Human Rights Developments
The Chinese government in 1990 intensified and institutionalized its repression of the democracy movement, now dubbed "the counterrevolutionary rebellion." In the wake of the bloody crackdown of June 4, 1989, thousands remained detained without charge, often in abysmal prison conditions and often subject to torture. The number of arrests and trials of pro-democracy activists and sympathizers mounted throughout 1990, and at least one new execution was reported, bringing the total officially announced since June 4 to 49. The government reimposed state controls over all aspects of free expression, adopted measures to monitor its citizens overseas, and tightened restrictions on religious and ethnic groups within the country. The effect of these measures was to nullify the tentative liberalization of the previous decade, and reassert the firm ideological control of the conservative wing of the Chinese Communist Party.
This internal campaign of repression proceeded in tandem with the government's attempts to project to the world a picture of renewed domestic harmony and tolerance. Adopting a stance of "outward relaxation, internal intensification" (neijin, waisong), the Chinese leadership strove to close the book on the 1989 movement and return to business as usual with international partners. It assiduously courted foreign investment and the lifting of sanctions, most prominently through cooperation in the United Nations Security Council with US positions on the Persian Gulf crisis. All the while, behind-the-scenes purges of government critics (real or imagined) moved forward, culminating in November in charges against leading figures of the democracy movement for sedition, a capital offense.
With a view toward heading off further sanctions by the West, the Chinese government formally lifted martial law, in Beijing in January and in Lhasa in May. The substance of martial law remained, however, with the maintenance of a massive, armed security force in both cities.
The Chinese authorities also announced a series of releases of pro-democracy detainees over the year, totaling 881 persons. But the government named only a handful of those said to have been released, and there has been no independent verification of the number or names of the others.
The announcements of releases were skillfully timed to influence US policy on China. The first 573 releases were announced in January, days before a key vote in Congress on legislation to protect the more than 40,000 Chinese students in the United States against involuntary return to China. Another release of 211 was announced in May, on the eve of President Bush's decision not to withhold Most Favored Nation trading status from China. Shortly before a meeting of the world's industrial nations at which loan policy to China was discussed, the Chinese government on June 26 allowed Fang Lizhi and his wife, Li Shuxian, to leave the US embassy in Beijing for England, and made its last announcement of 97 prisoner releases.
Release from detention did not end the ordeal for all who were government targets. Wang Ruowang, the prominent writer and government critic, was released on October 29 after 16 months' detention without charge. At year's end, however, he remained under investigation, was required to report on his activities twice per week, and was prohibited from leaving Shanghai without police permission. Following her release in May 1990, the well known journalist Dai Qing (who published a favorable account of her treatment in custody in Beijing) was followed by a police escort, even when visiting relatives. The academic Li Honglin, also incarcerated in Beijing, was placed directly on an airplane to Fuzhou upon his release in May and not permitted to visit his wife in their Beijing home. He is also believed to be under surveillance, and his stepdaughter was denied permission to visit relatives in the United States.
During the latter half of 1990, Chinese government spokesmen insisted that a mere 355 post-June 4 detainees remained in prison, but this was widely believed to be a gross underestimate, taking into account neither the prisoners held outside Beijing and Shanghai, nor those held in other forms of administrative detention, nor most of the ordinary workers who bore the brunt of government repression.
Ordinary workers, who turned out in massive numbers to support the students and intellectuals of the pro-democracy movement and to protest the June 4 crackdown, suffered the severest government retaliation. In an effort to quash politicization of the workforce (termed the "Polish disease"), the government characterized these detainees as "thugs" and charged them as common criminals. Workers comprised the majority of those tried and convicted, frequently drawing heavy prison terms in the 10-to-15-year range. Workers and peasants accounted for all officially announced executions through the end of 1990.
By year's end, no labor leaders active in the pro-democracy movement had yet been released. Han Dongfang, the 27-year-old organizer of the Beijing Workers Autonomous Federation -- China's first independent trade union since 1949 -- had been in solitary confinement since June 1989, despite deteriorating health which required him to be hospitalized at least six times. He had yet to be charged, although he had been told he would be tried as a common criminal.
Asia Watch documented several dozen reports of trials of pro-democracy activists during 1990, although the true numbers were believed to be much higher. It was unlikely that these trials met international standards for fairness given Chinese criminal procedure practices. The presumption of innocence is overlooked by judicial panels, which are told how to decide cases by Party committees in advance of sensitive trials. The accused are pressured to confess from the moment they are first detained, and under the best circumstances they do not receive counsel until days before trial. Defense lawyers, for the most part, confine themselves to arguing for lenience in sentencing.7
The practice of charging workers as common criminals, rather than as political criminals, permits the application of summary procedures that in effect remove the right to present a defense or appeal a death sentence.8 On the other hand, defendants facing political charges reportedly are limited in their choice of counsel to senior-ranking lawyers who are Party members. Two directives issued by the Ministry of Justice reportedly barred lawyers from defending pro-democracy activists without the Ministry's prior approval, and barred lawyers from entering a plea of "not guilty" for such clients without prior notification of the Ministry.9
Many others detained since June 1989 were denied the chance to enter any plea whatsoever; instead, they were simply convicted by the public security organs (the police) without benefit of any court appearance or hearing. Persons may be sentenced without a trial to as much as three years of so-called "labor reeducation," one of several official euphemisms in China for forced labor under arbitrary detention. Another example of administrative detention without trial is so-called "shelter and investigation," a widely used method of incarceration for which there exists no basis in Chinese legislation. Under this practice, the police on their own authority and without supervision by the courts or procuracy hold suspects in conditions similar or worse than those for convicted criminals for months at a time. Both of these punitive measures, which are applied against hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of Chinese citizens every year, violate the prohibition in international law against arbitrary detention and the right to be presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law.
In the spring of 1990, the Chinese government launched a massive nationwide campaign to "crack down on serious crime." According to the official China News Service, as many as 986,000 people were arrested by public security authorities at all levels between May and September. Of those arrested, a large number were executed -- estimates varied from 500 to several thousand. This campaign, similar to a major crime sweep of late 1983, was launched ostensibly to "clean up" society in advance of the Asian Games, which Beijing hosted from September 22 to October 7.
The "anti-crime" campaign appeared to have provided cover for an intensified round of suppression of pro-democracy groups and individuals. The police chief of Guangdong Province reported in November that in his province alone (which was relatively free of pro-democracy demonstrations in the spring of 1989), the authorities had uncovered and dealt with "20 instances of counterrevolution" in the course of the anti-crime campaign.10
A primary concern of the Chinese government was to prevent any public protests of the 1989 military crackdown. In addition to the anti-crime campaign, the authorities imposed stringent security measures and limited access to cities during important holidays and anniversaries. Beijing sealed off Tiananmen Square and prohibited all unofficial public signs of mourning during Qing Ming Festival on April 5. This traditional holiday to honor the dead is also the anniversary of a 1976 incident in which militia and police beat to death dozens of demonstrators in the Square who had gathered to honor the memory of Chou Enlai as a protest against the Gang of Four. Similar security measures were adopted in advance of the June 4 anniversary. For the Asian Games, the authorities set about plastering over bullet holes left over from June 1989, instituted roadblocks and citizens' patrols, and instructed citizens to limit contacts with foreigners.
The clearest signal of Beijing's efforts to close accounts on the 1989 democracy movement was the wave of charges brought against leading students and intellectuals in October and November 1990. Taking advantage of the public relations gains made by cooperation with the West in the Gulf crisis, the Chinese government picked Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming to blame as the ringleaders of the 1989 movement. Veterans of the 1978 protests against the Cultural Revolution, Wang and Chen established in the 1980s a number of unofficial associations to promote reform within the system. In 1989, both were instrumental in building a coalition that linked students and intellectuals with workers. Their families were formally notified on November 24, 1990 that the two would be charged with spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda, a crime that can draw five years' imprisonment or more, and plotting to overthrow the government, a capital offense.
Also reported to face charges of counterrevolutionary propaganda and instigation were Liu Suli and Chen Xiaoping, law professors who advocated the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law over Party authority; Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic who participated in a brief hunger strike in Tiananmen Square just before the massacre; Ren Wanding, a worker-intellectual who in 1979 founded the first organization to protect human rights in the People's Republic; Lü Jiamin, a professor and participant in the Democracy Wall movement of 1978-1981; and Bao Zunxin, a philosopher and leading intellectual. Student leaders of the movement who headed the "most wanted" lists, such as Wang Dan, Zhang Ming, Zhou Yongjun and Liu Gang, reportedly faced similar charges, and Zhang Ming and Zheng Xuguang, also student activists, were tried in mid-November, although their sentences were not announced. None of these individuals used or advocated violence; to the contrary, some were known to have specifically urged protesters to disarm and act peacefully.
The wretched prison conditions and frequently brutal treatment meted out to the post-June 4 detainees showed no signs of amelioration during 1990, according to reports by those released. Conditions in local jails and detention centers were the worst. However, even in facilities such as Beijing's Qincheng Prison, where leading intellectuals are held, illness and abuse were reported to be widespread.
Yao Yongzhan, a student leader from Hong Kong who was imprisoned for ten months in Shanghai No. 1 Detention Center, described his experience to Asia Watch shortly after his release in June 1990. He was kept with 12 other prisoners in a cell measuring 13 to 14 square meters. Sleep was difficult as the lights were kept on all night; there were no beds, so the prisoners had to lie on the wooden floor. The cells were infested with fleas and bugs, and 80 to 90 percent of the prisoners had infectious skin diseases. During his entire period of incarceration, he was let out of his cell for fresh air and exercise only once, for about half an hour. He reported that persons accused of ordinary crimes were often tortured with electric batons, kicking and beatings.
In 1990, several long-term political prisoners, such as Wei Jingsheng and Xu Wenli, began their tenth year behind bars for having dared to publish their proposals for peaceful democratic reform during the Democracy Wall movement. In November, Xu's wife told a foreign reporter that her husband, who like Wei had been held in solitary confinement throughout his incarceration, had developed serious medical symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of lymphatic tuberculosis. In addition, Xu had undiagnosed lumps on his neck and suffered from malnutrition. "They shouldn't treat a human being this way," said his wife.11 Like the 1989 activists awaiting trial, Xu and Wei had been charged and tried for "counterrevolution."
The right of free expression was severely curtailed by the government in the course of 1990 in its effort to whip journalists back into their role as the loyal "tongue and throat" of the Party. The government enacted nationwide controls and restrictions on the rights of assembly and public demonstration and reasserted tight control over publishing and the news media, decimating the ranks of journalists, publishers and distributors. A major campaign against pornographic and "illegal" publications was frankly acknowledged by a deputy director of the Party's Central Committee Propaganda Department to be a means of combatting "bourgeois liberalization" and the spread of "Western capitalist values and decadent ideas."12 Concerned with the "negative influences" spread by foreign cable broadcasts, the state also promulgated new regulations requiring all satellite dish owners to apply for licenses by January 1, 1991, after which unlicensed owners might be penalized.
As a result of the "anti-pornography" campaign, fully ten percent of all publishing houses in China were to be closed, according to a December 6, 1989 report in China Daily. By the end of August 1990, a total of 80,000 persons had been punished and 780,0000 contraband publications seized. Printing facilities were limited to 500 houses nationwide, and distribution outlets were likewise forced to reregister and, in the process their numbers were limited. On October 25, the National People's Congress approved a draft resolution calling for life imprisonment for those producing, publishing or selling pornographic materials, and the death penalty for those who use pornography to carry out criminal activities. These massive efforts at censorship and control notwithstanding, a further "antipornography" drive was slated for the end of 1990 and the beginning of 1991.13
On November 14, the New China News Agency revealed that no less than 155,000 persons had been stripped of official press credentials during a recent government campaign to reissue press cards. At least 13 Chinese journalists detained after June 4, 1989 were still behind bars at the end of 1990. Among them were Zhang Weiguo, Beijing bureau chief for the pioneering World Economic Herald.
The foreign press corps was also subjected to a level of surveillance and intimidation greater than any it had experienced since the Cultural Revolution. Several foreign journalists were beaten and detained around the first anniversary of the June 4 massacre. Access to the People's Republic was tightly restricted for journalists from Hong Kong and Macau under regulations banning telephone interviews and requiring them to apply for permission to enter China 15 days in advance. In Beijing, the government reportedly established a new office to dispense rewards of access to friendly journalists.14
Pro-democracy academics and intellectuals who avoided being imprisoned during the June 4 crackdown continued to experience serious harassment and worse at the hands of Party officials. The case of Professor Wen Yuankai of Hefei University of Science and Technology, a close associate of the exiled dissident Fang Lizhi, was an example. Initially stripped of his Party membership and confined to campus, he was reported in November to have been placed in detention, unable to communicate with or be visited by his family.15 A report at the end of the year said that Wen had been released from confinement but had not yet received word when he could return to his teaching and research. He was quoted as saying, "I hope I'm not going to end up working as a cashier at the university canteen."16
Zhang Wei, the former director of the city of Tianjin's Foreign Economy and Trade Committee and Party Secretary for the Tianjin Foreign Affairs Office, was not a participant in the democracy movement, but after the June 4 bloodbath denounced the government's use of military force and resigned his positions and Party membership. In a telephone interview in November 1990, he reported that since then the authorities had bugged his telephone, canceled his driver's license, required him to report on his daily activities, and followed him everywhere (which made moving about "very safe," he quipped.)17
In an effort to forestall any future student unrest of the type that led to the 1989 protest movement, the government on November 7, 1990 issued sweeping new restrictions on free speech and political activity on China's campuses. Speeches that "run against the basic rules of China's Constitution and education policy, or that spread superstition or religious activities" were forbidden, as were "unauthorized organizations, illegal publications and broadcasting on campus."18
The policy of retaliation extended to Chinese students abroad. Xu Lin, an official of the Chinese embassy in Washington who defected in May, released documents, including one signed by Premier Li Peng, from a high-level meeting in Beijing held in March 1990. The documents set out a program for controlling Chinese students in the United States and Canada. Dividing students into five classes, from Party loyalists to "reactionary core elements" (i.e., dissident leaders and participants in "anti-government" activities), the policy called on embassy officials to discredit and punish the latter by canceling their scholarships, revoking their passports, and forbidding them family visits. Students in both Japan and the United States reported receiving harassing telephone calls, and said that Chinese consular officials had grilled them on their political views and associations, threatening them with cancellation of their passports and scholarships.
Government repression of ethnic and religious groups showed no sign of easing in 1990. The surge in Tibetan independence activism which began in Lhasa in October 1987 was countered by what China's security chief Qiao Shi described in July 1988 as a policy of "merciless repression." The hardline policy was reiterated by Jiang Zemin, the Party General Secretary, when on July 29, 1990 he ordered a "tough new crackdown on the independence movement in Tibet."19
Martial law in Lhasa, imposed in March 1989 after violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces that resulted in an unknown number of deaths, was formally lifted on May 1, 1990. However, the Tibetan quarter of Lhasa remained under effective siege by a massive deployment of the paramilitary People's Armed Police. On June 2, the authorities initiated an intensive program of so-called "population screening" -- a euphemism for night-time house searches and arrests of separatists. One Tibetan described the situation as being "martial law without the checkpoints."
Asia Watch recorded several dozen arrests and trials of peaceful Tibetan demonstrators and independence activists from late 1989 through the end of 1990. This figure probably represented only a fraction of the total number, given the restricted access to Tibet and the severe censorship of news. It included the cases of Loye, a monk at the Potala Palace, sentenced on December 6, 1989 to 15 years' imprisonment for "counterrevolution" and "espionage";20 a Tibetan businessman reportedly sentenced on March 22, 1990 to seven years' imprisonment for putting up independence posters; and a 14-year-old sentenced to two years in an adult jail for allegedly distributing independence leaflets at school.21
In late October and early November 1990, Chinese authorities permitted a US State Department official and four Scandinavian diplomats to visit the notorious Drapchi prison near Lhasa, one of several Tibetan prisons in which political detainees were held. The diplomats sighted Yulo Dawa Tsering, a 60-year-old monk sentenced in January 1989 to ten years in prison for "colluding with foreign reactionaries to overthrow the government." They reported that he appeared to be in "fairly" good health, but stressed to Chinese officials the need for an improvement in the human rights situation in Tibet and more humane treatment of political prisoners.22
A Lhasa police spokesman, in a reversal of previous official denials that there were any political prisoners in Tibet, informed the diplomats that Drapchi prison held 56 political prisoners, all of whom had been tried and sentenced, and that 63 others were held in "labor reform" camps in the region. However, a list copied from an official government roster named 77 political prisoners held in Drapchi Prison as of September 1990.
Religious freedom in Tibet was further curtailed in 1990. Three weeks after it lifted martial law, the Chinese government enacted regulations forbidding any political or religious assembly to be held without prior official approval. Monks and nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist order were subjected to "screening" procedures designed to weed out those supporting independence. Some monasteries and nunneries were closed; others were decimated by expulsions of their members.
Another ethnic minority area, the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in China's extreme northwest, experienced serious unrest in April 1990. According to official reports, 22 were killed and 13 wounded during an uprising. Reports from foreign travelers suggested the true death toll may have reached 60. The short-lived rebellion, which occurred in the town of Baren in the autonomous prefecture of Kizilso Kirghiz, near Kashgar on the ancient "Silk Road," was supressed by Chinese troops and security forces on April 5 and 6. The official press blamed the uprising on a small group of so-called "splittists."
Subsequently, a detailed plan to limit the number of mosques and religious schools in the region was published. Strict limitations were placed on proselytizing23 and religious education, and the official press reportedly declared that Chinese Muslims "must choose between Marx and Allah."24
In mid-September, the Xinjiang regional government adopted a draconian set of regulations banning Muslim clerics from meeting foreigners or foreign religious organizations, espousing separatism, opposing the Communist Party or using religion to challenge China's birth-control policy. The new regulations, published in the Xinjiang Ribao, also applied to Tibetan monks and to clergymen in China's state-sponsored Catholic and Protestant churches in the region. Under the regulations, clerics "shall not propagate the history of holy war and incite ethnic hatred under any circumstances."25
Practicing Catholics and Protestants who refused to join government-sponsored church organizations were in recent years subjected to increasing persecution. The government broke up unauthorized congregations, sometimes violently, and made widespread arrests. Beginning in late 1989, dozens of priests, bishops and laypersons belonging to the underground Roman Catholic church in northern and western China were arrested. The underground church remained loyal to the Vatican, which recognizes Taiwan and does not have diplomatic relations with China. There were signs that the government linked Vatican loyalists to the pro-democracy movement, such as accusations that underground Bishop Hou Guoyang incited a small group to demonstrate in Sichuan and collected money "to support the turmoil."26
In 1990, the Bush administration continued its policy from 1989 of attempting to strengthen relations with China, largely on China's terms. But the administration's hopes that "constructive engagement" with China would yield significant human rights gains were sorely disappointed. Congress strongly opposed the administration's efforts to maintain normal trade relations and to block legislation protecting Chinese students in the United States. But Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the US desire to enlist China's support for the international isolation of Saddam Hussein dramatically weakened the US position toward sanctions. While the Bush administration retained certain economic sanctions, such as the prohibition on military sales, and on World Bank loans for other than "basic human needs," it abandoned its earlier commitment to limit high-level contacts with China.
In early January, President Bush stated: "Some people think the best way to make changes for human rights in China is isolation: don't talk to them, try to punish them by excommunication. I don't feel that way."27 President Bush and State Department officials took this position further by continuing their role as apologists for China throughout the first quarter of the year. At Senate hearings on February 8, for example, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger appeared to chastise senators for their preoccupation with Tiananmen Square and its aftermath, saying, "In the real world, we need to see that China is less completely charming than the land of panda bears and the Great Wall and also less completely evil than a night in June when the Goddess of Democracy was crushed by tanks in Tiananmen."28
The administration was particularly congratulatory when China announced cosmetic human rights improvements in early 1990 in an effort to influence US policy. On January 12, while human rights groups voiced skepticism that the lifting of martial law in China was anything more than a cosmetic gesture, President Bush praised the measure, saying, "there's no way you can look at that and not say it is positive."29 Similarly, when China claimed to release some 573 prisoners later in the month (although the government released no names and permitted no inspection of jails and prisons), the President rushed to describe it as "a kind of amnesty."30 Vice President Quayle even went so far as to proclaim that the lifting of martial law was a "dividend" of the President's policy toward China.31
The administration rewarded the lifting of martial law with more than words. On January 11, the White House announced that the administration would support "basic human needs" loans to China at international financial institutions, but continue to discourage "project loans."32 Although State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler insisted that the change in loan policy was not linked to the lifting of martial law one day earlier, most observers believed that the two were clearly linked.
The result of the change in US policy was a $60 million loan for poverty relief and $30 million for earthquake relief by February. On a more positive note, however, the US opposed World Bank consideration of a $150 million loan for road improvements, and the loan did not come up for formal consideration at the World Bank. Later loans did have US support, such as a $300 million loan for tree planting approved in May. By November, the World Bank appeared prepared to remove all restrictions on loans to China, and announced that it would consider a $110 million loan for technological improvement of rural industry in early December.33 To its credit, the Bush administration opposed the loan when it came up for formal consideration. However, because the United States has less than a 20 percent voting share at the World Bank, the loan went forward over US objection, with the support of Japan and the European Community. Congressional leaders have said that the administration must work behind the scenes to prevent loans from being considered, as it did for the first six months after June 4, 1989. Some feared that while the US was opposing loans when they came up for a vote, it had abandoned efforts to prevent such loans from being considered in the first place.
The administration also maintained its policy of refusing to license sales of military equipment to China, and took the unusual step in February of ordering a Chinese government corporation to sell a company it owned in Seattle.34 Other positive aspects of US policy toward China were the administration's outspokenness on the question of China's harassment of Chinese students in the United States, and the US embassy's refusal to send a representative to "Army Day" events in Beijing on August 1. The administration also signed a proclamation making May 13 a national day in support of human rights in China.
Unfortunately, these positive actions by the administration were outweighed by competing tendencies, the worst of which came from President Bush himself. One example was President Bush's "pocket" veto in late 1989 of congressional legislation which would have provided safe haven for Chinese students in the United States. When Congress returned to Washington in January 1990, the first item on its agenda was to override the President's veto. The administration pulled out all the stops to undermine the effort, including predictions that if the bill were enacted China would retaliate by ending all student exchanges with the United States.
The administration also attempted to persuade Congress that legislation was not needed because the President would issue an executive order providing the same protection. But Rep. Stephen Solarz spoke for many in Congress when he stated, "If the President can send some of the highest foreign policy officials in his administration to Beijing at the same time as he is telling the American people that he has suspended all high-level contacts, then he cannot be relied upon not to rescind the executive order at some time in the future."35 In a firm repudiation of the Bush administration's policy, the House of Representatives voted 390 to 25 to override the President's veto on January 24.
The President then turned his attention to the Senate, where administration officials engaged in a desperate, last-minute campaign of arm-twisting to prevent an override of the veto there. He barely prevailed. On January 25, sixty-two senators voted against the President, but the total was four votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override the veto. In a statement following the vote, President Bush tried to claim that the Senate action vindicated his China policy, stating, "The thing I like about it [the vote], given the mournful predictions of some a few months ago, is that it gives me the confidence that I'm going to go forward the way I think is correct here."36
Despite President Bush's claims, Congress remained at odds with the administration on its China policy. The wide divergence between the executive and legislative branches was seen in the debate on Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China. MFN (i.e., normal trading relations) is renewed for Communist countries on a yearly basis. It is conditioned by law on the beneficiary country's compliance with human rights conditions relating to its citizens' right to emigrate.37
The administration was required by law to submit a request to continue MFN for China by June 3, and few doubted that the President would do so. Nonetheless, the Bush administration could have helped achieve progress on human rights in China by encouraging a sense of suspense about its intentions on MFN. But in the months preceding the announcement, neither the White House nor the State Department issued any public statement about the kind of human rights progress that would by required of China if the renewal was to be requested, and so far as the public record shows, the Chinese had little reason to fear that President Bush would not proceed with the request.
Nonetheless, Chinese authorities were extremely concerned about the possible loss of MFN and took actions on the human rights front which were clearly aimed at influencing the debate on MFN. In late April, for example, martial law was lifted in Lhasa, and on May 10, Beijing announced the release of some 211 prisoners.38
On May 24 the administration submitted its request to Congress, and President Bush held a news conference to defend the action. He justified the decision on economic grounds, stating that failure to continue MFN would result in a loss of American exports and jobs. He also hailed recent actions by China (such as the lifting of martial law in Tibet and the release of political prisoners), stating that "211 detainees were recently released and then their names provided for the first time." The President was in error in stating that the names of those said to be released had been provided; it had the effect of crediting the authorities with something they had not done.
More helpful to the human rights cause was a May 24 White House statement, revealing that, "He [the President] is personally disappointed that the Chinese government has not taken more decisive steps to demonstrate a commitment to internationally accepted human rights," and indicating that the lifting of martial law and the release of prisoners were "modest" and "clearly inadequate."39
From May through October, the MFN issue was debated in Congress and dominated US relations with China. Throughout the period, Beijing periodically announced releases of prisoners.40 Notwithstanding the administration's efforts, however, opposition to MFN status for China grew in Congress, and by July, several bills to limit or end MFN were under active consideration in the House.
Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger issued a letter to Congress commenting on one of these initiatives on July 11. The letter noted:
The administration thus uncritically accepted Beijing's claims of having released a number of prisoners which was almost entirely unverified.
Congress was apparently unmoved by the administration's opposition to repeal or limits on MFN for China. In a series of dramatic votes on October 18, the House enacted a resolution to repeal MFN for China by a vote of 247 to 174. Legislation to maintain MFN but with strict human rights conditions passed even more dramatically in a 383 to 30 vote. Such a margin indicated near-universal displeasure with the administration's policy on China and a willingness to end MFN if human rights did not improve significantly. The Senate did not take up the measure before the 101st Congress adjourned, but Senate leaders announced their intention to revisit the question in 1991.41
US relations with China improved dramatically following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. The US effort to organize international sanctions against Iraq at the United Nations required China's cooperation. That cooperation was secured by a series of high-level meetings with Chinese government officials, beginning with a meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in Cairo on November 6. According to the State Department,42 Secretary Baker raised the subject of human rights with Foreign Minister Qian at that time (although nothing was said publicly) and a list of human rights cases prepared by Asia Watch was delivered to a senior official at the Foreign Ministry in Beijing.
On November 27, Foreign Minister Qian was invited by Secretary Baker to visit Washington for talks on the Persian Gulf. The Foreign Minister was the highest ranking Chinese official to visit the United States since the June 4 crackdown. The US invitation was proffered just three days after two pro-democracy activists, Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming, had been charged with the capital offense of plotting to overthrow the Communist regime. No public mention of these or any other cases was made by the administration during the Foreign Minister's visit, although President Bush reportedly raised human rights concerns to the Foreign Minister in an impromptu meeting at the White House.43 When asked about the meeting, National Security Advisor Gen. Brent Scowcroft stated that one of the reasons Secretary Baker had invited the Chinese Foreign Minister to the United States was to "personally" make it clear to the Chinese government that "there was no forgetting Tiananmen Square" and "no let-up for sanctions," although, he noted, the Secretary did call attention to "the fact that we could cooperate on issues of global importance."44
Notwithstanding Gen. Scowcroft's remarks, the visit by the Chinese Foreign Minister was clearly a reward for China's abstention at the Security Council on a critical resolution on Iraq, and formally ended the administration's previous position of limiting high-level contacts with China. While it was clear that the United States had important interests to pursue with Beijing, it was a shame that human rights were the trade-off in securing China's acquiescence to US policy in the Gulf. This trade-off was particularly regrettable in that it occurred precisely at a time when human rights conditions in China were deteriorating badly.
From December 17 through 19, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Richard Schifter, held talks in Beijing with Chinese officials from the courts, police, and other departments on human rights conditions. At a press conference at the conclusion of his talks, Assistant Secretary Schifter told reporters that he had called on China to release all dissidents held for nonviolent political offenses and that he had presented a list of 150 representative detainees. The list included well-known students, workers and intellectuals jailed for participation in the 1989 democracy movement (including Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming), prisoners from prior democracy movements (including Wei Jingsheng), Tibetan independence activists, and Catholic and Protestant clergy. The Assistant Secretary also warned Chinese government officials that Congress might not renew MFN status in 1991, and requested that the US embassy be permitted to send observers to political trials.45
The State Department refused to make the entire list of detainees public, citing at various times a range of concerns, from avoiding increased danger to those political prisoners not listed, to encouraging a response from China through a quiet approach. China's immediate response, however, was far from encouraging. A Foreign Ministry spokesman characterized the talks as an "exchange of views on Sino-US relations and other issues,"46 and rebuffed Schifter's request to visit a jail.47 A commentary in the official Communist Party newspaper was even less delicate, lambasting "gentlemen making a living out of human rights" who lecture other countries about their internal affairs.48
The Schifter press conference represented the most pointed criticism that the administration had made in months, and revealed a new willingness on the part of the Chinese government to at least listen to human rights complaints. There were no indications, however, that Chinese officials were ready to do more than listen. To the contrary, the Foreign Ministry spokesman noted that "[t]o exchange views on human rights is one thing and to interfere in internal affairs under the pretext of human rights is another," adding that China had no plans to free jailed intellectuals.49 The administration's failure to publicize the names of all whose release Schifter demanded hinders efforts to hold China accountable for their fate, and to measure the Bush administration's policy toward China in light of Chinese responsiveness.
Despite these shortcomings, the US embassy in Beijing, under the leadership of Ambassador James Lilley, appeared to take a strong interest in human rights. The State Department's annual Country Report on Human Rights Practices, issued in February 1990, contained a detailed and unapologetic condemnation of human rights in China.50 And the embassy welcomed Chinese human rights leader Fang Lizhi and his wife when they sought refuge following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Fang and his wife stayed in the embassy fully 13 months while Ambassador Lilley and his staff worked with Chinese authorities to resolve the impasse over the terms on which the couple could leave.
The year 1990 was a bad one for human rights in China, and the Bush administration's policy of muffling human rights criticisms did not result in improvements, despite the administration's repeated promises that it would. The situation deteriorated badly, but administration statements did not reflect that trend. Indeed, the executive branch was virtually silent on such issues as the execution of more than 500 suspected criminals in the month preceding the Asian games in September, the tightening of already repressive controls on freedom of speech and press, and the trials of student leaders in November.
Fortunately, Congress remained outraged by Tiananmen Square and its aftermath, and the important policy dispute over Most Favored Nation status put China on notice that President Bush is not the only actor in Washington on such questions. The policy dispute also provided an important opportunity to publicize continuing abuses.
The Work of Asia Watch
Asia Watch's work on China in 1990 aimed at publicizing human rights abuses in China and Tibet and generating pressure on the Chinese government from a variety of different sources, most significantly from the US government. Asia Watch testified nine times in Congress on human rights in China in the context of the debate over economic sanctions.
Asia Watch produced three major reports in 1990. Punishment Season, published in March, described human rights violations in China since the imposition of martial law in May 1989 and included what was then the most comprehensive list available of people reported detained in connection with the pro-democracy movement and its aftermath. "Merciless Repression", published in May, documented human rights abuses in Tibet. And Repression in China since June 4, 1989, released in September, was an updated list of some 800 people believed still to be in detention for political activities.
Those reports, shorter newsletters on torture and prison conditions, and a lengthy article published by Asia Watch in The Nation on June 11, 1990, provided the basic data for advocacy work and campaigning. Asia Watch requested permission to visit China twice during the year, once in March and once in November for trial observation. Neither request received a response. To ensure continued access to up-to-date and reliable information from China, Asia Watch opened an office in Hong Kong at the end of October.
Much of the advocacy work concerned US policy on sanctions. Discussion in Washington in January over how to force China to make concessions on human rights led Asia Watch to formulate a position advocating a calibrated sanctions package, many elements of which were later adopted in proposed congressional legislation. In support of sanctions, Asia Watch representatives appeared in a number of public debates, including one in May at the Library of Congress where Asia Watch debated the head of the US China Business Council. Beginning in March, as discussion heated up over whether to extend MFN benefits, Asia Watch took the lead in formulating a position that would allow MFN to be extended only if human rights conditions were imposed which China would have to meet by 1991.
Asia Watch also took the lead in drawing attention to the plight of Chinese workers, virtually ignored as Americans focused instead on imprisoned students and intellectuals. In a campaign to publicize the case of Han Dongfang, a founder of the Beijing Autonomous Workers Federation who was arrested in June 1989, Asia Watch dubbed him the "Chinese Lech Walesa" and enlisted the help of colleagues in Helsinki Watch to have Solidarity in Poland take up his cause. In April, Asia Watch arranged a trip to Washington by another founder of the federation, Lu Jinghua, to introduce her to members of Congress and to interest the AFL-CIO in campaigning for the release of Chinese workers. Ms. Lu was honored by Human Rights Watch in December 1990 for her efforts on behalf of imprisoned labor activists.
In April and May, Asia Watch, together with the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation for Human Rights, worked with Soviet dissident Yuri Orlov to initiate a campaign of scientists on behalf of dissident astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, who was then trapped in the US embassy in Beijing. The scientists agreed to boycott international scientific conferences in China until Fang and his family were allowed safe passage out of the country. After they were permitted to leave in June, the campaign continued on behalf of other imprisoned scientists.
In time for the anniversary of the June 4 crackdown, Asia Watch launched another appeal, this time to every Catholic bishop in the United States, on behalf of Catholic priests and layworkers in China imprisoned during a wave of arrests in late 1989 and early 1990, mostly in northwest China.
Asia Watch also worked with counterparts in Japan to pressure the Chinese government on human rights issues (see chapter on Japan, infra).
In November, an Asia Watch representative met with Ambassador Lilley and briefed Assistant Secretary Schifter before his much-publicized trip to China.
7 These practices have drawn extensive criticism within China as well. See, e.g., Xiong Jiquian, "We Must Overcome the Practice of 'Passing Verdict Before the Trial,'" Faxue (Law Science Monthly), No. 4, 1990, pp. 31-32; Li Shaoping, "Change the Practice of 'Decide First and Then Hold the Trial' to One of 'First Hold the Trial and then Decide,'" Faxue Yanjiu (Law Studies Journal), No. 2, 1990, pp. 39-43; Bai Zhuolin, "Taking Issue with 'Adjudication Committees are Trial-Conducting Bodies,'" Faxue Yu Shijian (Law Studies and Practice), No. 2, 1990, p. 27.
8 "Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress Regarding the Procedure for Rapid Adjudication of Cases Involving Criminal Elements Who Seriously Endanger Public Security," September 2, 1983. These regulations suspend the requirement that defendants be notified of the charges against them and their right to counsel at least seven days before trial, and shorten the time for appeal of a death sentence from ten to a mere three days.
36 In April, the press revealed that the President had failed to issue an executive order to protect the students. Despite his repeated claims of having done so, it appeared that he had merely issued a directive, which was not formally published in the Federal Register. Following an embarrassed flurry of activity at the White House, the formal order was issued on April 11.
37 Section 402 of the Trade Act stipulates that the President may not designate as an MFN recipient any Communist country which "denies its citizens the right or opportunity to emigrate." If a country is not in compliance with this condition, the President may waive it if such a waiver would "lead substantially to the achievement of the objectives of this section," i.e., freedom to emigrate and the advancement of human rights.
38 These gestures, while they indicated a willingness to respond to US concerns, were disappointing since, as noted, the lifting of martial law in no way lessened repression and abuse in Tibet. Similarly, the authorities named only six prisoners of the 211 allegedly released, and permitted no inspection of its jails and prisons to verify the releases and the number of prisoners remaining. Moreover, these gestures were outweighed by a deterioration in human rights in the period from December 1989 to February 1990, which saw the arrests of dozens of priests, bishops and laymen belonging to the underground Catholic church.
39 However, a more unfortunate aspect of the statement was the insistence that the United States "pays tribute" to the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown "by continuing to sustain as high a level of people-to-people contact and commerce as we can." Certainly, the Chinese authorities saw the unconditional renewal of MFN as a message of US support for themselves, not for the pro-democracy demonstrators. The statement was also flawed by its failure to describe the significant new limits on the freedom to emigrate and travel imposed after the Tiananmen Square crackdown.
40 A Chinese diplomat who defected to the United States made available a secret memorandum prepared by the Chinese government. The document stated that the government intended to use the release of political prisoners as a "card" to influence American policy toward China. Fox Butterfield, "Beijing Aims Jail Releases at Influencing US," New York Times, May 11, 1990.