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China: Detention of Scholars and Human Rights Conditions

Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations by Mike Jendrzejczyk

Thank you for inviting us to testify, and for holding this hearing on a matter of urgent concern. China's detention of four intellectuals of Chinese descent with ties to the U.S. poses a serious challenge to U.S.-China relations. In addition, another prominent scholar with links to Hong Kong and a businessman who is a permanent U.S. resident and is reported to be extremely ill have been detained. Two of the scholars have thus far been accused of spying, although no evidence has been produced by the Chinese government to justify the charges. Those detained include:

Dr. Li Shaomin, a U.S. citizen, who teaches business at the City University of Hong Kong. He was detained on February 25, 2001 while on his way to Shenzhen where he operated a commercial website. On May 15, the authorities said he was being charged with spying for Taiwan, but have thus far produced no details of the charges. American consular officials have had regular access to him, but Chinese authorities refuse to allow him to meet with his lawyer nor have they revealed where he is being held. Dr. Li is a prominent sociologist whose work focuses on the issues raised in China's privatizing of its economy and on the use of advertising. He received his Ph.D. from Princeton University and was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University's Fairbank Center for East Asian Research. Dr. Li worked as a consultant for several major Western corporations interested in doing business in China.

Dr. Gao Zhan, a U.S. permanent resident and research scholar based at American University in Washington, D.C. She was detained on February 11, 2001, and on March 27 was formally accused of spying for unspecified "overseas intelligence agencies." The Chinese government says she has confessed to the charges, but no evidence has been provided to support this claim. Her lawyers have been unable to obtain access to her, and her husband, Xue Donghua, has strenuously denied the charges against her. In contravention of the U.S.-China consular agreement, the couple's five year old son, a U.S. citizen, was detained and separated from his parents for 26 days without any notification to U.S. officials. Later both Dr. Gao's husband and son were released and allowed to return home. Dr. Gao's academic work focused on Chinese students, especially women, who return to China after a period abroad.

Wu Jianmin, a U.S. citizen and former Hong Kong resident. He was detained in Shenzhen on April 8, 2001. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, he was suspected of being involved in collecting information endangering state security. Mr. Wu had worked as an editor at China News and contributed articles to the now-defunct newspaper Express News for a short period in 1996. He also published articles in the Hong Kong newspaper "Apple Daily" between 1995 and 1999. A former staff member at the Communist Party School in Beijing, Wu migrated to the U.S. in 1988. U.S. consular officials have had access to him, but his family and lawyers, as far as we know, have been prevented from seeing him. No charges have been officially filed.

Qin Guangguang, a U.S. permanent resident. He was detained on December 12, 2000 and is being held by the Ministry of State Security. Qin graduated from China's Central Ethnic University and came to this country in 1989. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, and Stanford University. According to Radio Free Asia, in 1994 he was hired as the Beijing representative for an American pharmaceutical group. No charges have been filed against him, and as far as we know, U.S. consular officials and his family have had no access to him.

Dr. Xu Zerong, formerly a student at Harvard University, with a Ph.D. from Oxford University. Dr. Xu was active in sociological research and helped to publish the Chinese Social Sciences Quarterly in Hong Kong. He emigrated to Hong Kong in 1985. He was detained last fall when he returned to the mainland to assume positions as an associate research professor at Guangdong Provincial Academy of Sciences and as an affiliated professor at Zhongshan University. He is known for his work on the role of the People's Liberation Army in the Korean War. His current whereabouts and legal status are unknown. His family and lawyers have been denied access to him.

Liu Yaping, a permanent U.S. resident. Mr. Liu is a businessman and resident of Weston, Conn. He was detained on March 8, 2001 in the city of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. He had gone to China to start a business to design websites and was accused of tax evasion and other economic crimes; charges were formally brought on April 15. However, his family and other sources say he became entangled in a local power struggle. His lawyers have seen him only twice, both times briefly and in heavily monitored circumstances. They reported that he looks very ill. Doctors have told Liu's family that he has vision and speech problems, headaches and vomiting, and that he is suffering from an aneurysm in an artery leading to the brain, a potentially fatal condition. Chinese authorities have been urged to release Mr. Liu on bail for medical treatment, but have not agreed to the request.

Response of the Academic Community:

The detentions of respected China scholars have sent a shock wave through the international academic community. Many researchers are increasingly worried about the risks of working in China, and have taken extraordinary steps to speak out.

--On April 17, more than 400 leading scholars from fourteen countries as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, all of whom work in the field of China studies, sent a petition to President Jiang Zemin. (The appeal was supported by the NY Academy of Sciences Committee for Human Rights, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Sociological Association, and Human Rights Watch's Academic Freedom Committee.) They expressed concern about the vague reasons for the detentions, and called on President Jiang to demonstrate China's commitment to human rights and academic freedom by either immediately releasing the scholars or promptly giving them an opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law with international standards of due process. By signing this appeal, these scholars could risk losing their own access to China, but they apparently believe the risk is worth taking to make this statement of principle.

Their appeal cites China's obligations as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (not yet ratified) and as a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Beijing this past February. The latter document says in Article 15, "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to respect the freedom indispensable for scientific research and creative activity." The detentions clearly violate the fundamental rights guaranteed in these U.N. treaties and "will likely deter other academics, especially but by no means only those of Chinese nationality, from freely pursuing their research in and about China for fear of suffering the same treatment."

--In early May, when Jiang Zemin went to Hong Kong to speak at an international business forum, over 100 Hong Kong scholars issued a public appeal on behalf of the detained scholars. This was an exceptionally risky and brave initiative. They stressed that the detentions have had "a particularly strong impact on scholars based in Hong Kong who travel to the Mainland regularly for professional and personal reasons. Many scholars have recently canceled their trips to the Mainland and others have put on hold their planned academic projects to be conducted in China. . . Given the vital role scholarly exchanges and scholarship have played in China's modernization efforts and their continued importance for China's success in the world of nations, we respectfully urge the Mainland authorities to indicate China's commitment to pursue the course of the rule of releasing those scholars immediately or by identifying with sufficient particulars the illegal acts" they allegedly committed.

I would add that I visited Hong Kong briefly in April. Legislators, U.S. businesspeople, lawyers, NGOs and the U.S. consul-general all expressed deep concern about the detentions of Hong Kong-based academics. This issue is a crucial test of the "one country, two systems" formula for the SAR. If Hong Kong is totally powerless to protect its citizens from arbitrary arrest the minute they cross the border into the mainland, this poses a serious challenge to Hong Kong's long-term viability and autonomy. Yet Hong Kong officials I met, including the SAR solicitor general, Mr. Bob Alcock, seemed strangely indifferent to the detentions. And last week, when he was questioned by the Hong Kong legislature, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa downplayed concern about the detentions, declaring that academic exchanges with the mainland are in no way threatened. If anyone was arrested, it was because they were involved in "spying" and this was not a violation of academic freedom, he said.

The "Rule of Law"

The detentions raise serious questions about the rule of law in China and whether it exists. There are safeguards in Chinese law which theoretically guarantee detainees access to counsel, limit the amount of time that can elapse between the date of detention and when the case is turned over to the procuracy for preparation of formal charges, and so on. But the law also contains many loopholes in cases involving "state secrets," subversion or espionage that allow security officials to hold any individual with virtual impunity and limited or no outside access.

Such arbitrary treatment in China is hardly unusual in a system in which the laws are applied in an unpredictable, inconsistent manner, where there are only extremely vague and open-ended definitions of "spying" and "state secrets," and there is no independent judiciary. In April, the State Department issued a warning that Chinese state security officials may be deliberately targeting Chinese-American citizens or residents, especially those who have criticized Beijing or visited Taiwan.

The scholars may be victims of an internal Chinese political struggle, or pawns in a game Beijing is playing to test the new administration of George W. Bush. Perhaps China intends to interrogate them, then release them at a convenient time to try to gain international credit. In the worst case scenario, they could face secret trials, without any due process under international standards, and be sentenced to prison terms with little prospect for early release.

Human Rights Conditions in China

It's important to recognize the context in which these detentions have taken place. I would like to briefly describe the overall political climate and general human rights conditions in China today.

The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party seems obsessed with maintaining its grip on political power, while at the same time trying to prop up its credibility by promoting economic reforms and market openings. The preoccupation with preserving social stability is a perennial aspect of one-party rule, but it has been fueled in recent years by a rise in worker and farmer protests, serious urban unemployment, and separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang. It is also related to the succession struggle now underway in Beijing in the run up to next year's Communist Party Congress.

Last December, as China's leaders became increasingly worried about growing social unrest, top officials began sounding the alarm, warning that China's entry into the World Trade Organization might trigger even greater unrest and instability. Wei Jianxing, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Party's Central Committee, urged public security and judicial departments to crack down on "hostile forces both at home and abroad, elements that undermine ethnic unity, key members of cult organizations, criminal offenders and economic crime offenders," according to Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency (December 2, 2000).

Then, this past January, police officials called on all cities to beef up their anti-riot police, complaining that existing anti-riot police were poorly trained and equipped and "hardly capable of maintaining social peace and stability." Following the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, a paramilitary police force was created to handle large-scale protests. China's major cities are required to create anti-riot units of at least 300 officers. Meanwhile, the city of Beijing, as part of its bid to host the Olympics in 2008, has touted the creation of a new anti-terrorist squad, designed to prevent terrorist groups from disrupting the games.

The leadership gathered for a two-day National Public Order Work Meeting in Beijing on April 2, and, on April 3, President Jiang Zemin announced the launching of another major "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign, making it clear that the authorities are determined to preserve social stability at all costs. The first such anti-crime campaign took place in 1983. Local authorities are given broad discretion to crack down on organized crime and corruption, suspected separatists, dissidents and others, using expedited arrest, trial and sentencing procedures. In the past, these campaigns have resulted in large-scale human rights abuses as even the minimal protections and legal safeguards in Chinese law are disregarded, and arbitrary arrests and summary executions become routine.

"The drive is not an expedient response to the recent explosions and other violent crimes, but a long-term endeavor to achieve the ultimate goal of improving China's public order," said Xiao Yang, president of People's Supreme Court, according to Xinhua.

Already there has been an upsurge in arrests and executions. Amnesty International has cited China as the world's leading executioner, with at least 1,263 executions in 1999 and 2,088 death sentences, many obtained through unfair trials and the use of torture to extract confessions. Many are given the death sentence for violent crimes. With the "Strike Hard" campaign underway, the government-controlled media is putting the public spotlight on the tough official response. On one day alone in April, it said, at least 37 persons were executed and 50 sentenced to death in several cities across the country. Mass rallies took place in cities in Guangdong province to announce the formal arrests of 5,485 people "suspected of involvement in organized crime, drug trafficking, and murder," the official media declared.

But even before "Strike Hard," throughout the year 2000 the Chinese government systematically suppressed independent political activities of all kinds. It tightened controls on the Internet, and increased restrictions on unofficial religious activity as potentially subversive, while singling out the Falun Gong meditation group for particularly harsh repression. Members of the China Democracy Party have been given prison terms ranging from less than five years to thirteen years.

Some of the worst abuses continued to occur in the ethnic areas, including Tibet and Xinjiang. In Tibet, Chinese authorities suppressed suspected "splittist" activities and exerted control over Tibet Buddhist religious institutions. Detention of monks and nuns for their peaceful pro-independence activities continued. China's vice president, Hu Jintao, speaking at the National People's Congress in March, said that "while legal religious activities...will be protected, illegal activities under the cover of religion must be resolutely stopped and punished according to law."

In Xinjiang, the "Strike Hard" campaign is aimed at suspected religious fundamentalists, violent terrorists, and "splittists." Last September, Premier Zhu Rongji visited Xinjiang and called for an "iron fist" approach to such groups. Human Rights Watch remains deeply concerned about Rebiya Kadeer, sentenced last March to eight years in prison. Once again, we call for her immediate and unconditional release and the release of her secretary, Kahriman Abdukerim, serving a three-year administrative sentence. Ms. Kadeer's son was freed from a reeducation through labor camp this past February.

U.S. Government Response and HRW's Recommendations:

We welcomed President Bush's public statement on May 11, urging China to treat fairly U.S. citizens who have been detained; he also expressed support for expanded economic ties with China. Earlier, when Vice Premier Qian Qichen visited Washington, DC, President Bush raised the detention of Dr. Gao directly with Qian. If China is to be a reliable trading partner, the rule of law is essential, and China's government must demonstrate its willingness to observe international rules and standards. This includes international rules and standards -- which Beijing says it supports -- governing respect for fundamental human rights.

Last week, the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Zoellick, at a meeting in Shanghai, warned his Chinese counterpart that the mistreatment of Chinese-Americans visiting his country could create problems in the upcoming Congressional debate on renewal of China's trading status. "We still have differences with China," he said at a press conference, "We have differences in security matters. We have differences in the treatment of our nationals and residents."

Clearly, the administration should continue to speak up, and work through private diplomatic channels at senior levels to quickly clarify and resolve these cases. The international academic community should continue its advocacy. But more must be done. We would recommend the following initiatives:

1) Appointment of a special envoy:

The President should immediately appoint a special, personal envoy to travel to Beijing to discuss the plight of the detained intellectuals and other urgent cases, their legal status and humanitarian needs. His envoy should make it clear at the highest levels that these detentions could spoil the atmosphere for President Bush's attendance at the Asia-Pacific Cooperation (APEC) forum in Shanghai in late October. The White House should indicate that President Bush will be unable to accept the invitation for a state visit to Beijing unless China clarifies these cases, and releases those being held solely for the exercise of their rights of belief, free expression and association. The administration should also insist on broader progress on human rights and religious freedom prior to the president's planned visit.

This message can be reinforced when Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Vietnam late next month for the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) annual meetings, and will likely have an opportunity to meet with the Chinese foreign minister.

The administration should approach other countries with close ties to Beijing -- including China's other major trading partners and those conducting bilateral human rights "dialogues" with China such as Canada, Australia, Japan, and the European Union -- to ask for their assistance with private diplomatic appeals.

2) Congressional action:

Several members of Congress have written to President Jiang about the detentions. I urge members of this Committee to directly contact the Chinese ambassador and in other ways communicate their concerns to Chinese authorities. A "sense of the Congress" resolution expressing deep concern and calling for action by the Chinese government -- and the U.S. administration -- would certainly be helpful.

Under the PNTR (Permanent Normal Trade Relations) bill enacted last year, a Congressional-Executive Commission on China was created to promote human rights, labor rights, religious freedom and the rule of law. Thus far, the Senate leadership has appointed members, and I hope that the House leadership and the executive branch will move quickly to get all the commission members in place. Sen. Chuck Hagel was appointed as chair by Senator Lott. The commission should take up the cases of the detained scholars as one of its first urgent matters of business, and perhaps convene a panel of distinguished jurists and academics to lend their assistance.

3) Business community:

Several of those detained have strong connections with the U.S. business community. Some have worked for U.S. companies. American businesspeople should use their personal contacts in Beijing to protest the detentions and underline the chilling affect these actions have on those doing research related to China's economic development, as well as the negative impact on relations between the U.S. and China. A delegation of CEO's might travel to Beijing to deliver this message as a group.

Companies involved in the planning of a CEO forum in Shanghai at the APEC meeting should repeatedly raise these cases in all of their meetings with Chinese officials involved in APEC.

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