UPDATED at 4.05 P.M. EDT on 2018-10-10
China’s human rights situation is on a “continued downward trajectory, by virtually every measure” under President Xi Jinping and Beijing is using its growing power to spread authoritarian practices outside its borders, a U.S. congressional advisory panel said on Wednesday.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) annual report catalogs perennial human rights concerns, including political prisoners, jailing of journalists, repression of religion, and internet censorship.
The 2018 edition places special focus on the incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang, growing Communist Party control over society and business, and the use of technology as a tool of repression.
“China’s authoritarianism at home directly threatens our freedoms as well as our most deeply held values and national interests,” said a statement by Senator Marco Rubio, CECC chairman, and Representative Chris Smith, cochairman of the CECC, opening the 244-page report.
“Additionally, the ‘long arm’ of the Chinese Communist Party extends beyond China’s borders and is increasingly pervasive and multifaceted,” the lawmakers wrote, warning that under Xi’s assertive rule Chinese practices are being exported around the world.
"We see an ascendant and increasingly aggressive China, seeking to take center stage in the world, and in so doing, determined to shape new global norms on development, trade, the internet, and even human rights. All the while, the fundamental authoritarian character of China’s political system remains the same," they wrote.
'Dire" and going downward
At a news conference for the report’s release, Rubio was firm that “this manifestation of China’s long arm cannot, must not and will not go unanswered.
The Florida Senator was critical of previous trade-focused U.S. approaches to solving human rights issues, saying “policymakers are now reexamining the flawed assumptions that drove US-China relations for decades.”
“This launch of this fact-based indictment of the PRC must and I believe will be taken seriously by our government.” Smith said of the report. “People need to read this. It’s a must read, and when they do, today is the pivot point.”
Human rights conditions inside China have been “dire” and on a “continued downward trajectory, by virtually every measure, since Xi Jinping became Communist Party General Secretary in 2012 and President in 2013,” the report said.
“Of particular concern is the mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in “political reeducation” camps in western China,” it said.
Beginning in April 2017, Uyghurs accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas have been jailed or detained in re-education camps throughout the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where members of the ethnic group have long complained of pervasive discrimination, religious repression, and cultural suppression under Chinese rule. Beijing says it is fighting extremism and giving Uyghurs vocational training.
The CECC cited reports that indicate that the round-up of Uyghurs is the largest mass incarceration since World War II, and said authorities used alarming political rhetoric that conjures up images of “formalized racism on the order of South African apartheid.”
“Detentions appear to be indefinite in most cases. Regional government authorities reportedly ordered officials in some XUAR jurisdictions to meet detention quotas, and local orphanages were reportedly overcrowded due to the number of children requiring care while both parents are held in the camps,” said the report, which cited human rights groups and media reports, including from RFA.
On Tuesday, possibly in response to international condemnation, the Xinjiang government added to its anti-extremism regulations put into effect in March 2017 new clauses that refer to vocational training centers.
"Governments above the county level can set up education and transformation organizations and supervising departments such as vocational training centers, to educate and transform people who have been influenced by extremism," Reuters news agency quoted one of the clauses as saying.
The CECC also cited reports of “Chinese authorities attempting to influence, intimidate, and otherwise harass other Uyghurs living abroad, including in the United States, to get them to return to China, or monitor and silence them while abroad.”
Party control expands
The mass repression in Xinjiang comes amid a dramatic expansion of Communist Party control under Xi, the report said.
“The purview of the Party continued to expand into many sectors of public life, eliminating the tenuous separation that previously existed between the Party and government agencies,” it said, noting that the party had in the past allowed experimentation and varying degrees of autonomy in implementing policies.
“Under Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, that modicum of autonomy continues to shrink with the Party apparatus reasserting itself over the government,” said the report. Party control was also extended into the business world, including in foreign joint ventures, it said.
Under Xi, the Communist Party was using multiple methods to “export its authoritarianism,” the lawmakers said.
The Chinese practices included “interference in multilateral institutions; threatening and intimidating rights defenders and their families; imposing censorship mechanisms on foreign publishers and social media companies,” it said.
Other measures by the party included “influencing academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies; and threatening American companies who do not conform with China’s narrative on ‘sensitive topics’ like Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan,” they wrote.
Rubio during the press conference gave an example of how China’s influence over the media affects people in the United States, citing how American films can be banned from the world’s largest market over content unfavorable to the Communist Party.
He also voiced concern that the Communist Party manipulates journalists by selectively granting visas or access to the country and its officials.
“There are journalists today in the world, including in the United States who have pulled punches and I believe tailored their message in a way so as not to lose access.”
Skynet and Sharp Eyes
The party’s push for control and mass surveillance of the nation of 1.3 billion people has also deployed the latest technological developments, including the “Skynet” system that includes more than 27 million surveillance cameras nationwide, and a “Sharp Eyes” program designed to extend surveillance to rural areas.
“Consistent with the trend regarding the Party’s expanding reach, the Commission observed the Party and government re-inserting itself into the private lives of Chinese citizens through expanded collection of biometric data, growing surveillance networks, and continued development of the social credit system,” said the report.
The social credit system aims to reward or punish a range of economic, social, and political conduct.
“Reports show that social and political management of the Chinese people was aided by smart technology and advances in artificial intelligence (AI) in new ways this past year,” it added.
At the press conference, Smith condemned American companies that profit from these policies, saying “There needs to be actions taken when our companies are complicit in enabling a police state in surveillance and incarceration.”
Meanwhile, the former British colony of Hong Kong, which in 2017 marked 20 years since it came under Beijing’s rule, is losing the autonomy promised under the Sino-British agreement governing the 1997 handover, the report said.
The CECC cited the banning of political parties and politicians in Hong Kong, the vetting of candidates and the narrowing of space for debate in the southern Chinese city, now governed as a Special Autonomous Region.
“The long-term viability of Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ framework remained tenuous given the continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, as guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” policy enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” the report said.
Tough Chinese policies in Tibet remained unchanged, it said.
“The Party and government continued implementing repressive policies in Tibetan autonomous areas, including extensive and intrusive surveillance, strict regulations and rules to restrict Tibetans’ religious and cultural rights, and pervasive displays of police and military force,” said the report.
The CECC’s recommendations to Congress stressed the need for a “readjustment” of U.S. policy toward China, in which human rights and the rule of law are no longer “tangential issues in bilateral relations,” and instead are in the forefront.
The U.S. government must advocate for and support political prisoners, prioritize religious freedom in diplomacy and hold officials accountable for abuses, it said.
Specifically, the U.S. must call on the Chinese government to end the mass, arbitrary detention of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and others in “political reeducation” centers, and release those currently detained, it said.
Washington must also press Chinese officials to allow U.S. officials, diplomats from other countries, UN officials, humanitarian organizations, and international journalists to visit the XUAR and investigate reports of arbitrary detention, it said.
The CECC also called for governments and international non-governmental organizations to compile information on specific XUAR officials responsible for the arbitrary mass detention and abuse in the camps for possible sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
In August, Rubio, Smith and 15 other lawmakers wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging the application of Magnitsky sanctions on XUAR Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo, who has spearheaded the harsh policies against Uyghurs.
Rubio highlighted specific legislation he and Smith plan to introduce following the report, including the Xinjiang Uygur Human Rights Act, which would “direct U.S. resources to address gross violations of universally recognized human rights, including the mass internment of over a million Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim ethnic minorities in China and the intimidation and threats faced by U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.”