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 2006-2007,” Oct. 10, 2007
As this report goes to press, Beijing is putting the finishing touches on preparations for the opening of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Party Congress on October 15, 2007. The event will mark the completion of Hu Jintao’s first five year term as Party General Secretary. China in the last year also passed another important marker—the fifth year in the implementation of its World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments. The Commission passed a marker of its own, having issued five previous Annual Reports on human rights and the development of the rule of law in China.
This confluence of five-year markers provides a useful opportunity to understand the course of human rights and the rule of law in China. Hu Jintao ascended to the Party’s top leadership post five years ago advocating greater government transparency, respect for law, protection of the environment, and a more creative response to rising citizen activism. Over the last five years, however, a different reality has unfolded. China’s human rights practices in the last year reflected Chinese leaders’ intolerance of citizen activism; suppression of information on urgent matters of public concern (including food safety, public health, and environmental emergencies); the instrumental use of law for political purposes; and the localization of dispute resolution as a method of insulating the central government and Party from the backlash of national policy failures. Whether or not the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Party Congress ultimately will be associated with change instead of continuity on these issues remains to be seen.
The commitments that China made five years ago when entering the WTO were not only important to its commercial development in the international marketplace, but to the development of the rule of law at home. These commitments require that China ensure nondiscrimination in the administration of trade-related measures and prompt publication of all laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and administrative rulings relating to trade. The required improvements to China’s domestic rule of law should have assisted Chinese citizens in a wide range of areas from property rights, environmental protection, government transparency, and access to justice. Unfortunately, China has not lived up to its international commitments, and the unfair manner in which it competes in the global marketplace is causing alarm in the United States and around the world. Its instrumental use of legal reform for political purposes threatens its domestic rule of law.
This report summarizes, with the detailed findings of each section, previous Commission recommendations in order to provide readers a sense of the challenges that remain in leveraging improvements in China’s human rights and rule of law practices. In addition, this report demonstrates the importance of the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database, a unique and powerful resource on which the Commission relies for its advocacy and research work, including the preparation of this Annual Report. The next year will be an important one for China, as the 2008 Summer Olympic Games place Beijing front and center on the world stage. Foreign correspondents and international organizations are already concerned that China has not lived up to its promises in important areas of human rights. The Commission will focus attention on these issues in the coming year, both before and after the Olympics.
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