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U.S. Congressional–Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2015," October 8, 2015
The Congressional-Executive Commission offers its annual report on human rights in China and current affairs in regards to rule of law.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (the Commission), established by the U.S.-China Relations Act (19 U.S.C. 1307) as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization, is mandated to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and the Congress. The Commission is also mandated to maintain a database of political prisoners in China—individuals who have been imprisoned by the Chinese government for exercising their civil and political rights under China’s Constitution and law or under China’s international human rights obligations. The Commission consists of nine Senators, nine Members of the House of Representatives, and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President and representing the Department of State, Department of Labor, and the Department of Commerce. The Commission’s Executive Branch members have participated in and supported the work of the Commission. The content of this Annual Report, including its findings, view, and recommendations, does not necessarily reflect the views of individual Executive Branch members or the policies of the Administration. The report covers the period from fall 2014 to fall 2015.
The Commission adopted this report by a vote of 22 to 0.
Human rights and rule of law conditions in China deteriorated in many of the areas covered by this year’s report, continuing a downward trend since Xi Jinping took power as Chinese Communist Party General Secretary in November 2012 and President in March 2013. The Commission continued to observe a range of legal and political developments that could have significant impact on the rights and welfare of China’s citizens. Potentially positive developments are overshadowed by the Chinese government and Party’s efforts to silence dissent, suppress human rights advocacy, and control civil society. These efforts are broader in scope than any other period documented since the Commission started issuing Annual Reports in 2002. Targets include human rights defenders, media outlets and journalists, public interest and human rights lawyers, Tibetans and Uyghurs, religious groups and edifices, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), intellectuals and democracy advocates, petitioners and peaceful protesters, and supporters of universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
The political direction set by President Xi and other Chinese leaders aims to build and expand upon that of their predecessors, with a core tenet of unchallenged Party leadership and a commitment to suppress discussions about the legitimacy of the Party’s power. The Party and government continue to violate the human rights of Chinese citizens in ways that significantly influence their daily lives. For example, despite international condemnation and widespread public dissatisfaction, China’s population control policies continued into their 35th year. Even after a slight modification of those policies in 2013, it remains the Chinese government’s mode of operation to interfere with and control the reproductive lives of China’s citizens—particularly women—and to enforce coercive birth limitation policies that violate China’s obligations under international agreements. Restrictions on cultural and religious practices have resulted in authorities restricting the kinds of clothing worn by Uyghur women and the styles of facial hair of Uyghur men. Without an independent judiciary, citizens across China have little legal recourse and face significant challenges, for example, in seeking legal redress when local officials appropriate their land or homes for development projects.
It is increasingly clear that President Xi and the current cohort of Chinese leaders, will tolerate even less dissent than the previous administration. Even those making modest calls for reform—such as civil society organizations, intellectuals, and public interest lawyers who work in areas prioritized by the government—have faced harassment, detention, and arrest. State-approved Catholic Patriotic Association and ‘‘Three-Self Patriotic’’ Protestant churches in Wenzhou municipality, Zhejiang province, have faced demolitions and cross removals. Authorities ordered the removal of an environmental documentary, ‘‘Under the Dome,’’ produced by a well-known journalist and former television broadcaster of state-run China Central Television, from China’s Internet portals after it went viral with over 200 million views. Just before International Women’s Day, Chinese authorities detained five women’s rights advocates and held them in abusive conditions for more than five weeks because they had planned to distribute brochures to raise awareness of sexual harassment on public transportation.
The government and Party’s rhetoric against ‘‘foreign’’ ideals, values, and influence was increasingly strident and widespread this past year. The Party used various forms of media, internal decrees, public statements, and security-related legislation to warn the Chinese public and officials of the distinctions between Chinese and Western ideology, norms, and notions of judicial independence. Efforts continued to strengthen ideological control over the media, universities, the bureaucracy, the Internet, and the arts and entertainment industries. In May 2015, the government released a draft PRC Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Management Law that may make it difficult for foreign-based or -funded NGOs to operate in China. The Communist Party issued an internal document—Document No. 30—reportedly to purge ‘‘Western-inspired liberal ideas’’ from universities and prohibit teaching and research on a number of topics including judicial independence, media freedom, human rights, and criticism of the Communist Party’s history. Taken along with the draft PRC Overseas NGO Management Law, Document No. 30 may have serious implications for academic partnerships formed between the United States and China, including exchange and study abroad programs and new ‘‘satellite campuses’’ established within U.S. colleges and universities.
The theme of the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress Central Committee held in November 2014, ‘‘yifa zhiguo,’’ is often translated as ‘‘rule by law’’ or ‘‘rule in accordance with law,’’ though Chinese leaders often point to the decision issued during the Fourth Plenum to demonstrate the government’s commitment to the ‘‘rule of law.’’ The actions of the Party leadership and government officials over the past year indicate that China is not moving toward a rule of law system, but is instead further entrenching a system where the Party utilizes statutes to strengthen and maintain its leading role and power over the country. Party documents expressly stated the intention to use the law to strengthen the Party’s leadership over legislative, administrative, judicial, and other institutions.
During the 2015 reporting year, the Commission observed a persistent gap between the Chinese government’s rhetoric regarding the importance of laws and the ability of citizens to use the legal system to protect their rights. Many of China’s religious and political prisoners are subject to harsh and lengthy prison sentences as well as various forms of extralegal and administrative detention, including arbitrary detention in ‘‘black jails’’ and ‘‘legal education centers.’’ China’s continued use of extralegal and administrative detention remains an acute problem and overshadows China’s abolition in late 2013 of the reeducation through labor system. The continuing and expanded uses of vaguely defined criminal charges and extralegal detention also raise questions about China’s commitments to international human rights norms. For example, prominent public interest lawyer Pu Zhiqiang faces charges of ‘‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’’ and ‘‘inciting ethnic hatred’’ for social media posts that mocked several government officials and that criticized China’s ethnic policy. Liu Xia, wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, remains isolated under extralegal detention at her home in Beijing municipality and reportedly is in poor health. The Commission’s Political Prisoner Database has information on approximately 1,300 cases of political and religious prisoners currently known, or believed, to be detained or imprisoned, though the actual number is certain to be much higher, given the lack of transparency in the Chinese legal and prison system and other obstacles to the free flow of news and information.
Reports of torture and other human rights abuses in detention continued to be routine, including the denial of medical treatment and the use of forced hospitalization in psychiatric facilities to detain some individuals without mental health issues. Authorities in one Tibetan county issued regulations that provide for the collective punishment of an entire Tibetan family for possessing an image of the Dalai Lama. In addition, Chinese authorities harassed and detained students, family members, and associates of detained or imprisoned democracy and human rights advocates, as well as the lawyers who sought to defend them.
Since 2012 authorities have harassed, detained, or sentenced an increasing number of public interest lawyers, and efforts expanded this past year to disrupt rights lawyers’ activities. Lawyers who accept politically sensitive cases continue to face disbarment, physical violence, and the closure of their law firms. In July 2015, Chinese authorities took into custody more than 250 individuals in an unprecedented nationwide sweep. Many of those interrogated, detained, or ‘‘disappeared’’ are self-described human rights lawyers and rights defenders. Several of the lawyers worked in one Beijing-based law firm. As of August 2015, 23 of those taken into custody were criminally detained, put under residential surveillance, or made a victim of enforced disappearance. Authorities engaged in a public smear campaign in government-run media to accuse the lawyers of ‘‘creating chaos’’ and being part of a ‘‘criminal gang’’ that engaged in plots in the name of ‘‘rights defense, justice, and public interest.’’
The Chinese government and Communist Party’s violations of human rights and the rule of law have implications for U.S.-China relations. Chinese leaders are seeking a ‘‘new type’’ of U.S.-China relations and aim to play an expanded role in global institutions, yet continue to ignore international human rights norms. Human rights and rule of law are essential components of economic development, domestic stability, and the type of trust and confidence necessary to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation on a range of issues that will define the 21st century.
It is increasingly clear that China’s domestic human rights problems are of critical interest to U.S. foreign policy. There is a direct link between concrete improvements in human rights and the rule of law in China and the security and prosperity of both the United States and China. The security of U.S. investments and personal information in cyberspace, the health of the economy and environment, the safety of food and drug supplies, the protection of intellectual property, and the stability of the Pacific region are linked to China. They depend on the Chinese government’s willingness to comply with international law, enforce its own laws, allow the free flow of news and information, fulfill its WTO obligations, and protect the basic rights of Chinese citizens, including the fundamental freedoms of religion, expression, assembly, and association.