Human Rights Developments
Defending Human Rights
The Role of the International Community
China escaped virtually all pressure on human rights as governments focused on its prospective entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). In September, the U.S. Congress voted to grant China permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) without any human rights conditions, thereby doing away with the annual review of its trade status.
The European Union (E.U.), Australia, Japan, Canada, and others carried out bilateral "dialogues" on human rights, although officials acknowledged a lack of tangible progress. The dialogue with the U.S., cut off by China after the NATO bombing of its embassy in Belgrade, remained suspended.
Cooperation with the U.N. was minimal. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson held a regional workshop in Beijing in March and was expected to sign a technical cooperation agreement with China later in the year. But the failure of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to even debate a resolution on China at its annual meeting in Geneva in April gave China little incentive to ratify two key U.N. human rights treaties that it had already signed.
High level visits by Chinese leaders to Europe, Japan, and the U.S., and an E.U.- China summit in Beijing in October included only routine references to human rights, which China easily dismissed.
Foreign Internet companies ignored or turned down appeals to intervene privately with Chinese officials on behalf of those in China arrested for using the Internet to protest rights abuses.
Once again, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights failed to hold China accountable. A "no action" motion by China, to keep the U.S.-sponsored resolution off the commission's agenda, was adopted on April 18 by a vote of 22 to 18, with twelve abstentions and one delegation (Romania) absent.
During a March visit to Beijing for an Asia-Pacific regional workshop on human rights, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson held a press conference and strongly condemned the deterioration of human rights in China. She held talks with senior officials on a technical cooperation agreement aimed at helping China to bring its laws into conformity with treaty standards.
In May, the U.N.'s Committee Against Torture reviewed China's compliance with its obligations under the treaty. The committee acknowledged greater transparency in publishing information about claims of torture against Chinese police and security officials and limited efforts at prosecution. It emphasized, however, that early access to detainees and other safeguards were urgently needed to curb the widespread practice of torture.
The U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture continued to negotiate with the government on the terms of a mission to China, without success. Similarly, the International Committee of the Red Cross made no headway in its long-standing effort to gain access to Chinese prisons and detention facilities.
The International Labor Organization's Committee on Freedom of Association ruled in June that provisions of China's Trade Union Act were in violation of ILO principles of free association, called for the release of several detained trade union leaders, and urged China to accept an ILO "direct contact" mission. There was no response from Beijing.
The U.N. capitulated to Chinese pressure in August when it barred the Dalai Lama from attending the World Millennium Peace Summit.
The E.U.'s relations with China, the E.U.'s third largest trading partner, focused heavily on expanding commercial relations, including completion of an agreement on China's entry into the WTO. Formal but unsubstantial discussions of human rights took place during the E.U.-China summit, held under the Portuguese E.U. Presidency's leadership on December 21, 1999 in Beijing. Another summit, led by French President Jacques Chirac, was scheduled for late October 2000, also in Beijing.
Despite pressure from the European Parliament and admissions by E.U. officials that its human rights dialogue with China since 1998 had failed to produce substantive results, the E.U. refused to cosponsor a resolution at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in March. Its members opposed China's "no action" motion at the Commission, however, but failed to convince all E.U. association countries to do the same, and Romania was absent during the vote.
In late September, an EU-China human rights dialogue was held in Beijing, following much the same model as an earlier one in Lisbon.
In July, Premier Zhu Rongji paid the first visit ever by a Chinese leader to E.U. headquarters. He praised the E.U.'s decision not to take action in Geneva, and urged that differences on human rights be dealt with "through dialogue instead of confrontation." Human rights concerns were prominent on the agenda of talks in July between E.U. External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and China's foreign minister.
The E.U. took the lead in strongly criticizing China's frequent use of the death penalty and calling for its abolition, and for a moratorium on executions to be established in one or more provinces as a first step.
U.S.-China relations were dominated by the issue of China's WTO entry and a promise by President Bill Clinton to give China PNTR.
In late March, the White House's top national security adviser, Sandy Berger, went to Beijing to explain to Chinese officials the U.S. decision to sponsor a resolution on China in the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. After the Geneva vote, the foreign ministry urged the U.S. to end the "anti-China farce," linking restoration of a bilateral human rights dialogue to a U.S. pledge of no future action in Geneva.
Also in late March, the Clinton administration indicated to Congress that, while it rejected any attempts to condition PNTR on human rights improvements, it would accept the creation of a bilateral commission to monitor and promote human rights and labor rights. The commission would be a joint congressional-executive branch body that would report annually to Congress. The commission was included in the PNTR package enacted by the House of Representatives on May 24 by a larger-than-expected vote of 237 to 197. But the commission had no teeth, and attempts in the Senate to strengthen it by requiring an annual debate and vote on its findings were defeated. On September 19, the Senate voted 83 to 15 in favor of PNTR. Under the PNTR bill, Congress for the first time would also fund rule of law and labor law reform programs in China.
The State Department was outspoken in condemning the crackdown on Falun Gong, restrictions on religious freedom, and repression in Tibet. Reports issued by the government-created Commission on International Religious Freedom in May and by the State Department in September were sharply critical of abuses of religious freedom.
The U.S. successfully appealed for the release of Bei Ling, a Chinese poet and resident of the U.S., and his brother, both detained in early August. The detentions occurred just prior to a visit to the U.N. by President Jiang Zemin. Administration and congressional appeals for the release of the academic researcher Song Yongi were also successful, while repeated appeals for the release of Rebiya Kadeer, an imprisoned businesswoman in Xinjiang, were not.
Admiral Joseph Prueher, who was posted to China as the U.S. ambassador in November 1999, made his first visit to Tibet in August. He pressed for access to the Panchen Lama and the release of Tibetan prisoners, including Nwagang Choepel. China refused to allow either the State Department's special coordinator on Tibet, Julia Taft, or members of the Commission on International Religious Freedom, to visit China.
Pacific Rim Countries
Canada again refused appeals from Canadian NGOs to cosponsor the Geneva resolution, concentrating instead on Canada's bilateral dialogue process. Dialogue meetings took place in Beijing in November 1999 and in Ottawa from October 10-13.
Australia also declined to take action in Geneva and held the fourth session in its dialogue talks with China in Australia from August 14-17. Its officials raised the repression of Falun Gong, Tibet, and political dissidents, and China in turn protested Australia's treatment of aboriginals. No concrete results from the dialogue were announced; an expanded joint program of human rights "cooperation" was unveiled that included plans for officials of China's Ministry of Public Security to visit Australia to design a training project for Chinese police.
Japan vigorously supported China's admission to the WTO and in its bilateral relations with Beijing focused on China's increased military spending. There was no linkage between aid and China's worsening human rights record. A third Sino-Japanese human rights dialogue tookplace in Tokyo on January 13 with another session was set for December in Beijing. The meetings had no concrete results. Japan refused to cosponsor the Geneva resolution.
In April, the Dalai Lama was given a visa to travel to Japan despite protests from Beijing. China was also angered by Japan's decision to oppose World Bank funding for the Qinghai poverty reduction project in Tibet. As of mid-October 2000, the South Korean government continued to indicate it would not permit a visit by the Dalai Lama in November because the timing was too close to a planned visit by the Chinese premier.
In fiscal year 2000, China received $1.67 billion in loans from the World Bank, bringing cumulative lending to China to almost $35 billion as of June 30, 2000. Intense debate continued through much of the year over a controversial $160 million poverty reduction project in Qinghai. A part of the project, set to receive $40 million in World Bank funds, involved the resettlement of some 58,000 predominantly non-Tibetan farmers into a traditionally Tibetan area. Though the project had been approved by the bank's board in 1999, a final decision was delayed pending receipt of an independent panel's report that proved highly critical. Attempts by World Bank managers to hold open the project for further reassessment and redesign failed in early July when key board members, including European governments, the U.S., and Japan, opposed China's request to go ahead with the loan. Beijing said it would implement the Qinghai project without World Bank funding.
The World Bank put a priority on fighting corruption but declined to intervene in the case of An Jun, head of an anti-corruption group convicted of subversion.
Relevant Human Rights Watch
Nipped in the Bud: The Suppression of the China Democracy Movement, 9/00
Tibet Since 1950: Silence Prison or Exile, 5/00
China and Tibet
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Human RIghts Watch