Professor Teresa Wright looks at how, when, and why Chinese individuals and groups have engaged in protests and how the targets of their complaints have responded; thus shedding light on the stability of China’s existing political system and its likely future trajectory.
U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, "Annual Report 2014," October 9, 2014
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 (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 CECC 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 laws 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, views, 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 2013 to fall 2014.
The Commission adopted this report by a vote of 17 to 0.
Human rights and rule of law conditions in China overall did not improve this past year, and declined in some of the areas covered by this report. The Chinese government and Communist Party continued to emphasize authoritarian control at the expense of human rights and the rule of law. The limited space for peaceful expression, assembly, and religious practice in China constricted further. The government tightened restrictions on rights advocates, civil society, human rights lawyers, domestic and foreign journalists, the Internet, and religious institutions. Additionally, the government denied medical treatment to imprisoned activists and targeted the family members and associates of rights advocates for retribution. The release of an unprecedented White Paper on Hong Kong and a National People’s Congress Standing Committee decision fueled concerns over Hong Kong’s "high degree of autonomy" and prospects for universal suffrage. The government continued with harsh security measures that failed to protect rights in ethnic minority regions that have experienced tragic incidents of violence and self-immolations in recent years. These negative developments overshadowed potential areas of progress that include the announced abolition of the reeducation through labor system and environmental law and judicial reforms.
Nearly 2 years into what likely will be a 10-year tenure, President and Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has already left his mark on the nation. His priorities have included introducing the notion of the "Chinese dream" to spur a "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" and launching a campaign against corruption that has swept up some of China’s highest officials. His administration faces major challenges: a slowing economy, income inequality, ethnic tensions, severe pollution, and food safety problems. As this report shows, however, Xi and his administration continue to adhere to the authoritarian model of his predecessors, one whose core tenets are unchallenged leadership of the Party and extensive efforts to suppress perceived threats to the Party. Under this model, which Party leaders assert guarantees "social stability" and a "harmonious society," China’s 1.4 billion citizens cannot participate freely in policymaking or governance. They do not possess a meaningful right to vote. They do not enjoy the basic freedoms of expression, religion, and association provided in China’s Constitution. The Chinese government refers deferentially to the concept of rule of law. In practice, however, it routinely ignores or manipulates domestic and international laws for political purposes or to advance China’s economic interests.
China’s adherence to this model poses a serious challenge to U.S.-China relations and China’s own development. There is a direct link between concrete improvements in human rights and the rule of law and the security and prosperity of the United States and China. The health of the U.S. economy and environment, the safety of the food supply, and the stability of the Pacific region depend on China complying with international law, enforcing its own laws, allowing the free flow of information, removing currency controls, and protecting citizens’ basic human rights. Improved compliance with international law and greater respect for human rights will foster goodwill, trust, and confidence between China and the United States. Providing citizens with more avenues for justice and greater freedoms will help China address corruption, labor unrest, ethnic tensions, and food safety. It will increase stability and improve China’s standing worldwide. This future is possible, however, only if China’s leaders move in a new direction and begin to view human rights and the rule of law as essential components of, rather than as impediments to, economic and social progress.
MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS IN 2014
Three major developments this past year suggest that President Xi and his administration may exercise greater control and tolerate less dissent than previous administrations. First, the Party sought to expand and strengthen its authority on key issues including Hong Kong, the Internet, media, ethnic minority regions, religion, and civic engagement. Second, the Party moved to address policies unpopular with Chinese citizens and the international community, but reforms fell short of official claims and their implementation remained secondary to the Party’s political priorities. Third, China’s engagement in the international arena was marked by attempts to control the narrative on human rights and the rule of law, to deflect attention from its own abuses, and to dilute wellestablished international standards. A description of each trend follows.
Strengthening Authority in Key Areas
The Communist Party sought to strengthen its authority in areas where it believed challenges were taking shape, viewing significant events and developments as threats rather than as opportunities for constructive engagement and transparency. The Party Central Committee convened the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress in November 2013, amid some hope that significant reforms would result. In its pronouncements, however, the Party ruled out political reforms, signaling instead that economic and legal reforms emerging from the Third Plenum would be firmly controlled by the Party.
The Party constricted the already narrow space for tolerable dissent as it intensified its crackdown against individuals and groups of citizens calling for improved government policies and greater public participation. Participants in the New Citizens’ Movement, for example, held peaceful, small-scale demonstrations and meetings to press the government for reforms that included increased transparency of officials’ assets and educational equality for the children of migrant workers—concerns that the government has said it shares. Noteworthy for its intolerance of even modest calls for reform, the crackdown began in early 2013 with scores of detentions and continued this year with courts meting out harsh prison sentences to key figures, including rights advocates Xu Zhiyong, Liu Ping, and Wei Zhongping. Detentions accelerated in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests in June 2014, as the Party suppressed attempts by citizens to publicly, and in some cases privately, commemorate this significant historical event. China’s small contingent of rights lawyers were targeted, including noted public interest lawyer Pu Zhiqiang. Human rights groups estimate that authorities detained more than 200 people during the ongoing crackdown.
Important developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) during this reporting year afforded the Chinese government and Party an opportunity to affirm the "high degree of autonomy" and "one country, two systems" framework guaranteed to Hong Kong under the Basic Law. China’s leaders instead chose to emphasize Chinese sovereignty and control over Hong Kong. As public debate in Hong Kong increased in the lead-up to a major decision that would determine how open and fair Hong Kong’s first "universal suffrage" election for its Chief Executive would be in 2017, China’s central government dismissed large-scale expressions of support for democracy that attracted broad segments of Hong Kong society, notably the younger generation. Chinese authorities issued a first-ever White Paper on Hong Kong that emphasized centralized control as opposed to Hong Kong’s autonomy, and challenged Hong Kong’s judicial independence by requiring that all Hong Kong judges as well as government officials be patriotic ("love China and love Hong Kong") rather than simply serve and interpret the law. The central government dismissed as "illegal and invalid" an informal referendum on Chief Executive candidate nomination avenues in June 2014 that attracted some 800,000 Hong Kong residents, even though pro-Beijing elements in the SAR organized their own informal signature campaign from July to August to condemn the Occupy Central movement. In August, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee issued its decision on Hong Kong’s electoral reform, which severely restricted the ability of candidates to freely run for Chief Executive. The central government’s actions raise concerns about the future of the fragile freedoms and rule of law that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China and underpin Hong Kong’s financial reputation and prosperity.
Chinese officials also confronted a sharp increase in tragic incidents of violence involving members of the Uyghur ethnic minority group. Officials responded with a singular focus on security and economic measures without addressing decades-long resentment against Chinese policies that deny Uyghurs their cultural, religious, and linguistic rights, and without attempting to balance security with civil liberties and the free flow of information. In September 2014, authorities imposed a life sentence on prominent Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti, a peaceful, moderate critic of China’s policies who had sought to foster dialogue between Uyghurs and the majority Han population. The sentence was a clear sign the Party would not tolerate thoughtful debate or reconsideration of its policies toward the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
In Tibetan areas of China, the rate of tragic self-immolations among the Tibetan ethnic minority slowed, and followed an increase in harsh security and punitive measures. One county issued provisions imposing collective punishment intended to deter Tibetans from self-immolating. Chinese government leaders showed no willingness to reexamine policies toward Tibetans that deny them cultural, religious, and linguistic rights or to engage in dialogue with representatives of the Tibetans’ exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
The Party sought to tighten information flows within and out of China in an attempt to ensure the dominance of the Party’s viewpoints and guarantee that information unfavorable to the Party remained unseen. Chinese companies remained some of the least transparent in the world, aided by vaguely worded secrecy laws that prevent disclosure of key information, a major concern given the global influence of Chinese companies and reports of illegal subsidies and corruption, especially among China’s more than 140,000 state-owned and state-controlled enterprises. Among the Party’s most formidable challenges is controlling China’s 632 million Internet users—the most of any country in the world—and 250,000 news reporters and staff. Authorities detained over 100 citizens in a crackdown on Twitter-like microblogs, which Chinese citizens had flocked to as a rare space to share information more freely. In the wake of the crackdown, posts on one of China’s most popular microblogging sites reportedly dropped 70 percent. Chinese journalists, already subject to numerous restrictions, faced ideological requirements and additional restraints on their ability to report critically on the government and share information with foreign reporters. The government used access to China as a form of retaliation against foreign journalists and scholars. Foreign journalists, who play a key role in disseminating information about China given the pervasive restrictions imposed on their domestic counterparts, faced delays and denials of visas as punishment for their reporting on sensitive issues such as the finances of the relatives of China’s top leaders. They received ominous warnings about reporting in the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen protests. The Chinese government blocked scholars who sought to enter China for research.
Authorities also sought to further restrict the limited space for religious practice. Christians in particular were targeted over apparent concern at the growing popularity of Christianity in China. The government used a campaign against ‘‘illegal structures’’ to demolish church buildings and remove religious symbols, including structures that previously had been approved by the government.
Domestically, Interference Hinders Reforms
The Party moved to address policies unpopular with Chinese citizens and the international community, but reforms did not measure up to official claims and their implementation remained secondary to the Party’s own political priorities. During the Party’s Third Plenum, officials suggested that China might move toward greater compliance with international trade rules by announcing that market forces would play a decisive role in the allocation of resources. The announcement, however, provided few details and included the significant caveat that state-owned enterprises, the source of many violations, would continue to play a leading role in the economy.
In another heavily touted Third Plenum announcement, officials formally announced the abolition of the reeducation through labor system, a form of arbitrary detention used for decades to detain activists, Falun Gong practitioners, and other marginalized groups without trial or basic procedural protections. The move was a welcome development, but the net effect of this policy shift was unclear, as reports emerged that authorities increased the use of other facilities, such as "legal education centers" and compulsory drug detox centers, to arbitrarily detain citizens. China’s criminal justice system saw some improvements, with defendants generally gaining greater access to counsel. Suspects in politically sensitive cases, however, appeared not to benefit. Torture, abuse, and denial of access to counsel continued to mar high-profile cases, including those involving Ilham Tohti, Xu Zhiyong, Pastor Zhang Shaojie, and a group of human rights lawyers who sought to assist unlawfully detained Falun Gong practitioners.
In other areas, reforms resulted in limited or superficial changes to some policies, but failed to address the fundamental rights abuses that underpinned flawed policy. The government announced, for example, a slight modification in the country’s population planning policy to allow a couple to have a second child if one of the parents was a single child, but failed to abolish a policy that itself violates international standards and leads to abuse by officials. The government continued to take steps toward limited easing of restrictions that prevent citizens from freely changing their residence, but failed to address the policy’s violation of international standards on freedom of residence.
The government continued to manage labor relations through the government-affiliated All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the only legal trade union in China, despite its relative ineffectiveness in responding to strikes and other labor protests emerging across a variety of industries and regions this past year. The Party took no steps to allow workers to organize independent unions. At the same time, authorities stifled the efforts of more independent labor non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support workers, in some cases detaining NGO staff. There continued to be reports of child and forced labor. The government’s crackdown on individual civil society advocates expanded to increase surveillance and harassment of independent grassroots and foreign NGOs during this reporting year. Paradoxically, the government continued to claim that it was loosening restrictions on so-called non-governmental "social organizations," to provide services to society and alleviate the government’s burdens, but not to remove basic restrictions on freedom of association and foster a vibrant, free civil society.
Internationally, Manipulating the Discussion on China
China’s engagement in the international arena was marked by attempts to control discussion of human rights and the rule of law and to deflect attention from its own abuses. In October 2013, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to which China was reelected in November 2013, conducted its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Chinese government’s human rights record. Chinese officials harassed and detained citizens who sought to participate in China’s submission to the UNHRC for the review, including civil society activist Cao Shunli, and refused to allow independent civil society organizations to participate, resulting in China’s submission reflecting only the Party’s views. Cao died later, just weeks after her release from custody, raising questions about her condition in detention and lack of access to appropriate medical treatment. At the March 2014 UNHRC session in which the outcome of China’s UPR was adopted, the Chinese government refused to accept most substantive recommendations, including a recommendation urging it to provide a clearer time frame for ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China signed in 1998 and has repeatedly pledged to ratify. At the session, UN staff caught a Chinese representative monitoring and photographing the daughter of imprisoned Chinese dissident Wang Bingzhang, and China tried to prevent her from speaking at the session. The Commission’s review of China’s various reports to human rights bodies this past year showed that not one of the organizations that China claimed to have consulted was independent from the government. China refused to cooperate with a UN inquiry into North Korea’s human rights abuses and criticized the resulting report as "divorced" from reality.
Despite being a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) for 13 years, China still has not complied with many of its obligations, including ending subsidies and preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises and providing transparency regarding subsidies, laws, and regulations. The U.S. Trade Representative reported this past year that China had imposed duties in retaliation for countries bringing WTO cases against China. In May, the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted five members of China’s military on charges of committing cyber theft after they allegedly targeted companies that had been involved in trade actions against China. American and other foreign companies reported that they were unfairly targeted for antimonopoly enforcement in a move that some observers believed was intended to protect Chinese companies and could violate China’s WTO commitments. China reportedly failed to comply with a WTO ruling against it involving grain-oriented electrical steel. As of this report’s publication, China still had not signed the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.
Amid greater international debate over the appropriate limits of government restriction and surveillance of the Internet, China sought to manipulate news coverage related to alleged state-sponsored computer hacking and position itself as a victim of cyber theft rather than as a sponsor or perpetrator. Chinese state-run media featured such reports prominently, despite well-documented evidence that China is a leading source of intellectual property theft through cyber and other means. After the DOJ’s indictment of members of China’s military, China suspended a cyber working group with the United States intended to develop rules of engagement for the Internet. China sought to advance the concept of "Internet sovereignty," which, if implemented, would give countries greater leeway to restrict the Internet within their borders under the guise of "national sovereignty," eroding international law that provides for freedom of expression "through any medium" and "regardless of frontiers."
This Commission recognizes that only China’s leaders and the Chinese people can determine how to proceed with their domestic affairs, but believes the international community has a responsibility to monitor compliance with international standards and to encourage their development and implementation. Based on the findings of this year’s report, the Commission makes the following 13 main recommendations to Congress and the Administration to encourage China’s compliance with international human rights standards and the development of the rule of law.
- Administration Coordination. The Administration should further strengthen interagency coordination to ensure that agencies interacting with the Chinese government are aware of human rights and rule of law issues relevant to their areas and are seeking opportunities to engage with Chinese officials on these issues at bilateral dialogues and other meetings. During such engagements, agencies including the Departments of State, Justice, Energy, Commerce, Defense, Labor, Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Trade Representative, should broaden discussions to link human rights and rule of law improvements in China with advances in economic, security, environmental, and diplomatic interests. An integrated human rights diplomacy with China, coordinated across the entire U.S. Government, and led by the White House, should be reflected in any new National Security Strategy, Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or Quadrennial Defense Review undertaken by the White House, State Department, or Defense Department.
- Administration Engagement. The Administration should continue to raise pertinent concerns relating to issues covered in this report, including, where appropriate, transparency, public participation, good governance, worker rights, environmental and public health concerns, and the rule of law, at the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, other bilateral meetings, and in multilateral organizations where the United States and China are members, and coordinate information and priorities with other countries as appropriate. The Administration should consider sending higher level officials to the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue and the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue.
- Human Rights Advocates and Civil Society. Members of Congress and the Administration should, wherever possible, publicly recognize the work of Chinese rights advocates, independent NGOs, civil society, and human rights lawyers in promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights in China, and seek ways to ensure they are allowed to participate in international forums and dialogues.
- Visa Policy. Members of Congress and the Administration should work together to ensure existing visa laws and policies, including Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act and Presidential Proclamation 8697, effectively address Chinese government violations of human rights. Members of Congress and the Administration should share information regarding implementation of current visa policies with respect to Chinese officials, and consider whether additional legislation or other measures are necessary to address issues such as visa delays and denials to American journalists, scholars, and human rights activists.
- Hong Kong. Members of Congress and the Administration should renew the reporting requirements of Section 301 of the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, paying particular attention to the development of democratic institutions in Hong Kong and China’s obligations under international treaties and agreements, and should ensure developments in Hong Kong are featured in other reports related to China. Members of Congress and the Administration should increase support for Hong Kong’s democracy through statements and meetings at the highest levels and visits to Hong Kong. Hong Kong issues should be raised in meetings in Beijing with central government officials given their overriding role in deciding questions of Hong Kong’s political development.
- Press Freedom. Members of Congress and the Administration should give greater public expression, including at the highest levels of the U.S. Government, to the issue of press freedom in China, condemning the harassment and detention of both domestic and foreign journalists, the denial or delay of visas for foreign journalists, and the censoring or blockage of foreign media Web sites. U.S. officials should consistently link press freedoms to U.S. interests, noting how censorship and restrictions on journalists and media Web sites prevent the free flow of information on issues of public concern, including public health and environmental crises, food safety problems, and corruption, and acts as a trade barrier for foreign media and companies attempting to access the Chinese market.
- Forced Labor, Child Labor, Prison Labor. Members of Congress and the Administration should ensure existing laws and policies intended to prevent the importation or government purchase of goods made with forced labor, prison labor, or child labor, including Section 1307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, Executive Order 13126 (Prohibition of Acquisition of Products Produced by Forced or Indentured Child Labor), Executive Order 13627 (Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts), effectively address forced labor, prison labor, and child labor concerns in China. Members of Congress and the Administration should consider whether additional legislation or other measures are necessary to increase supply chain transparency, close loopholes such as the consumptive demand exemption in the Tariff Act, remove obstacles to effective enforcement of U.S. trade law, and ensure that parties live up to existing agreements regarding trade and forced and prison labor products being exported to the United States.
- Commercial Rule of Law. Members of Congress and the Administration should ensure China makes concrete improvements in ending currency controls, subsidies for state-owned enterprises, and other policies outlined in this report that violate China’s existing international trade obligations as a condition for progress in any U.S. trade-related negotiations with China, and ensure transparency and full public participation by all segments of American society in such negotiations.
- Ethnic Minorities. The Administration should address issues of human rights, security, and stability in China’s ethnic minority regions at bilateral security dialogues and any exchanges with Chinese military or police officials by sharing best practices and strategies and building cooperative exchanges on ways to balance civil rights and national security policy, to differentiate between peaceful dissent and acts of violence, to protect human rights during ‘‘anti-terrorism’’ campaigns, and to recognize the international protections applying to refugee populations.
- Population Planning. Members of Congress and the Administration should publicly link, wherever there is supporting evidence, the imbalanced sex ratios exacerbated by China’s coercive population planning policies with potential regional humanitarian and security concerns—trafficking, crime, increased internal and external migration, and other possible serious social problems—and discuss these issues in bilateral security dialogues. Members of Congress and Administration officials should urge the Chinese government to abolish all birth restrictions for families and instead employ a human rights-based approach to providing freedom to build their families as they see fit and privacy for all citizens, especially women.
- Internet Freedom. Members of Congress and the Administration should sustain, and where appropriate expand, programs that develop and widely distribute technologies that will assist Chinese human rights advocates and civil society organizations in circumventing Internet restrictions in order to access and share content protected under international human rights standards. They should continue to expand Internet freedom programs for China at the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to provide digital security training and capacity-building efforts for bloggers, journalists, civil society organizations, and human rights and Internet freedom activists in China.
- Areas of Potential Progress. Members of Congress and the Administration should consider acknowledging and further inquiring with Chinese officials about areas of potential progress, including the announced abolition of the reeducation through labor system, efforts to curb wrongful convictions and increase protections for criminal defendants, amendments to the PRC Trademark Law that increase statutory damages for trademark infringement, revisions to the PRC Environmental Protection Law that include provisions that could improve transparency, and efforts to strengthen protections for persons with disabilities and victims of domestic violence, as well as other potentially positive developments noted throughout this report.
- Raising Political Prisoner Cases. Members of Congress and the Administration should consider raising more frequently with Chinese officials, both privately and publicly, cases of political or religious detention or imprisonment in China. In addition to calling for the release of individuals, Members of Congress and the Administration should also consider, where relevant and credible, raising specific issues of concern, including prison conditions, an individual’s health and access to medical treatment, the possibility of sentence reductions and medical parole, an individual’s access to family and legal representation, and harassment of the individual’s family or friends.