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 2013," October 10, 2013
The Congressional-Executive Commission offers its annual report on human rights in China and current affairs in regards to rule of law.
The Commission notes China’s lack of progress in guaranteeing Chinese citizens’ freedom of expression, assembly, and religion; restraining the power of the Chinese Communist Party; and establishing the rule of law under the new leadership of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. Official rhetoric at the start of their tenure suggested openness to reforms and limits on the power of officials, sparking public discussion across China. But the new leadership soon cracked down on growing calls for human rights and the rule of law and reiterated the Party’s dominance over public affairs. Despite widespread acknowledgement that loosening restrictions on society to encourage public participation, lessening state control over the economy, and enforcing the rule of law are essential to China’s economic development, China continues to pursue economic modernization without political reform or guarantees to fundamental human rights.
The Commission’s reporting year, which covers the period from fall 2012 to fall 2013, began with some potentially hopeful signs. Statements starting in late 2012 by President Xi, Premier Li, and other top leaders pledged to crack down on corruption and rein in official abuses, promised major reforms to the abusive systems of reeducation through labor and household registration, and suggested an openness to giving greater authority to China’s Constitution. New and revised laws that took effect, including the PRC Criminal Procedure Law and the PRC Mental Health Law, contained significant flaws but also had the potential to improve protection of citizens’ rights. China’s relatively open response to an outbreak of avian flu in early 2013 stood in marked contrast to its poor handling of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis 10 years earlier, a point highlighted at a Commission hearing held in May 2013. Whether buoyed by statements from China’s new leaders or the possibilities accompanying a transition of power, citizens from diverse sectors of society, from elements within the Party to individuals affiliated with the grassroots New Citizens’ Movement, sought to engage in public discussion over China’s future. They urged their government to give greater force to the Constitution as a check on official behavior, make good on its promise to combat corruption by requiring officials to disclose their assets, and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998.
By spring, however, it became clear that hopes China’s new leaders would engage with, or even tolerate, public discussion on issues such as constitutionalism and anticorruption would remain unfulfilled. In April, the Office of the Communist Party’s Central Committee reportedly issued Document No. 9, which sought to marginalize and silence calls for constitutional checks, anticorruption, universal human rights, and press freedom as the products of ‘‘Western anti-China forces’’ and dissidents, rather than treat them as the legitimate concerns of China’s own citizens and an obligation under China’s commitments to international standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By September 2013, authorities had detained, arrested, or ‘‘disappeared’’ nearly 60 individuals in an ensuing crackdown on free expression, assembly, and association, including the prominent rights advocates Xu Zhiyong and Guo Feixiong. Pro-reform editorials and discussions on the Internet were censored. Citizens who sought information about the government’s human rights action plan and the submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of China’s human rights record scheduled for October 2013 faced harassment, detention, and arrest.
The Party’s harsh response to calls for reform this past year echoed a consistent theme across the 19 issue areas covered in this report—that the Party’s interest in maintaining control and dominance over Chinese society still trumps meaningful and lasting progress on transparency, human rights, the rule of law, and easing state control over the economy. To be sure, the Commission documented improvements at the margins throughout this report, including the issuance of a national anti-trafficking plan, the loosening of residency restrictions in some localities, the introduction of labor law amendments intended to curb abuse of subcontracted labor, and the discontinuation of reeducation through labor sentences in some provinces. But these took place against the backdrop of a Chinese state that still views its citizens with suspicion and still denies them basic freedoms.
This was evident in many of the headline issues that captivated Chinese citizens this past year, from crippling pollution and corrupt political figures to widespread concerns over food safety and tensions in ethnic minority regions. Citizens clamored for more information about the safety of their environment and food, but authorities deemed soil pollution data a ‘‘state secret.’’ Corruption was a top concern for many in China, but authorities detained anticorruption advocates and censored foreign news stories about the finances of China’s leaders and their families. Despite dozens more self-immolations in Tibetan areas of China and some of the worst unrest in Xinjiang since 2009, Chinese officials continued to rely on heavier security and tighter control instead of dialogue and reconciliation. Another year has passed without resumption of formal dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama, extending the longest break since talks resumed in 2002. On the surface, the August trial of Bo Xilai, former Party Central Political Bureau member and Chongqing Party Secretary, appeared relatively more transparent, but it also was a reminder that when the Party’s interests are involved, China remains very much a country ruled by the Party and not by laws.
In addition, China made little progress toward achieving the ‘‘highly efficient modern government that operates under the rule of law’’ recommended in the groundbreaking ‘‘China 2030’’ report released by the World Bank and the Development Research Center of China’s State Council in 2012. The ‘‘China 2030’’ report, which the Commission raised in last year’s annual report, underscored the strong relationship between the human rights and rule of law issues monitored by the Commission and China’s long-term economic development and stability. The report urged China to take a number of steps to reach the next stage of economic development, including allowing Chinese people greater freedom of movement and public participation, and strengthening the rule of law. The report also urged China to reform its state-owned sector, a source of abuses that tests China’s commitment to the rule of law. On this count, this report found that the state continues to play an outsized role in China’s economy, unfairly subsidizing state-owned enterprises and coordinating an overseas investment strategy, employing policies that favor domestic companies over foreign firms, violating World Trade Organization obligations, undervaluing its currency, and failing to curb the massive theft of foreign intellectual property.
China’s new leaders must undertake significant reforms to meet China’s human rights obligations under international standards and to strengthen the rule of law. To that end, the Commission provides the following main recommendations to Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials outlining ways to encourage such reforms.