Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Annual Report for 2003
(You can download a copy of the complete report in PDF by clicking on this link: Congressional-Executive Commission on China Annual Report for 2003)
I. Executive Summary and List of Recommendations
The Commission finds that human rights conditions in China have not improved overall in the past year. The Chinese government continues to violate China's own constitution and laws and international norms and standards protecting human rights. The Commission recognizes that some developments are underway in China, particularly in the area of legal reform, that could provide the foundation for stronger protection of rights in the future. However, these changes have been incremental, and their overall impact has been limited. Such limitations illustrate the complexity of the obstacles the Chinese people face in their continuing effort to build an accountable government that respects basic human rights and freedoms.
Chinese citizens are detained and imprisoned for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and belief. Law enforcement authorities routinely ignore Chinese domestic law, or exploit loopholes in the law, to detain suspects and defendants for periods greater than Chinese law or international human rights norms and standards permit.
China's poor record of protecting the internationally recognized rights of its workers has not changed significantly in the past year. Chinese workers cannot form or join independent trade unions, and workers who seek redress for wrongs committed by their employers often face harassment and criminal charges. Moreover, child labor continues to be a problem in some sectors of the economy, and forced labor by prisoners is common. Although the government has begun to modify its policy of discrimination against migrant workers from rural areas, these workers still face serious disadvantages as they seek employment away from their home regions. Workplace health and safety conditions are poor in many Chinese workplaces. Fatalities among mine workers are especially common. Despite having enacted new and relatively progressive laws designed to improve health and safety standards, the Chinese government lacks the will or capacity to enforce these laws.
Scores of Christian, Muslim, and Tibetan Buddhist worshippers have been arrested or detained during 2003. Chinese Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Buddhists seeking to practice their faith outside officially-sanctioned churches, mosques, and temples are subject to harassment and repression. Government authorities continue to repress spiritual groups, including the Falun Gong spiritual movement, chiefly through the use of anti-cult laws.
Chinese citizens do not enjoy freedom of speech or freedom of the press. The Chinese government suppresses freedom of expression in a manner that directly contravenes not only international human rights norms and standards, but also China's own constitution. Some individuals and groups that cannot obtain government authorization manage to publish on a small scale, but only by employing methods that risk administrative and criminal punishment.
China's new family planning law retains the broad elements of China's long-held policies on birth limitation. These include mandatory restrictions on absolute reproductive freedom and the use of coercive measures, specifically severe economic sanctions, to limit births. However, the new law also mandates prenatal and maternal health care and services for women.
The Chinese government is taking significant steps to address HIV/AIDS, but progress has been hard to achieve and public ignorance of the disease remains widespread. Public health policies in some provinces have fostered the spread of HIV/AIDS and have left patients and orphans in dire distress. Complaints by these victims have been met with fear and forceful repression.
China has built a progressive legal framework to protect women's rights and interests, but loopholes remain, and implementation of existing laws and regulations has been imperfect, leaving Chinese women vulnerable to pervasive abuse, discrimination, and harassment at home and in the workplace.
Recent policy changes in China indicate progress toward scaling back the restrictive residency registration (hukou) system, allowing rural migrants in urban areas to more easily obtain status as legal residents. In a welcome development, the Chinese government abolished an often abused administrative detention procedure called ``custody and repatriation' in response to public outrage over official complicity in the death of a detainee. But local governments often fail to implement central government policy directives adequately, and ingrained discriminatory attitudes and practices toward migrants impede reform.
China has continued its efforts to reform and strengthen basic legal institutions. Experimental efforts by local people's congresses and local administrative bodies, if sustained and further expanded, could improve China's human rights performance by improving the accountability of public officials and transforming expectations regarding the role of public opinion in governance. The Chinese government has made progress in its effort to improve the capacity, efficiency, and competence of its judiciary and is considering reforms that may enhance judicial independence in limited respects. Accession to the WTO has had a positive impact in the areas of legislative and regulatory reforms by raising awareness of the importance of transparency at all levels of government. It is also helping to drive positive reforms in China's judiciary.
Despite the long-term promise of these changes, their overall impact remains limited at present. Although local governments have attempted to provide more information to their citizens and have begun to open their processes to public scrutiny, public hearings and real consideration of input by the public are limited in practice. The judiciary continues to be plagued by complex and interrelated problems, including a shortage of qualified judges, pervasive corruption, and significant limits on independence.
Legal restraints on government power remain weak in practice. Nevertheless, Chinese citizens are using existing legal mechanisms to challenge state action in increasing numbers and are exhibiting signs of greater empowerment in confronting the state in some areas. Prompted in part by an official focus on constitutional development, Chinese citizens engaged in a spirited discussion of constitutionalism for much of the year. In mid-2003, however, central authorities became concerned about the scope of this promising discourse and prohibited discussion of constitutional amendments and political reform in the media or in unapproved academic forums until further notice.
The Chinese government opened a preliminary dialogue with envoys of the Dalai Lama during late 2002 and 2003. The Dalai Lama's unique stature positions him to help ensure the survival and development of Tibetan culture, while contributing to China's stability and prosperity. Although the envoys' visits are a positive step, repression of ethnic Tibetans continues and the environment for Tibetan culture and religion is not improving.
The Commission works to implement its recommendations until they are achieved. Thus, in addition to the recommendations made in the 2002 report, the Commission makes the following recommendations for 2003:
Human Rights for the Chinese People
The Chinese government made significant and far-reaching commitments on human rights matters during the December 2002 U.S.-China human rights dialogue. The President and the Congress should increase diplomatic efforts to hold the Chinese government to these commitments, particularly the release of those arbitrarily detained, and the unconditional invitations to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
U.S. government efforts to ensure that prison labor-made goods do not enter the United States have been hampered by a general lack of information and cooperation from the Chinese government. The President should direct that the Task Force on Prohibition of Importation of Products of Forced or Prison Labor from the People's Republic of China (created by Title V of P.L. 106-09286) develop a database of known Chinese prison factories to be used to bar the entry of goods produced in whole or part in those facilities. The database should also be used to develop lists of Chinese exporters handling goods from these prison manufacturing facilities.
Without urgent action, China faces an HIV/AIDS catastrophe, yet the Chinese government response has been tepid. The President and the Congress should continue to raise HIV/AIDS issues at the highest levels of the Chinese leadership during all bilateral meetings, citing the epidemic as an international concern that cannot be solved without the action of China's most senior leaders.
The right to choose one's place of residence and to travel inside one's country is not only a basic human right but also fosters the labor mobility needed to build a modern economy. The Congress and the President should urge the Chinese government to take additional measures to repeal residency restrictions (hukou) and to continue to take concrete measures toward ending discrimination against and abuse of internal migrants.
U.S. government programs focused on Tibetans in China have done much to improve conditions, but need additional resources. The Congress should increase funding for U.S. non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop programs that improve the health, education, and economic conditions of ethnic Tibetans living in Tibetan areas of China, and create direct, sustainable benefits for Tibetans without encouraging an influx of non-Tibetans into these areas.
Religious Freedom for China's Faithful
The freedom to practice one's religious faith is an essential right. The President and the Congress should urge the Chinese government to reschedule without restrictions previously-promised visits to China by the U.S. International Commission on Religious Freedom and the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance.
China's officially sanctioned religious associations unfairly restrict the ability of Chinese believers to practice their religions freely, and many believers have been imprisoned for practicing religion outside the government-controlled system. The Congress and the President should press the Chinese government to permit free religious practice outside these official religious associations and release all those imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
Labor Rights for China's Workers
Chinese workers are frequently unaware of their rights under Chinese law and China's international commitments. To help bridge this gap, the President and the Congress should expand existing worker rights education programs, emphasizing curriculum development and training in peer education techniques, and should provide funding for legal clinics that take on cases involving worker rights under Chinese law.
U.S. government efforts to foster corporate social responsibility at home and abroad lack focus, coordination, and policy guidance. The President should establish a Coordinator for Corporate Social Responsibility to coordinate interagency policy and programs and work with private sector actors.
Free Flow of Information for China's Citizens
The Chinese government exploits administrative restraints to chill free expression and control the media. The President and the Congress should urge the Chinese government to eliminate these restraints on publishing.
China's government continues to prevent its citizens from accessing news from sources it does not control, particularly from Chinese language sources. The President and the Congress should urge Chinese authorities to cease detaining journalists and writers, to stop blocking news broadcasts and Web sites, and to grant journalist visas and full accreditation to at least two native Mandarin speaking reporters from Voice of America's Chinese Branch. The Congress should fund programs to develop technologies to enable Internet users in China to access news, education, government, and human rights Web sites that China's government currently blocks.
Rule of Law and Civil Society for China's Citizens
A vibrant civil society and the rule of law help a country develop politically, economically, socially, and culturally. The President should request, and the Congress should provide, significant additional funds to support U.S. government and U.S. NGO programs working to build the institutions of civil society and rule of law in China.
As the overall U.S. government effort supporting rule of law programs increases, certain small-scale U.S. programs will have an impact beyond their size and funding. The President and the Congress should augment existing U.S. programs by making it a priority to create a permanent Resident Legal Advisor position at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, and to increase funding for the Rule of Law Small Grants Program.
The Commission's Executive Branch members have participated in and supported the work of the Commission, including the preparation of this report. However, the views and recommendations expressed in the report do not necessarily reflect the views of individual Executive Branch members or the Administration.