Like earlier regulations, it also protects only those religious activities deemed "normal," without defining this term. Although the RRA includes provisions that permit registered religious organizations to select leaders, publish materials, and engage in other affairs, many provisions are conditioned on government approval and oversight of religious activities.
Chinese government enforcement of Party policy on religion creates a repressive environment for the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Party policies toward the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, the second-ranking Tibetan spiritual leader, seek to control the fundamental religious convictions of Tibetan Buddhists. Government actions to implement Party policies caused further deterioration in some aspects of religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists in the past year. Officials began a patriotic education campaign in Lhasa-area monasteries and nunneries in April 2005. Expressions of resentment by Tibetan monks and nuns against the continuing campaign resulted in detentions, expulsions, and an apparent suicide. Chinese officials continue to hold Gedun Choekyi Nyima, the boy the Dalai Lama recognized as the Panchen Lama in May 1995, in incommunicado custody along with his parents.
Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns constituted 21 of the 24 known political detentions of Tibetans by Chinese authorities in 2005, compared to 8 of the 15 such known detentions in 2004, based on data available in the Commission's Political Prisoner Database. None of the known detentions of monks and nuns in 2005 took place in Sichuan province, a shift from the previous three years, but known detentions of monks and nuns in Qinghai and Gansu provinces increased during the same period. Based on data available for 50 currently imprisoned Tibetan monks and nuns, their average sentence length is approximately nine years and six months. In one positive development, the government permitted the resumption of a centuries-old Tibetan Buddhist tradition of advanced study that leads to the highest level of scholarly attainment in the Gelug tradition.
Government repression of unregistered Catholic clerics increased in the past year. Based on NGO reports, officials in Hebei and Zhejiang provinces detained a total of 38 unregistered clerics in 13 incidents in the last year, while in the previous year officials detained 11 clerics in 5 incidents. The government targets Catholic bishops who lead large unregistered communities for the most severe punishment. Bishop Jia Zhiguo, the unregistered bishop of Zhengding diocese in Hebei province, has spent most of the past year in detention. Bishop Jia has been detained at least eight times since 2004.
Government harassment and abuse of registered Catholic clerics also increased in the past year. In November and December 2005, three incidents were reported in which officials or unidentified assailants beat registered Catholic nuns or priests after they demanded the return of church property. In April and May 2006, officials began a campaign to increase control over registered Catholic bishops. Officials detained, sequestered, threatened, or exerted pressure on dozens of registered Catholic clerics to coerce them into participating in the consecration of bishops selected by the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association but not approved by the Holy See. Government authorities also restricted contact between registered clergy and the Holy See, denying bishops permission to travel to Rome in September 2005 to participate in a meeting of Catholic bishops. Authorities continued to permit some registered priests and nuns to study abroad.
The Chinese government also strictly controls the practice of Islam. Muslims face the same rigorous registration requirements as other religious groups. The state-controlled Islamic Association of China aligns Islamic practice to Party goals by directing the training and confirmation of religious leaders, the publication of religious materials, the content of sermons, and the organization of Hajj pilgrimages, as well as by indoctrinating religious leaders and adherents in Party ideology and government policy.
The government severely represses Islamic practice in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), especially among the Uighur ethnic group. Local regulations in the XUAR impose restrictions on religion that are not found in other parts of China. The government's religious repression in the XUAR is part of a broader policy aimed at diluting expressions of Uighur identity and tightening government control in the region. The government continues to imprison Uighurs who engage in peaceful expressions of dissent and other non-violent activities. Writer Nurmemet Yasin and historian Tohti Tunyaz remain in prison for writing a short story and conducting research on the XUAR.
The Chinese government continues to repress Chinese Protestants who worship in house churches. From May 2005 to May 2006, the government detained nearly 2,000 house church members, according to one U.S. NGO. Almost 50 percent of the reported detentions of Protestant house church members and leaders took place in Henan province, where the house church movement is particularly strong. In June 2006, Pastor Zhang Rongliang, the leader of one of China's largest house churches, was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison for "illegally crossing the national border" and "fraudulently obtaining a passport." Authorities have detained or imprisoned Pastor Zhang multiple times since 1976. Pastor Gong Shengliang is serving a life sentence in declining health, and was beaten in prison during the past year.
The Chinese government continues to maintain strict control over the registered Protestant church. The RRA requires that all Protestants worship at registered churches, regardless of their differences in doctrine and liturgy. The state-controlled Three-Self Patriotic Movement, which leads the registered Protestant church in China, continues to impose a Party-defined theology, called "theological construction," on registered seminaries that is intended to "weaken those aspects within Christian faith that do not conform with the socialist society." In the past year, authorities detained a registered Protestant pastor in Henan province for conducting a Bible study meeting at a registered Protestant church outside his designated geographic area.
The Chinese government continues to disrupt the relationships that many house churches maintain with co-religionists outside China, including raiding meetings between house church leaders and overseas Protestants, and preventing foreign travel by house church leaders. The Chinese government also continues to restrict and monitor the ties between the registered Protestant Church and foreign denominations.
Government persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual movement continued during the past year. Authorities use both criminal and administrative punishments to punish Falun Gong practitioners for peacefully exercising their spiritual beliefs. The state-controlled press has reported on at least 149 cases of Falun Gong practitioners currently in prison, but Falun Gong sources estimate that up to 100,000 practitioners have been detained since 1999. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, reported after his November 2005 visit to China that Falun Gong practitioners account for two-thirds of victims of alleged torture by Chinese law enforcement officers. Tsinghua University student Wang Xin was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment in 2001 for downloading Falun Gong materials from the Internet and printing leaflets.
Despite strict government controls on the practice of religion, Chinese authorities accommodate the social programs of Buddhist, Catholic, Daoist, Muslim, and Protestant communities when these programs support Party goals. For example, domestic Muslim civil society organizations carry out social welfare projects, and international Muslim charities have supported projects in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces, as well as in the XUAR. The Amity Foundation, affiliated with the registered Protestant Church, sponsors projects in social services and development aid, including education, health care, and care for the elderly.
The Chinese Constitution and national laws provide that men and women should enjoy equal rights and list protections for the economic and social rights of women, but vague language and inadequate implementation hinder the effectiveness of these legal protections. Some provincial and municipal governments have passed regulations to strengthen the implementation of national laws. A 2005 amendment to the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women prohibits sexual harassment and domestic violence, promotes a greater voice for women in the government, and charges several government organizations with responsibility for preventing human trafficking and rehabilitating victims.
Civil society groups in China advocate on behalf of women's rights within the confines of government and Party policy. The All-China Women's Federation, a Party-led mass organization, works with the Chinese government to support women's rights, implement programs for disadvantaged women, and provide a limited measure of legal counseling and training for women. Women, however, have limited earning power compared to men, despite government policies that guarantee women non-discrimination in employment and occupation.
The Chinese government strictly controls the reproductive lives of Chinese women. Since the early 1980s, the government's population planning policy has limited most women in urban areas to bearing one child, while permitting many women in rural China to bear a second child if their first child is female. Officials have coerced compliance with the policy through a system marked by pervasive propaganda, mandatory monitoring of women's reproductive cycles, mandatory contraception, mandatory birth permits, coercive fines for failure to comply, and, in some cases, forced sterilization and abortion. The Chinese government's population planning laws and regulations contravene international human rights standards by limiting the number of children that women may bear, by coercing compliance with population targets through heavy fines, and by discriminating against "out-of-plan" children. Local officials have violated Chinese law by punishing citizens, such as legal advocate Chen Guangcheng, who have drawn attention to population planning abuses by government officials.
Human trafficking remains pervasive in China despite efforts by government agencies to combat trafficking, a framework of domestic laws to address the problem, and ongoing cooperation with international anti-trafficking programs. The government's population planning policy has created a severe imbalance in the male-female birth ratio, and this imbalance exacerbates trafficking of women and girls for sale as brides. Between 10,000 and 20,000 men, women, and children are victims of trafficking within China each year, and NGOs estimate that 90 percent of those victims are women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation. Authorities are working with the International Labor Organization to build anti-trafficking capacity and raise domestic awareness of the problem.
The Chinese government acknowledges the severity of China's environmental problems and has taken steps to curb pollution and environmental degradation. Since 2001, it has formulated or revised environmental protection laws, administrative regulations, and standards, and has worked to strengthen enforcement of anti-pollution rules. The Chinese government has also welcomed international technical assistance to combat environmental degradation, and has increased cooperation with the U.S. government on environmental protection over the past year.
Despite these initiatives, local enforcement of environmental laws and regulations is poor, and under funding of environmental protection activities continues to hinder official efforts to prevent environmental degradation. A lack of transparency hampers the Chinese government's ability to respond to civil emergencies, including environmental disasters. Government efforts to impose greater control over environmental civil society groups during the past year have stifled citizen activism.
The central government strengthened its commitment during the past year to address the severe shortage of affordable health care in rural China. Since the collapse of the rural public health infrastructure in the 1980s, the disparity in the availability and affordability of health care between urban and rural areas has increased. As a result, the medical needs of China's rural poor, including the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, often go unaddressed. The government, however, has pledged to accelerate the establishment of rural health cooperatives and invest more than 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) over the next five years to modernize hospitals, clinics, and medical equipment at the village, township, and county levels.
The central government continued to take steps over the past year to prevent and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. Although the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases nationwide has decreased, health officials still consider the disease to be a grave problem. Government efforts to prevent and control the transmission of HIV/AIDS continue to face serious challenges, as local implementation of national policy lags far behind central government attention to the problem. Victims of HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases also continue to face harassment and discrimination, despite legal protections.
Chinese public health officials have shown increased commitment and responsiveness in their efforts to prevent and control the spread of avian flu, and have taken steps to improve government transparency following the mishandling of the SARS epidemic in 2003. International health experts, however, still consider China to be among the most likely incubators of a potential human influenza pandemic. Central government cooperation in sharing information and virus samples with international health organizations has been inconsistent, and international health organizations and central government officials continue to express concern about the speed and accuracy of local reporting on outbreaks among both humans and poultry.
Since its implementation in the 1950s, the Chinese household registration (hukou) system has limited the rights of ordinary Chinese citizens to choose their permanent place of residence, receive equal access to social services, and enjoy equal protection of the law. Economic changes and relaxation of some hukou controls have eroded previously strict limits on citizens' freedom of movement, but these changes have also exported a discriminatory urban-rural social division to China's cities. Migrants who lack a local hukou for their new city of residence face legal discrimination in employment, education, and social services.
Chinese leaders called for reforms to the hukou system during the past year. Central government interest in reform stems not only from concern over migrant rights and economic inequality, but also from concern over growing social instability and a desire for stronger government control over China's internal migrant population. New national goals for hukou reform, like similar proposals implemented periodically since the late 1990s, call for streamlined hukou categories, elimination of discriminatory regulations on employment, and improved migrant access to social services. Local governments and urban residents have resisted reforms to the hukou system because of the potential budgetary impact, fears of increasing population pressure in cities, and discriminatory attitudes toward migrants. Local opposition has limited the ability of central government authorities to achieve national reform goals.
The number of civil society organizations in China is growing, with many organizations undertaking projects such as poverty alleviation, faith-based social work, and legal efforts to protect citizen rights. These organizations include national mass organizations that the Party created and funds, smaller citizen associations registered under national regulations, and loose networks of unregistered grassroots organizations. In February 2006, the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation selected six groups as the first civil society organizations to receive Chinese government funding to run experimental anti-poverty programs, including the China office of a U.S.-based rural development organization.
Central authorities seek to maintain control over civil society groups, halt the emergence of independent organizations, and prevent what they have called the "Westernization" of China. While recognizing the utility of civil society organizations to address social problems, Chinese authorities use strict regulations to limit the growth of an independent civil society. Some Chinese citizens who attempt to organize groups outside of state control have been imprisoned. These include individuals who have attempted to establish independent labor unions and political associations, such as China Free Trade Union Preparatory Committee member Hu Shigen, and China Democracy Party member Qin Yongmin; or young intellectuals who organize informal discussion groups, such as New Youth Study Group members Jin Haike, Xu Wei, Yang Zili, and Zhang Honghai.
Chinese officials have taken additional steps to curtail civil society organizations in the past year, but authorities are undecided on how to proceed. Since early 2005, Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) officials have been researching a new administrative system to monitor and control civil society organizations. Many details of the new system are undetermined, such as who will conduct the required evaluations of civil society groups, how the evaluation results will be used, and who will fund the evaluations. At the same time, Chinese authorities have supported limited reforms to the status of civil society organizations. MOCA officials are advocating changes to the tax code to encourage private donations to civil society organizations. Central Party officials have expressed support for the creation of rural farmer cooperatives in annual policy guidelines issued each year since 2004.
International human rights standards require effective remedies for official violations of citizen rights. Despite these guarantees, Chinese citizens face formidable obstacles in seeking remedies to government actions that violate their legal rights and constitutionally protected freedoms. External government and Party controls continue to limit the independence of the Chinese judiciary. Party officials control the selection of top judicial personnel in all courts, including the Supreme People's Court, China's highest judicial authority. Since 2005, the government has restricted the efforts of private lawyers and human rights defenders who challenge government abuses. The All China Lawyers Association issued a guiding opinion that restricts the ability of lawyers to handle cases involving large groups of people. Local Chinese authorities have imposed additional restrictions on lawyer advocacy efforts.
The constitutional and administrative mechanisms in Chinese law that allow citizens to challenge government actions do not provide effective legal remedies, and Chinese citizens seldom use them. Chinese citizens rarely submit proposals to the National People's Congress for constitutional and legal review because the review process lacks transparency and citizens cannot compel review. Administrative court challenges to government actions have not increased since 1998. Provincial authorities report an overall decline between 2003 and 2005 in applications for administrative reconsideration, and the total numbers of such applications in major Chinese municipalities is a few hundred per year.
Chinese law also permits citizens to petition government officials directly to redress their grievances through the "letters and visits" (xinfang) system. Official news media report that Chinese citizens presented 12.7 million petitions to county-level and higher xinfang bureaus during 2005, in contrast to the 8 million total court cases handled by the Chinese judiciary during the same period. Local officials are disciplined more severely for high incidences of petitioning. Absent alternative political or legal channels to check the power of local officials and obtain redress, this punishment structure provides an incentive for Chinese citizens to take their grievances to the streets in order to force local officials to act. But this punishment structure also gives local authorities an interest in suppressing mass petitions and preventing petitioners from approaching higher authorities. A December 2005 study of the xinfang system by a U.S. NGO found that some local authorities have resorted to "rampant violence and intimidation" to abduct or detain petitioners in Beijing and force them to return home.
The Supreme People's Court 2004-2008 court reform program imposes stronger external and internal controls that may further weaken the independence of courts and judges. The court reform program, however, also sets some positive long-term goals for judicial reform in the areas of court financing, adjudication, retrial procedures, and juvenile justice. Party efforts to address growing social unrest have resulted in new government programs to strengthen institutions that assist citizens with legal claims and disputes. Official Chinese statistics show that the number of government legal aid centers rose from 2,774 in 2003 to 3,081 in 2005. The total number of cases handled by these centers rose from about 166,000 in 2003 to an estimated 250,000 in 2005, or roughly 3 percent of all cases handled by the Chinese courts in 2005.
In 2005, the Dalai Lama increased his efforts to explain that he does not seek Tibetan independence from China. The Dalai Lama's envoys traveled to China for a fifth round of dialogue with Chinese officials in February 2006, relaying a request to Chinese leaders to permit the Dalai Lama to visit China as a religious pilgrim. Tibetans could benefit from full implementation of the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law, but the lack of local self-government in Tibetan autonomous areas of China creates mistrust in the dialogue and demonstrates that authorities are not implementing this law.
The Chinese government favors accelerating implementation of development initiatives, especially the Great Western Development program, that already erode Tibetan culture and heritage. The Qinghai-Tibet railway began passenger service in July 2006, increasing Tibetan concerns about the railway's potential effects on Tibetan culture and the environment. Education levels among Tibetans are much lower than those of ethnic Han Chinese, undermining the ability of Tibetans to compete for employment and other economic advantages in an emerging market economy that attracts an increasing number of Han.
The Chinese government strictly limits the rights of Tibetans to exercise the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. Communist Party political campaigns promote atheism and strengthen government efforts to discourage Tibetan aspirations to foster their unique culture and religion. Chinese authorities have punished Tibetans, such as Jigme Gyatso, a former monk imprisoned in 1996 who is serving a 17-year sentence and Choeying Khedrub, a monk serving a life sentence since 2000, for peaceful expressions and non-violent actions that officials believe could undermine Party rule. The Commission's Political Prisoner Database listed 103 known cases of current Tibetan political detention or imprisonment as of August 2006, a figure that is likely to be lower than the actual number of Tibetan political prisoners. Based on sentence information available for 70 of the current prisoners, the average sentence is approximately 10 years and 11 months.
The Chinese government forcibly repatriates North Korean refugees facing starvation and political and religious persecution in their homeland, contravening its obligations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Chinese authorities detained and returned to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) thousands of North Koreans in 2005. The government classifies all North Koreans who enter China without documents as illegal economic migrants and claims it must return them to the DPRK, even though North Korean defectors meet the definition of refugees under international law. Repatriated North Koreans face long prison sentences, torture, and execution.
Without legal status, North Korean refugees in China are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. There are an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 North Koreans currently hiding in northeastern China, and some NGOs estimate that the number of refugees is much higher. The government refuses the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) access to North Korean refugees, and fines and imprisons humanitarian workers who assist North Koreans in China. Officials in Beijing met with UNHCR Antonio Guterres in March 2006 during the first UNHCR visit to China since 1997. In July 2006, the Chinese government for the first time allowed three North Korean refugees to travel directly from the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang, Liaoning province, to the United States to seek asylum.
The people of Hong Kong continue to enjoy the benefits of an independent judiciary and an open society in which the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly are respected. The Commission strongly supports the provisions of the Basic Law that provide for the election of the chief executive and the entire Legislative Council through universal suffrage, and highlights the importance of the central government's obligation to give Hong Kong the "high degree of autonomy" promised in the Basic Law. The Commission notes, however, that during the past year, no steps were taken that would move Hong Kong closer to the "ultimate aim" of universal suffrage as specified in the Basic Law.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's Constitutional Development Task Force issued its fifth report in October 2005, which proposed modest measures to expand citizen participation in selecting the chief executive in 2007 and forming the Legislative Council in 2008. A vigorous public debate on the merits of the Task Force proposals, and their lack of a timetable for universal suffrage, culminated in a December 2005 march by tens of thousands to protest the slow pace of democratization. Twenty-four Legislative Council members voted against the report in late December, blocking its passage. A last-minute package of adjustments offered by the government did not meet the lawmakers' demand for a specific timetable to realize universal suffrage.
The Chinese government has made progress in bringing its laws and regulations into compliance with its World Trade Organization (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 in many sectors. The Chinese commercial regulatory regime remains, however, largely opaque to both domestic and foreign businesses. When China joined the WTO in December 2001, the government committed to establishing an official journal that would publish drafts of trade-related measures for notice and comment, and to publish trade-related measures no later than 90 days after they become effective. Although the government has acted to improve transparency, some central government agencies and many local governments are not consistent in publishing trade-related measures in the official journal.
The Chinese government tolerates intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement rates that are among the highest in the world. The Chinese government has not introduced criminal penalties sufficient to deter IPR infringement, and steps taken by Chinese government agencies to improve the protection of foreign intellectual property have not produced any significant decrease in infringement activity. The Chinese government's failure to provide effective criminal enforcement of IPR has led foreign companies to turn to civil litigation to obtain monetary damages or injunctive relief. Civil litigants continue to find, however, that most judges lack the necessary training and experience to handle IPR cases, and damage awards are too low to be an effective deterrent.
Since acceding to the WTO, the Chinese government has used technical, regulatory, and industrial policies, some of which appear to conflict with its WTO commitments, to discriminate against foreign producers and investors and limit their access to the domestic market. U.S. rights holders and industry groups have complained that the government's censorship regime serves as a barrier to entry and encourages IPR violations. In 2005, the American Chamber of Commerce in China wrote that censorship clearance procedures severely restrict the ability to distribute CD, VCD, and DVD products in China and provide an "unfair and unnecessary advantage to pirate producers who bring their products to market long before legitimate copies are available for sale."