Freedoms of speech and religion, the rule of law, and individual rights and freedoms have worsened during the past year under the ruling Chinese Communist Party, an annual congressional-executive report has found, calling on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to do more to halt the decline in basic freedoms.
"As President Trump heads to China next month, he must press China to uphold international human rights norms, respect the rule of law, and adhere to universal standards," Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) chairman Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told journalists on Thursday as the report was published.
The report found that the Chinese Communist Party continues to "use the law as an instrument of repression to expand control over Chinese society," and that "the criminalization of China’s human rights lawyers and advocates is ongoing, including credible reports of torture in detention."
Meanwhile, in the former British colony of Hong Kong, "the long-term viability of the 'one country, two systems' model ... is increasingly uncertain given central government interference," it said.
It also cited intensifying restrictions on religious freedom, particularly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Tibet.
Rubio said he and co-chair Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) plan to nominate jailed Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and the 2014 "Umbrella Movement" for fully democratic elections for the Nobel Peace Prize for “their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and protect the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration."
Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy and the maintenance of judicial independence, progress towards universal suffrage and traditional freedoms of speech, publication and association.
But a series of high-profile interventions by China's parliament have cast doubts over Beijing's growing political influence in the city, which extended to stripping pro-democracy lawmakers of their seats in the Legislative Council, after their oaths of allegiance were ruled invalid.
The oaths row "was the first time the [National People's Congress] standing committee] had preemptively ruled on a case under consideration by a local court, raising further concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy," the report said.
In Hong Kong, Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung welcomed the report, saying the Hong Kong establishment and pro-Beijing politicians were "unwilling to face up to this reality."
"The report has seen through the emperor's new clothes, and details a number of things that the pro-establishment camp doesn't want to admit," Yeung said. "That includes stripping six lawmakers of their seats, and more than one 'interpretation' [from the National People's Congress]."
"We have seen one challenge after another to the 'one country, two systems' approach," he said.
Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai said the pledge of autonomy for the city has now largely been broken.
"Whether on the part of the central government, the Hong Kong government or the pro-establishment politicians, this has been an exercise in gradual deception," Wu told RFA. "But if the political risk factor keeps rising, as it has done, this will affect investment in Hong Kong."
Liu Xiaobo to get Gold Medal
Meanwhile, the CECC said it would award a Congressional Gold Medal to late political prisoner and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, and to all advocates of democracy and human rights in China.
"The death from liver cancer in July 2017 of Liu Xiaobo ... brought renewed attention to the government and Party’s shameful treatment of political prisoners," the annual report said.
"In his last days, authorities repeatedly denied Liu Xiaobo medical treatment abroad, counter to his wishes and those of his wife, Liu Xia," it said.
The medal would be "in recognition of ... extraordinary advocacy for liberty and human rights despite repression," it said.
Smith said growing human trafficking had also been highlighted in this year's findings, which estimate that 62 million girls were never born owing to sex-selective abortion, which promotes sex trafficking.
Bob Fu of the U.S.-based Christian rights group ChinaAid, said the situation for human rights in China is at its worst since the political turmoil of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
"The rule of law, the treatment of lawyers and civil rights activists since the July 2015 crackdown, and the three prisoners of conscience who have just been jailed in Hong Kong all point to the fact that the situation has seriously deteriorated," Fu told RFA.
"I think the international community should face up to this soberly, and hold the dictatorship to account for their rights violations," he said.
Wang Yanfang, wife of jailed rights lawyer Tang Jingling, called on Trump to raise the issue of political prisoners on his forthcoming visit to China.
"I hope that Trump will raise the issue of Tang Jingling and many other prisoners of conscience," Wang said. "They are in a dire situation."
The CECC said it has 1,400 "active cases" in its political prisoner database.
"These men and women ... represent the human toll exacted by China’s repressive and authoritarian one-party system," the annual report said.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Zhang Li for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.