A new U.S. congressional study has found a huge disconnect between the growing demands of the Chinese people for reforms and Beijing’s ability to meet the deluge of such requests.
In a year marked by a major internal political scandal and leadership transition, the report said, Chinese officials appeared more concerned with ‘‘maintaining stability’’ and preserving the status quo than with addressing grassroots calls for reform across all levels of society.
The Congressional Executive-Commission on China (CECC) said in its annual report released Wednesday that it had “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 had “originated from the Chinese people themselves” and was evident “at all levels of Chinese society,” said the commission, which monitors human rights and the development of rule of law in the country.
In the report sent to the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, the CECC noted “a deepening disconnect between the growing demands of the Chinese people and the Chinese government’s ability and desire to meet such demands.”
The CECC cited a diverse set of often “unprecedented” issues that had led to protests in China — including worker strikes for higher wages and better working conditions, self-immolations in Tibet against Chinese rule, protests over confiscation of grasslands in Inner Mongolia, and demonstrations against land seizures and pollution.
"One of this year's major findings was the visible frustration and well-founded impatience the Chinese people are expressing about their own lack of basic human rights," Congressman Chris Smith and Senator Sherrod Brown, heads of the commission, said in a statement Wednesday.
The CECC noted that many Chinese saw restrictions to the free-flow of information about major events in the country worsening, saying they were forced to turn to the Internet and microblogging services to exchange views and details regarding issues of public concern.
Efforts by China’s citizens to improve the country’s political institutions were largely stymied as a number of independent candidates for local people’s congress elections faced intense pressure or were winnowed out before the polls took place.
Minority groups, particularly those in Tibetan autonomous areas and in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, frequently protested policies they saw as diluting their cultural heritage, the CECC said.
Fifty-four Tibetans have self-immolated in protest against Chinese rule since February 2009 amid a worsening record of rights abuses in Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas in Chinese provinces, non-governmental groups have said.
“In the face of protests … 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,” the report said.
The CECC said the Chinese government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party responded to the people’s demands “with half-measures that did not fully address citizen concerns” and “in some cases increased the government’s capacity for abuse.”
The report cited the passing of the Criminal Procedure Law in China in March which included some “improvements,” but also legalized forms of secret detention that put citizens at risk of torture and abuse and have been used against dissidents in the past.
Other “half-measure” policies included greater transparency on pollution—with laws limiting independent monitoring, efforts to reform the hukou residency system—which were criticized as vague by scholars and the media, and expanded access to the Internet—with rules preventing the anonymity of users.
China’s government also expressed an interest in having officially-sanctioned religious groups participate in some areas of civil society, but the CECC said religious affairs bureaus became more intrusive and repression against unrecognized religions increased.
It said that, for example, authorities continued to target Uyghur Muslims for engaging in “illegal religious activities.”
The CECC said that a major political scandal involving ousted Chongqing Party chief and Politburo member Bo Xilai and preparations for a once-a-decade leadership transition beginning in November had Chinese leaders more concerned with internal Party politics than with reform.
"On issue after issue, from revision of China's Criminal Procedure Law to the government's treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, Catholics, Muslims, Protestants, and other religious groups, Chinese officials continued to err on the side of repression or symbolic half-measures rather than pursue real, meaningful reform," lawmakers Smith and Brown said.
In other areas, the commission said, the Chinese government had simply stalled on reforms, including on efforts to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), removing obstacles to the registration of civil society organizations, and resuming dialogue with Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
The report recommended that the U.S. Congress and President Obama urge China to immediately ratify the ICCPR, which it had signed in 1998, in order to ensure its citizens the freedom of expression, religion, association, and movement.
It said the U.S. should push China to strengthen the rule of law, enhance transparency, and to engage in dialogue with ethnic minorities without preconditions.
The CECC also called on lawmakers and White House officials to urge Chinese officials to immediately “release and cease the harassment and abuse of Chinese citizens who have exercised internationally recognized human rights,” including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng.
"In an egregious miscarriage of justice, authorities this past year 'claimed' that the missing rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng violated the terms of his parole mere days before his suspended sentence was to expire," Smith said.
"Gao and many other political prisoners in China languish in jails simply for advocating for and exercising their basic human rights. They are a testament to how far China must go to be a country where rule of law and international human rights are respected."
Reported by Joshua Lipes.