Happy Lunar New Year from the USC US-China Institute!
U.S Congressional-Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2012," October 10, 2012
The commission is chaired by Christopher Smith (House, R-New Jersey) and Sherrod Brown (Senate, D-Ohio)
Two countervailing trends exemplified human rights and rule of law developments in China this past year. On the one hand, the Commission observed the Chinese people, often at great risk, exercising the basic freedoms to which they are entitled and demanding recognition of these rights from their leaders. This development did not arise from any external force, but originated from the Chinese people themselves, and was evident not just among a handful of activists but at all levels of Chinese society. At the same time, the Commission observed a deepening disconnect between the growing demands of the Chinese people and the Chinese government’s ability and desire to meet such demands. In a year marked by a major internal political scandal and leadership transition, Chinese officials appeared more concerned with ‘‘maintaining stability’’ and preserving the status quo than with addressing the grassroots calls for reform taking place all over China.
Citizen protests against lack of basic freedoms and official abuse cut across the diverse issues monitored by the Commission and in some cases were unprecedented. In late 2011 and early 2012, China’s beleaguered workers continued to strike and organize for higher wages and better working conditions in reportedly the most significant series of demonstrations since the summer of 2010. The Commission documented demonstrations in multiple industries taking place in at least 10 provincial-level areas during that period. A tragic and unprecedented wave of self-immolations across the Tibetan plateau indicated a new level of frustration with the Communist Party and government’s increasing cultural and religious repression. During the Commission’s 2012 reporting year, 45 (39 reported fatal) Tibetan self-immolations focused on political and religious issues reportedly took place, out of a total of 50 since February 2009. Mongols in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region held a series of protests in April, June, and July over the confiscation of grassland for government and private development projects. Demonstrators took to the streets in large numbers to protest against land seizures, pollution, and large-scale energy projects. From July until September, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents protested a controversial Beijing-backed national education policy forcing a dramatic retreat by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive C Y Leung. The number of mass incidents in China has reportedly doubled since 2005.
Chinese citizens’ desire for the free flow of information and an unfettered channel for expressing grievances and questioning government policies continued to have a powerful presence on the Internet. The number of Internet users in China continued to rise rapidly, reaching 538 million in June 2012. By April 2012, there were reportedly more than one billion mobile phone accounts in China. While some major events either went unreported or faced heavy censorship in the state-controlled media, citizens flocked to the Internet, particularly China’s popular microblog services, in a bid to freely share and gain information about important issues of public concern. These included the scandal involving ousted Political Bureau member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai and massive flooding in Beijing in July. After graphic photos were widely disseminated on the Internet, citizens across China expressed outrage at the case of Feng Jianmei, a woman kidnapped and forced by local officials to undergo an abortion, unmasking the workings of China’s repressive population planning policy. Democracy advocates such as Chen Wei and Chen Xi received harsh sentences for sharing their views online.
Chinese citizens also sought to engage with and strengthen China’s weak political and legal institutions. Officials continued to wield heavy control over local people’s congress elections, but that did not prevent large numbers of independent candidates from attempting to run in this past year’s elections held across the country. Not surprisingly, many of these candidates faced intense pressure and harassment, and many were winnowed out before the actual elections took place. Concerned citizens continued to make information requests under China’s open government information laws, in hopes of increasing the transparency of China’s opaque institutions. As government officials considered amending some of the country’s major laws and regulations, citizens sought to make known their views about the proposed legislation. They supported, for example, amendments to the PRC Criminal Procedure Law that would better protect the rights of the accused.
The Chinese government and Communist Party failed to keep pace with citizens’ rising demands. In many areas, officials responded with half-measures that did not fully address citizen concerns and in some cases increased the government’s capacity for abuse. On the much-discussed PRC Criminal Procedure Law, the government passed major amendments in March that, while including some improvements, legalized forms of secret detention that put Chinese citizens at risk of torture and abuse and have been used against dissidents in the past. Beginning in January, government officials in some areas expanded environmental transparency to a limited degree by making public information on fine particulate pollution (PM2.5), but also were poised to erect barriers to independent monitoring of the environment. In February, officials issued a circular outlining policies intended to reform China’s hukou system, which limits the rights of Chinese citizens to freely determine their permanent place of residence. Chinese scholars and media criticized the vague nature and limited scope of the proposed policies. The government continued to expand access to the Internet, but passed measures aimed at stemming ‘‘rumors’’ and preventing anonymity that could have a chilling effect on free expression. The government signaled a desire for government-approved religious groups to participate in some areas of civil society, but religious affairs bureaus became more intrusive. Repression against unsanctioned religious groups, including house churches and Falun Gong, continued, and relations with the Holy See deteriorated. Authorities continued to imprison, detain, and fine Uyghur Muslims for engaging in ‘‘illegal religious activities.’’
In other areas, reform and forward movement have simply stalled. On the issue of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Chinese officials have expressed an intent to ratify for a number of years, the government’s position remained unchanged. In its 2012–2015 National Human Rights Action Plan, released in June, the government said it had carried out unspecified ‘‘administrative and judicial reforms’’ to prepare for approval of the ICCPR at an unspecified future date—an even vaguer formulation of a similar claim made in the government’s 2009–2010 action plan. Equally troubling, the 2012–2015 action plan removed language appearing in the 2009–2010 action plan that referred to the ICCPR and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as ‘‘fundamental principles’’ on which the plan was created. In the area of civil society, the government continued to delay amendments to national regulations that would remove obstacles to the registration of civil society organizations, preferring piecemeal experimentation at the local level. Resumption of dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama did not occur, extending the longest break from dialogue since talks resumed in 2002.
Meanwhile, egregious human rights abuses continued along with attempts to increase official capacity for repression. The government persisted in detaining and repatriating North Korean refugees to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), despite the severe punishments refugees face once returned. Arbitrary detention of activists remained commonplace as authorities handed down harsh sentences for political writings, pro-democracy activity, and petitioning. In the case of prominent human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who had been missing for years, Chinese officials claimed he violated the conditions of his parole less than a week before his five-year suspended sentence was set to expire, meaning he would have to serve out his original three-year sentence.
In the face of protests in ethnic minority areas of China, including Tibetan autonomous areas and Xinjiang, authorities continued to respond with policies that can only be expected to further trample on the protection of language, culture, and religion, as well as impede prospects for local autonomous governance that the Chinese Constitution and law are supposed to protect. Officials in Xinjiang expanded the implementation of the ‘‘bilingual education’’policy, which promotes the use of Mandarin in education at the expense of Uyghur and other ‘‘ethnic minority’’ languages. In Qinghai province, Tibetan students protested the attempted substitution of Tibetan-language textbooks with Chinese-language textbooks. In a sign that the government and Party may be considering even more counterproductive policies, Zhu Weiqun, the Executive Deputy Head of the Party’s United Front Work Department and an influential voice on ethnic minority affairs, wrote an article in February 2012 supporting greater ethnic assimilation, a policy change that almost certainly would further undercut protection of ethnic minorities’ languages, cultures, and religions. A campaign to eliminate Falun Gong and ‘‘transform’’ its practitioners entered its third year. In the name of ‘‘social management,’’ the Party and government expanded their reach into society, enhancing surveillance and monitoring of not only democracy and rights advocates but also the citizenry at large.
The Commission observed potential bright spots this past year. Officially reported deaths from mining accidents have reportedly decreased, and the Chinese government issued measures that reward workers who report occupational safety hazards and coverups of accidents in the workplace. The newly revised PRC Criminal Procedure Law now provides for expanded access to legal defense, recorded interrogations, longer trial deliberations, mandatory appellate hearings, and more rigorous judicial review. Officials continued to increase funding for legal aid and expand access to this important service. The draft of the country’s first national mental health law, currently being reviewed by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, contains provisions that could constrain officials from abusing psychiatric detention, although it fails to mandate independent reviews of an initial diagnosis and lacks safeguards such as time limits on involuntary commitment. Rhetorically, Chinese officials continued to offer promising pledges, such as abolishing organ harvesting from death-row prisoners and not discriminating against political and human rights groups wishing to register for legal status. As he has been in the past, Premier Wen Jiabao continued to be a lone voice at the top willing to state publicly his support for political reform, albeit within one-party rule, and curbing the power of the Party and government. These encouraging statements and legal and policy developments appeared modest at best, however, either because they were not backed by concrete plans for implementation or because they failed to address the root of the problem: Chinese citizens’ continuing lack of the fundamental rights to which they are entitled under both Chinese and international law.
The Commission continued to observe divergent voices within the Chinese government, including support for some reforms. In February 2012, the Development Research Center of the State Council and the World Bank issued ‘‘China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society.’’ While acknowledging China’s economic successes over the past 30 years, the report said that China had ‘‘reached another turning point in its development path, one that calls for a second strategic, and no less fundamental, shift.’’ The report called for reforming China’s state-owned sector, which is an important source of trade conflicts. It called for allowing Chinese people greater freedom of movement by accelerating reforms of the hukou system. The report said greater public participation was needed to empower China’s citizens to contribute to the country’s development and raise standards of living. ‘‘The government should respond proactively to these needs and grant rights to individuals, households, enterprises, communities, academia, and other non-governmental organizations through clear rules that encourage broad participation,’’ the report said. Finally, the report argued forcefully for strengthening the rule of law in China. According to the report, China ‘‘will need to transform itself into a lean, clean, transparent, and highly efficient modern government that operates under the rule of law.’’ The report underscored the strong relationship between the human rights and rule of law issues monitored by the Commission and China’s long-term economic stability.
The Commission’s legislative mandate tasks the Commission with monitoring China’s compliance with human rights, particularly those contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as monitoring the development of the rule of law in China. As part of its mandate, the Commission issues an annual report every October, covering the preceding 12-month period and including recommendations for U.S. legislative or executive action. What follows are the Commission’s main recommendations to Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials, followed by more specific findings and recommendations for each of the 19 issue areas covered in this report.
• International Law and Fundamental Freedoms.
Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials should urge Chinese officials to ratify and implement in law the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) immediately. China signed the ICCPR in 1998 and has repeatedly pledged to ratify it. The ICCPR is an important basis for the many freedoms Chinese officials continue to systematically deny citizens, as documented in this report, including the freedoms of expression, religion, association, and movement. Workers cannot form independent trade unions. Religious worshippers of all faiths—including Buddhists, Catholics, Falun Gong practitioners, Muslims, Protestants, and Taoists—and civil society groups cannot freely associate and are subject to heavy government oversight. China’s more than half a billion Internet users cannot freely share information on the Internet, and China’s press remains heavily censored. Dissidents cannot freely travel.
• Political Prisoners and Rights Advocates.
Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials should urge Chinese officials to immediately release and cease the harassment and abuse of Chinese citizens who have exercised internationally recognized human rights, including Nobel Peace Prize winner and imprisoned political activist Liu Xiaobo; housing rights advocate and lawyer Ni Yulan; human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng; Tibetan nomad Ronggye Adrag; Catholic bishop Su Zhimin; Uyghur journalist Gheyret Niyaz; democracy advocate Chen Wei; elections expert Yao Lifa; well-known artist and rights advocate Ai Weiwei; and others named in this report.
• Rule of Law.
Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials should urge Chinese officials to strengthen the rule of law in all areas. Officials should be encouraged to consider the recommendations of the China 2030 report, including the creation of a ‘‘highly efficient modern government that operates under the rule of law.’’ In order to reach this point, officials should be urged to end unfair trading practices, such as currency manipulation, industrial policies, and the use of quotas and subsidies, and to ensure that China fully complies with its commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization. Chinese officials should be encouraged to dismantle incentives that encourage rule of law violations, such as quotas and rewards that encourage local officials to commit forced abortions and sterilizations. Officials should also be encouraged to ensure the independence of the judiciary by removing the influence of the Communist Party. As the case of Chen Guangcheng is emblematic of rule of law challenges in China, officials should be encouraged to fulfill the commitment to investigate abuses committed against Chen and his family and seek just punishment under China’s laws. Only by improving the rule of law in all areas, not just in the economic sphere, can China realize the economic development goals laid out in the China 2030 report.
• Ethnic Minority Policy.
Developments in the area of ethnic minority policy appear especially troubling, given the unprecedented and ongoing wave of self-immolations occurring across the Tibetan plateau. Members of the U.S. Congress and Administration officials should urge Chinese officials to guarantee the fundamental rights of ethnic minorities and to increase promptly and substantially dialogue and public engagement with all ethnic minority communities and their representatives, including the representatives of the Dalai Lama, without preconditions.
This report found that across many issue areas, a common problem has been the Chinese government’s glaring lack of transparency. From the carrying out of Internet censorship to the release of environmental pollution data, Chinese officials too often prefer secrecy over transparency. Chinese officials should be urged to ensure that government and Party actions and information—including decisionmaking and judicial processes, government data and statistics, opinions, and directives—enjoy broad transparency and are open to public input and public participation. In particular, the government should encourage the use of the 2008 Open Government Information Regulations by Chinese citizens and provide greater incentives for government agencies to release information. 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, views, and recommendations, does not necessarily reflect the views of individual Executive Branch members or the policies of the Administration.
The Commission adopted this report by a vote of 19 to 0.
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