Calling the crackdown on Chinese dissidents in 2011 one of the harshest in recent memory, the bipartisan U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China released its 2011 Annual Report on human rights and rule of law. To discuss the report and the human rights situation in China, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a full hearing on “Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011 Annual Report” Thursday featuring testimony from Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, and a student leader in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests; Bob Fu, president of China Aid; John Kamm, chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation; Sophie Richardson, China Director for Human Rights Watch; and Bhuchung K. Tsering, Vice President for Special Programs at the International Campaign for Tibet. Click here to watch the hearing.
When releasing the report last month, Commission co-chairs Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Sherrod Brown said that “In the areas of human rights and rule of law this year, China’s leaders have grown more aggressive in their violation of rights, disregarding the very laws and international standards that they claim to uphold and tightening their grip on Chinese society.” The 2011 Annual Report is the Commission’s 10th annual report since it was created by Congress in 2000 as part of the debate over granting China permanent, normal trade relations. This year’s annual report includes developments in 20 areas, including freedom of expression, worker rights, criminal justice and access to justice, freedom of religion, ethnic minority rights, population planning, and commercial rule of law.
Sophie Richardson, China Director at Human Rights Watch, testified about how the U.S. can make it more difficult for China to pay lip service to human rights abuses and offered the Committee four recommendations for future action, specifically asking that the U.S.:
- Raise human rights concerns through diverse and coordinated actors, not just the “usual suspects” at the State Department.
- Speak with continuity when addressing human rights issues with the Chinese government, basically saying that the U.S. government needs to do a better job of staying on message. Ms. Richardson specifically mentioned that different Obama administration officials offer simultaneously encouraging and discouraging comments about human rights, referring to the Vice President’s gaffe while speaking at a Chinese university in August: “Secretary Clinton’s and then-Ambassador Huntsman’s strong and unapologetic remarks on human rights are fundamentally undermined when Vice President Biden and Ambassador Locke not only offer softer remarks but go so far as to suggest that Chinese and American people—not governments—have different views on human rights.”
- Use specificity when making public comments, arguing that it is not enough to say that “human rights were discussed with Chinese government” and without offering details, including the specific conversations regarding individual cases and broader trends at issue.
- Direct human rights diplomacy at a much larger Chinese audience and at independent voices, rather than focusing all efforts on the Chinese government. She encouraged President Obama to meet with former Chinese, Tibetan, and Uyghur political prisoners and find ways to publicly praise the countless acts of bravery against arbitrary rule that take place every day: “Could those officials not offer comparable words of appreciation for those who are doing—and risking—the most to actually effect the rule of law, greater transparency, and decent governance?”
She said that continued restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and religion in 2011 resulted in even greater Internet and press censorship during the Arab Spring, as well as the surveillance of critics, many of whom have disappeared.
One such critic who disappeared is artist Ai Weiwei. She dismissed the claim that the U.S. should question the efficacy of pressuring the Chinese government over its human rights record, citing the case of Ai Weiwei being released just prior to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Europe, where protests and calls for his release were widespread: “The Chinese government remains susceptible to domestic and international pressure, despite the hype surrounding its role as world banker…the right question to ask is not, “Does pressure work?” but rather, “How best can the US assist in those efforts to secure human rights?’”
The recommendations were especially relevant as the report also found that Chinese officials were increasingly willing to “disregard the law when it suits them, particularly to silence dissent” within this past reporting year. The Commission warned that China’s ethnic minorities, including Uyghurs and Tibetans, remain under threat as Chinese authorities imposed harsh curbs on their cultures, languages, and religions.
The World Uyghur Congress, commenting after the report’s release, said that “China’s leaders no longer respond to criticism by simply denying that rights have been abused. Rather, they increasingly use the language of international law to defend their actions. According to China’s leaders, today’s China is strong and moving forward on human rights and rule of law.”
Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, and a student leader during the Tiananmen protests in 1989, thanked Committee Chair Ilena Ros-Lehtinen for putting pressure on China over its human rights records when the Congresswoman bought up China’s one-child policies with President Hu Jintao during his visit to the U.S.earlier this year, and challenging him to end it. “We all know that the President of China denied that there are forced abortions and sterilizations in China, and we all know that they happen daily and are part of the reason we are meeting today,” Ms. Chai told the Committee.
Speaking about her experience at Tiananmen Square 22 years ago, she recalled how she was hoping for an American intervention: “As a key student leader, I remembered hoping until the last hour that America would take a stand to end China’s government violence against its own people. However, America never came. Although late Ambassador Lilly wrote in his memoir, China Hands, about his call for action, his memo never made to the president. I believe that if the US President had been able to come to the Chinese people’s aid, as President Reagan wrote a stern message in 1988 towards the leaders of South Korea, and South Korea was led to freedom, China would have had a different outcome both then and now, and our relationship with China today could have been a much more productive and fruitful one.”
She also encouraged Congress to continue to push for diplomats, journalists, United Nations special rapporteurs, and independent human rights groups to have access to parts of China where it is currently restricted. Ms. Chai ended her testimony by asking that Congress commit to reiterating on December 10, 2012, the United States’ call for 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, his wife, Liu Xia, and all others arbitrarily held in China to be freed. China is the only nation on earth holding a Nobel Prize winner in prison.
“What might be the cost or consequences for the U.S. to stand up against the human rights abuses in China? The surprising answer is: The cost of doing nothing is far greater than doing the right thing,” Ms. Chai testified.