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Human Rights Developments

Human rights in China deteriorated during the year. By the beginning of March, when it became clear that support in the United States for placing human rights conditions on China's receipt of Most Favored Nation (MFN) trade status was fast waning, China began stepping up its moves against dissidents. At least nineteen activists were arrested for peaceful dissent between March and December, and many of them "disappeared" after being taken into custody. The use of repeated short-term arbitrary detentions increased. In April, negotiations with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to a halt and as of early November had not resumed. After President Clinton announced the unconditional renewal of MFN in May, prisoner releases all but ceased, and long-delayed trials of political prisoners began. New security regulations, further restricting the limits of lawful dissent, went into effect in June. At the same time, old patterns of human rights abuses, including torture and beatings in prison and strict curbs on freedom of association, expression, assembly and religion persisted. In Tibet, the treatment of prisoners remained harsh.

Dozens of dissidents were rounded up in Shanghai and Beijing in late February and early March, before or during the visits of senior U.S. officials and the early March meeting of the National People's Congress. Among those detained were Wei Jingsheng, China's most famous political prisoner; his assistant, Tong Yi; most of the leadership of the Shanghai-based Study Group on Human Rights; and the founders of a new organization called the League for the Protection of the Rights of the Working People, including Yuan Hongbing, Liu Nianchun, and Wang Zhongqiu. As of November, Wei Jingsheng remained in detention without formal charges in an undisclosed location under what the government called "residential surveillance," Tong Yi had been charged with a minor criminal offense, four Shanghai activists had been sent to re-education camps for three years, and Liu Nianchun had been released.

Releases of prisoners sentenced in connection with the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989, effectively ended after President Clinton renewed MFN in May. Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, the "black hands" of the 1989 protests, released in April and May respectively, were the last significant figures to be freed as a result of international pressure, while others, such as veteran pro-democracy activist Ren Wanding and former senior party official Bao Tong, remained in prison. Both of the latter were ill and had been denied access to appropriate medical care. Bao Tong, serving the remainder of a seven-year sentence for "leaking an important state secret" and "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" was due to be released in 1996. Human Rights Watch honored him, in absentia,with other international human rights monitors at the Human Rights Watch obsevance of Human Rights Day in December.

Trials and sentencing appeared to be timed to express maximum contempt of Western human rights pressure. Immediately after the decoupling of human rights and MFN, the long-delayed trials began of the so-called Beijing Fifteen, dissidents who were accused of organizing "counterrevolutionary groups." The sentencing of three of the Shanghai activists mentioned above, Bao Ge, Yang Zhou, and Yang Qinheng, took place less than a week after Foreign Minister Qian Qichen met with President Clinton on October 3.

Several developments underscored the Chinese government's abuse of its own legal procedures. Increasingly, the authorities refused to inform families of the whereabouts of detained dissidents, making several of these cases tantamount to disappearances. Prisoners were kept in detention despite the lack of evidence against them.

Gao Yu, formerly deputy chief editor of the banned newspaper Economics Weekly, was tried in camera on April 20 and was still in detention in November despite the judge's finding that the evidence against her was insufficient. Trials and sentencing were unaccountably delayed. At least nineteen dissidents in Gansu and Beijing, arrested in May and June 1992, were still being held incommunicado as of October 1994. The "Gansu Four," Liu Wensheng, Liu Baiyu, Gao Changyuan, and Ding Mao, tried and convicted in July 1993, had not been sentenced by the end of the year. The fates of five others indicted with them, and twelve more referred to in the indictment, were still unknown. None of the fifteen tried in Beijing in July 1994 was sentenced by December, to Human Rights Watch/Asia's knowledge.

The use of repeated short-term arbitrary detention was another trend during 1994. For example, in a three-month period starting at the beginning of March, Bao Ge was picked up a total of five times, three of them in connection with visits by foreign dignitaries. Released activists were under constant surveillance. Wang Dan, who in 1989 had been No.1 on the student "most wanted" list, was sent on "vacation" outside Beijing to prevent "disruption" during the visit to Beijing in March of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

New security regulations, the Detailed Rules for the Implementation of the Security Law of the People's Republic of China, were signed into law by Li Peng on June 4, 1994. They widened the basis for restricting peaceful political dissent and freedom of religion, expression, association, and assembly, by heavily penalizing the "cooperation" of Chinese activists with "hostile" nongovernmental organizations outside China (the definition of hostile was left to the Ministry of Public Security). The regulations also defined speech, including rumors, or writing harmful to state security as "sabotage." Interviewing or contacting certain people or organizations could be construed by Chinese authorities under the new law as a criminal offense.

Persons arrested for political activities were increasingly charged with criminal offenses rather than with "counterrevolution." During 1994, at least seven dissidents were administratively sentenced to two or three-year "re-education through labor" terms on such charges.

Among them were Zhang Lin, a labor organizer, for "hooliganism" on the trumped-up charge of never having registered his marriage; Liu Huanwen, a Christian labor activist, also for "hooliganism"; Qin Yongmin, after meeting with other dissidents to discuss a "Peace Charter," for "disturbing the social order"; and Yan Zhengxue, an avant-garde artist and representative to the People's Congress, for "stealing a bicycle." Tong Yi, who was We Jingsheng's assistant, was charged with forging a seal to a university document, and Bi Yimin was accused of giving "public money" to the families of Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming.

Old patterns of human rights abuse continued into 1994. Qin Yongmin was badly beaten and mutilated in prison in June and July, according to his wife. Zheng Muzheng, an active Protestant proselytizer, was beaten to death the day after he was taken into custody. In both cases, the prisoners' spouses were harassed, interrogated, and threatened with arrest for attempting to seek governmental redress.

New religious regulations, spelling out rigorous conditions and procedures for registering churches went into effect in January. Catholics and Protestants who refused registration continued to be detained, harassed, and fined. Another set of regulations tightened the conditions under which foreigners can worship with their co-religionists.

Curbs on freedom of expression tightened in 1994. In a case viewed as a warning to the Hong Kong media to restrict reporting on human rights, Xi Yang, a reporter for the Hong Kong newspaper, Ming Bao, received a twelve-year sentence for writing an article on central bank gold strategies and loan interest rates. The information had not yet been officially released, thus constituting a "state financial secret." Tian Ye, a clerk at the Peoples' Bank implicated in the case, was given a fifteen-year term.

In March, in an effort to limit human rights violations from reaching the international community, China barred Wei Jingsheng from meeting with foreign reporters for three years. When the wife of veteran dissident Xu Wenli tried to talk with foreign reporters after her husband was detained twice within a twenty-four-hour period in early April, police officers forcibly dragged her into her house. Five foreign journalists were held for questioning in the incident. A Dutch journalist, Caroline Straahof, was detained five hours for attempting to visit Liu Nianchun; and some thirty police officers interrogated Nick Driver, Beijing bureau chief of United Press International (UPI), a U.S.-based news agency, and Matt Forney of Newsweek after they left Liu's house. Crew members from the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), a U.S. television network, were questioned for several hours after interviewing Wang Dan; a Taiwan reporter was held for trying to interview dissident intellectual Ding Zilin; and Lena Sun of The Washington Post was detained for taking pictures of dissidents' graves.

The media crackdown was particularly severe in the run-up to the fifth anniversary of the June 4 crackdown in Beijing. Police interrogated Kathy Chen, a Wall Street Journal reporter, for four hours for trying to interview Beijing University students. A South Korean camera operator and his crew were expelled from China for "reporting without permission." A Columbia Broadcasting Service (CBS) crew from the U.S. was prevented from filming in Tiananmen Square and had their video tape confiscated. Chinese police sent a fax to Beijing hotels on June 2 to switch off Cable News Network (CNN) transmission until after June 6.

Free expression was restricted in other ways. At Beijing universities, even minor symbolic protests to commemorate June 4 were dealt with harshly. When paper money, a traditional means of commemorating the dead, was burned at People's University, all evening students were detained until the culprits could be interrogated and taken away. On March 12, seven film directors were banned from work for illegally participating in a Rotterdam film festival.

The right to free assembly was violated in March when the Chinese government prevented leading dissidents from meeting with Secretary of State Christopher. That same month, security forces in Beijing prevented a group of friends from gathering to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the arrest of We Jingsheng. More than one hundred elderly Chinese protestors were detained for gathering outside the Japanese Embassy in an attempt to deliver a letter to then-Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa demanding compensation for war-related damages.

Human rights abuses in Tibet continued. Despite the unexpected January releases of two Tibetan human rights monitors, Gendun Rinchen and Lobsang Yonten, Tibetan activists continued to receive harsh treatment, and curbs on free expression escalated. As of February, over 200 political prisoners were in TAR No.1 Prison (Drapchi), more than double the number held four years ago. Twenty-year-old Phuntsog Yangki, a nun, died in a police hospital in early June reportedly from lack of medical treatment after Drapchi Prison staff beat her for singing Tibetan independence songs in February during Tibetan New Year. She had been serving a five-year term for a 1992 independence demonstration.

Courts handed down heavy sentences. In late 1993 or early 1994, twelve nuns who allegedly tried to organize a demonstration received sentences of up to seven years. In July, five Tibetans in Pakshoe County in eastern Tibet, received twelve- and fifteen-year terms for "counterrevolutionary" offenses. Police arrested at least thirteen monks and nuns in February and March in Lhasa and Kyimshi (twenty-seven miles south of Lhasa), some for organizing a peaceful poster and leaflet campaign.

The Chinese concern for limiting information flows also applied to Tibet. In March, all units subscribing to cable television channels and owning ground satellite stations were ordered to immediately stop receiving and relaying British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and three Star Television channels, then to reapply to receive foreign programming. In Lhasa, all travel agencies were notified they would be punished if journalists or diplomats journeyed with them.

In May, a renewed crackdown on religious freedom began in Tibet with the apparent aim of discrediting the Dalai Lama as a religious leader. Party members were ordered to remove from their homes all signs of devotion, including any photographs of him. By August, the ban had been extended to government and semi-official agency personnel. At the end of September, police seized all of the Dalai Lama's pictures on display in Lhasa's city markets.

The Right to Monitor

No independent human rights monitoring was permitted in China, and attempts to raise human rights concerns publicly met with severe reprisals. Three members of the Shanghai-based China Study Group on Human Rights were sentenced in early October to three-year "re-education through labor" terms. All three had been subject to repeated detentions, surveillance, and harassment. One of those sentenced, Bao Ge, was picked up just after he had mailed an application to the Ministry of Civil Affairs requesting permission to establish a nationwide organization, the Voice of Human Rights.

Petitioning for adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights brought retribution. Three professors, Xu Liangying, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and Ding Zilin and Jiang Peikun of People's University, who joined with four other academics, were under virtual house arrest in March and April for sending a human rights appeal to President Jiang Zemin and to the chair of the National People's Congress.

Meanwhile, the government funded and set up a "nongovernmental organization" of its own, the China Society for Human Rights Studies. To date, the statements and publications of this group, which is headed by a former chief of the official New China News Agency, Zhu Muzhi, have been indistinguishable from government policy.

The Role of the

International Community

The last vestige of meaningful pressure on China from the international community ended with President Clinton's decision to de-link human rights and Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status on May 26. The U.S. decision had immediate negative consequences. In addition to the deterioration of human rights documented above, it also signaled the marginalization of human rights on the U.S.-China bilateral agenda, and damaged American credibility on human rights worldwide. The U.S. was the last to abandon a tough human rights stance, as other governments and key trading partners with China had long since given priority to expanding economic ties.

By January 1994, it was clear that while the Clinton administration was deeply divided over the utility of continuing its threat to deny MFN to China if the conditions in the President's May 1993 Executive Order were not met, the forces in favor of jettisoning the MFN-human rights link were strong and growing. Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bensten visited China in late January and hinted that the annual MFN review might be dropped altogether. He also praised China for granting the U.S. Customs Service access to a handful of suspected prison labor sites_part of the administration's ongoing pattern of giving credit to China for token gestures which undermined the prospects for securing genuine human rights improvements.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck met with Chinese officials in Beijing in late February, and infuriated them by also meeting with prominent dissident Wei Jingsheng. Shattuck's message, however, was undercut by a concurrent visit by Undersecretary of Commerce Jeffrey Garten, lobbying in Beijing for U.S. trade deals and publicly extolling the value of the Chinese market for American exporters.

Secretary of State Christopher was the next American official to visit, and despite the detention of Wei Jingsheng and other dissidents prior to his arrival in March, he refused to suspend or delay an ill-timed trip that also coincided with the National People's Congress plenum_a time of domestic tension under the best of circumstances. Christopher did raise human rights issues with Chinese officials. But the visit brought him only public humiliation by the Chinese, a marginally useful agreement on prison labor exports, and Congressional attacks on the credibility and effectiveness of the President's overall policy.

In April, China dispatched a huge trade delegation to the U.S., which signed contracts worth over $11 billion, further eroding Congressional support for the MFN linkage.

By the time President Clinton made a last-ditch appeal on human rights to Vice-Premier Zou Jiahua in the Oval Office on May 3, China was convinced the U.S. was more interested in access to its markets than in human rights improvements, and Zou made no promises. But China did release two prominent dissidents on "medical parole," Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, as a face-saving gesture to Clinton.

With those releases in hand, Clinton justified his decision to renew MFN and de-link human rights from future annual renewals (still legally required under the Jackson-Vanik amendment of U.S. trade law, making tariff benefits to non-market economies conditional on free emigration) on the most tenuous grounds possible. China, Clinton said, had not made "overall significant progress" as required by his May 1993 executive order, but it had agreed to resolve a dozen emigration cases, signed a new agreement on prison labor, and said it would adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He argued that a tough human rights policy was hampering the ability of the U.S. to pursue trade and security interests, citing, among other things, the need for Chinese cooperation on resolving the North Korean crisis. The MFN decision, it should be noted, had no effect whatsoever on China's stance on that issue.

As a sop to Congressional advocates of selective trade sanctions, Clinton imposed a wrist-slapping sanction by banning $200 million worth of annual imports of Chinese weapons and ammunition. (A bill to impose broader sanctions on some $5 billion worth of exports, vigorously opposed by the administration, was defeated in the House of Representatives on August 9 by a vote of 270 to 158.) He also announced an "aggressive" and "vigorous" new human rights policy, including an effort to get U.S. businesses operating in China to adhere to a voluntary set of principles, increased support of broadcasting to China on internal political developments, undefined expanded multilateral efforts on human rights, and support for nongovernmental organizations in China_despite the fact that Chinese NGOs do not exist. This would be part of an "enhanced engagement" strategy designed to erase the stigma of the 1989 crackdown near Tiananmen Square and to remove human rights as an obstacle to improved Sino-American relations.

By year's end it appeared that the new human rights policy was all form and little substance, and there would be no significant political or economic pressure exerted to replace MFN. The administration embarked on an aggressive campaign to expand high-level contacts with China across the board, while keeping the human rights discussion muted. At the G-7 summit meeting in Naples in July, the White House ruled out any discussion of China, thus squandering a key opportunity to develop a multilateral agenda. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, the first cabinet level official to visit China after the MFN decision, led a delegation of twenty-four American corporate executives in August. They negotiated nearly $6 billion worth of trade deals. Discussion of human rights was relegated to quiet diplomacy, however, and Brown refrained from publicly criticizing detentions that took place during his trip. He was followed by a series of other senior administration officials, including Secretary of Defense William Perry, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, and Export-Import Bank president Ken Brody.

The White House chaired an interagency group to develop so-called voluntary principles for U.S. businesses in China, but no such principles were announced as of November 1994. Meanwhile, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives outlining a specific code of conduct for U.S. companies in China and requiring regular reports to the State Department. No action was taken by the House on the bill; it was expected to be reintroduced in 1995.

The administration was actively considering dropping two remaining sanctions imposed after the 1989 crackdown: a ban on Overseas Private Investment Corporate loans and insurance to U.S. investors, and suspension of the Trade and Development Administration's export program. It was not clear what, if any, human rights improvements would be secured in exchange.

In October, Chinese officials told the U.S. that they were resuming a "human rights dialogue" with Assistant Secretary Shattuck, broken off by Beijing following Shattuck's meeting with Wei Jingsheng in February, talks with the Voice of America on international broadcasting, and negotiations with the International Committee of the Red Cross over access to prisoners. Although the Clinton administration expressed delight, there was no indication by the time of this writing that any real progress had been made in the three areas.

China lobbied heavily for a visit by President Clinton to Beijing sometime in 1995. During an Oval Office meeting on October 4, he privately raised human rights issues (including cases of individual dissidents) and foreign minister Qian Qichen reiterated an invitation to China first extended by President Jiang Zemin at the 1993 APEC meeting. The White House said "no formal plans" for a visit had been made. President Clinton met with President Jiang Zemin again at the APEC meeting in Jakarta in November.

The administration made no new efforts to exert leverage on China through the World Bank, which continued to give China more funds than any other nation. By the end of June, China received over $3.07 billion, and commitments by the bank to give another $3 billion in fiscal year 1995. The fiscal year 1995 U.S. foreign aid bill requires the U.S. directors at multilateral lending institutions to "use their voice" to promote internationally recognized worker rights. Before the bill was signed, China voiced strong opposition to this provision, which it viewed as a potential threat to its access to multilateral development bank loans. However, it was unclear how vigorously the administration planned to implement the new law with respect to China.

Other governments in Europe and Asia also took steps in 1994 to emphasize their expanding commercial relations with China, while marginalizing or downgrading the importance of human rights. Beijing was thus largely able to deflect effective bilateral or multilateral pressure on human rights through a combination of strategically aimed trade deals and reciprocal exchanges of high-ranking officials.

Anxious to restore relations with Beijing damaged by the sale of jet fighter planes to Taiwan in 1992, French Prime Minister Eduoard Balladur went to China in April. But his visit was marred by the detention of prominent dissidents in Beijing and Shanghai (Xu Wenli, Wang Fuchen, and Bao Ge) just prior to his arrival. The prime minister was further embarrassed by Chinese Foreign Ministry denials that any detentions had taken place. On July 5, the French minister for foreign trade, Gerard Longuet, led a delegation of 125 business people to China and signed deals worth approximately $1 billion. To cap the effort to boost economic relations, President Jiang Zemin was invited to Paris in September. Authorities initially banned protest demonstrations in Marseille and Paris, but ultimately allowed few to take place. Eighteen protesters were arrested. Just hours after signing trade agreements worth $2.5 billion, Jiang Zemin rejected criticism of China's human rights practices on the grounds that stability is a "primordial condition" for economic development. President François Mitterand, according to press accounts, gave Jiang a list of jailed dissidents and discussed human rights.

Even more controversial was Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng's tour of Europe in June and July, which was marked by protest demonstrations and by Li's vehement defense of his decision to crush the pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989. Li toured Austria, Romania, and Germany. The Green Party circumvented a ban on public protests in Vienna and held a protest meeting in parliament, while Austrian officials completed agreements on trade and development projects and Li offered, in exchange, to start a human rights "dialogue" with Austria. Li cut short his week-long visit to Germany after being harassed by protests in several German cities; complaints about China's human rights practices were voiced by various German politicians. Though a public relations disaster, the trip succeeded in further cementing Chinese-German economic relations: Li signed over $3 billion worth of aerospace contracts, for example.

Canada's prime minister, Jean Chrétien, told parliament in June that Ottawa would seek to improve human rights in China through expanded trade, and announced that in November he would be the first Canadian leader to visit China since 1989. China is one of Canada's largest export markets, with bilateral trade of about $4 billion. Accompanied by provincial authorities and business representatives, Chrétien planned to visit Beijing and Shanghai in mid-November en route to the APEC summit meeting.

Australia continued its policy of promoting trade (in 1992-1993, exports to China totaled $2.2 billion), while conducting a human rights "dialogue" through separate channels. Australian Prime Minister Keating and Foreign Minister Gareth Evans actively lobbied the Clinton administration to de-link MFN and human rights. Canberra decided to defer sending a third human rights delegation to China pending a reciprocal delegation from Beijing to investigate Australia's human rights conditions. (Australia had sent human rights delegations to China in 1991 and 1992.) Until such a visit was scheduled, Australia's dialogue was "on hold" as of November 1994.

Japan's prime minister also visited China in March 1994, and Tokyo continued to give Beijing more bilateral aid than any other country.

The Work of

Human Rights Watch/Asia

Human Rights Watch/Asia sought to keep public attention focused on China's abysmal human rights practices by a steady stream of detailed information and to debunk the widely held belief that economic reforms were leading to human rights improvements. It redoubled its efforts to involve the private sector in discussions on human rights and by the end of the year was increasingly turning its attention to issues related to worker rights.

China remained the most important country in Asia for Human Rights Watch/Asia in terms of staff time and resources. In February, it issued the 688-page Detained in China and Tibet, a directory of over 1,000 political and religious prisoners and perhaps the most comprehensive report on arbitrary detention ever published on post-Cultural Revolution China. Approximately one report a month was released thereafter, two of them in collaboration with another organization, Human Rights in China. The reports ranged from detailed accounts of prison life and lists of prisoners, to information on religious persecution, to accounts of efforts of dissident intellectuals to raise concerns about the impact of China's economic reforms on society, to documentation on the sale of executed prisoners' organs for medical transplants.

Human Rights Watch/Asia also issued a steady stream of press releases on U.S. policy toward China and on developments in individual prisoner cases. The Washington director of Human Rights Watch/Asia was repeatedly called upon to testify at Congressional hearings, to brief members of Congress and others traveling to China on human rights developments and to raise concerns about those developments with other governments, including Japan. At the same time, the Hong Kong office remained the center for Human Rights Watch/Asia's investigatory research on China, collecting and analyzing documents and conducting interviews as needed.

Major work went into opening a dialogue with American, and by the end of the year German, corporations involved in China, much of it over the development of a voluntary set of principles to which companies could subscribe in the interests of promoting human rights.

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