Human Rights Developments
The Chinese government throughout 1992 maintained its hard-linestance toward political dissent. Any hope that Deng Xiaoping's renewed campaign for economic reform would bring about positive political change was ended on October 12 at the opening session of the 14th National Party Congress. Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp), warned Party members, "We must not tolerate liberalism or any defiance of organization and discipline."
Official insistence that the book was closed on the 1989 pro-democracy movement did not prevent new arrests, arbitrary detention, pre-judged political trials, torture, and other human rights abuses in 1992. On July 21, in the most important political trial in China since the Gang of Four was tried 12 years earlier, the Beijing Intermediate People's Court sentenced Bao Tong, a leading reformer and former aide to deposed Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, to seven years in prison. On August 5, Bao's assistant, Gao Shan, was sentenced to four years in prison, and on August 25, Wu Jiaxiang, an influential economic theorist, received a three-year prison term.
At least 55 people were arrested in 1992 for peaceful political activities. Some were associated with pro-democracy organizations, such as the Socialist Democratic Party of China (sdpc), which was founded in 1991, is based in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, and promotes democratic reform and the release of all political prisoners; the China Progressive Alliance, committed to non-violent opposition to a one-party system; and the Free Labor Union of China (fluc).
Others arrested during the year included Liao Jia'an and Wang Shengli, both graduate students at People's University in Beijing. In early June, they were held in "shelter for investigation," a form of administrative detention, in connection with the distribution of Trends of History, a book of essays in support of the reformist faction of the Communist Party. Legally published in April by People's University Press, the book was then criticized by hard-line officials and withdrawn from circulation. In addition to staging a reading of the book, Liao and Wang had founded a student organization, the "Study Club" at People's University. Although the organization was formed in accordance with university regulations, it came under scrutiny because of reformist political commentary in its journal, Dajia (Everyone), since banned, which the two men edited.
On June 3, Wang Wanxing was seized by police in Tiananmen Square for unfurling a banner condemning the 1989 massacre, and was later sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Shen Tong, a student activist during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests who had fled to the United States, returned to China to establish a branch of his U.S.-based pro-democracy organization and was arrested in Beijing on September 1, hours before a scheduled press conference. He was released and deported back to the United States on October 24. Several dissidents in China were arrested for meeting with Shen: at least two in Beijing, one of whom was later released, two in Hunan, and two in Tianjin.
Beijing continued to exert tight control over alleged "splittist activities," of nationalist or unofficial religiousgroups.
In Tibet, suppression of pro-independence activities escalated at the end of February when groups of policemen conducted surprise raids at the homes of Lhasa residents. Record numbers of demonstrations were reported, not only in Lhasa but also in rural areas. The chair of the People's Government in Xinjiang, acknowledging "activities and sabotage" against communist rule, called for harsh punishment of national separatists.
Despite the well publicized "humanitarian" releases of a few elderly bishops, arrests of Roman Catholic priests continued. In April, Bishop Joseph Fan Xueyan, the most influential bishop in the underground church, died under mysterious circumstances. Chinese authorities ignored international requests for an official investigation. Members of the Protestant "house church" movement also were harassed and detained. On June 15, in the Hu Guan District of Chang Zhi, Shanxi Province, 12 church leaders and laymen were arrested after a raid on a gathering of more than 100 Christians. According to eyewitnesses, Public Security Bureau personnel sealed the doors of the house and assaulted those inside with electric batons. Those arrested were interrogated and beaten. Seven of the 12 were released after several weeks; the others remained under house arrest.
Many prisoners were detained under appalling conditions and routinely tortured or denied medical care. Li Guiren and Ren Wanding, two dissident intellectuals sentenced in 1991, and Xu Wenli, a Democracy Wall activist in prison since 1981, were in urgent need of medical treatment at the end of 1992. Ren had retinal and cataract problems; Li was too weak to walk; and Xu had lost control of his bladder.
Political prisoners in Lingyuan No. 2 Labor Reform Detachment in Liaoning Province, known to the outside world as Lingyuan Motor Vehicle General Assembly Plant, were severely abused. Inmates smuggled out accounts of forced labor, seven days a week, twelve to fourteen hours a day, as well as graphic details of torture. Lingyuan is one of several prisons that continue to manufacture goods for export. Concern over prison exports that violate U.S. law led to the signing by the United States and China on April 7 of a Memorandum of Understanding on investigation of such exports.
The Chinese government continued the practice of "forced in-camp employment," the phrase used to describe making prisoners stay on after their sentences expire to meet production needs. A former prisoner from Hunan reported that a fellow inmate had his urban residency permit cancelled after his prison term ended so that he was forced to continue working in the prison factory. His daily working hours and production quota were virtually the same as while he was in formal custody.
Persecution after prison continued in 1992. Released dissidents were dismissed from their work units or assigned work inconsistent with their training and experience. Some, such as Li Minqi, a former Beijing University student who spoke at a campus rally commemorating the first anniversary of the 1989 crackdown and served two years in prison, were denied permission tocontinue their education after their release. Others lost their housing or were forced to leave their urban residences. Many were restricted to their home villages. In addition, close surveillance continued of 1989 dissidents, even those who have never been charged, as did discrimination against the families of those still imprisoned.
On August 11, as part of a continuing campaign to improve its human rights image, the Information Office of the State Council issued a White Paper on Criminal Reform in China, which claimed that the government had succeeded in transforming criminals into law-abiding citizens by productive labor and "humane handling of prisoners in accordance with the law." At the same time, however, the government acknowledged a substantial increase in violations of individual rights by law enforcement agencies.
Some key dissidents were allowed to leave China in 1992, such as Han Dongfang, leader of the 1989 independent labor movement, and Liu Qing, a pro-democracy activist who had been released in December 1989 after serving a ten-year prison sentence, only to be arrested again for continuing to demand respect for human rights. Others, such as Hou Xiaotian, wife of imprisoned intellectual Wang Juntao, were prohibited from leaving.
Controls on freedom of expression remained, despite official calls for a loosening of restrictions on intellectual and artistic expression. The domestic ban was lifted on two films that had received critical acclaim abroad, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, but another film, The Blue Kite, was banned for its politically sensitive content.
In January, a State Education directive ordered universities to check all dissertations written in the past five years for "political problems." In May, Wang Jun, a reporter for the overseas edition of Renmin Ribao (People's Daily) was arrested on charges of giving information to the foreign media. Prior to the opening of the Party Congress in Beijing in October, police launched a crackdown on illegal publications, arresting one man, closing more than 40 unlicensed book stalls, and seizing 11,000 published items, only 74 of which were labeled obscene. According to the official Beijing Evening News, the move was intended "to create a good social environment for reform and opening up."
Foreign journalists continued to be restricted and harassed. Chinese authorities required that any coverage of events in a public place first be approved by government officials. On April 30, James Miles, a journalist with the British Broadcasting Corporation, had his press credentials temporarily revoked when he covered a protest in Tiananmen Square by European politicians. In May, officials from the State Security Ministry took personal papers and a notebook from the office safe of Lena Sun, Beijing correspondent for The Washington Post. That same month, the Chinese army issued standing orders to its soldiers to stop foreigners from reporting on incidents of "rebellion" by, as necessary, confiscating notes, recordings or videotapes or taking the individuals into custody. On June 3, two foreign newsmen in Tiananmen Square were beaten by plainclothesmen for photographinga lone demonstrator. One, an ABC journalist, required hospitalization for a suspected spinal injury. In August, journalists trying to cover the rush of would-be stockholders to get share application forms in Shenzhen, the center of China's special economic zone, were harassed, with at least one detained and others turned back at the Hong Kong border.
The government reinforced its ban on independent trade unions as labor unrest intensified. The Free Labor Union of China (fluc), organized in December 1991 for the purpose of promoting the economic and political rights of workers, began distributing leaflets in early 1992 to some 2,500 factories, urging workers to form their own unions. In May and June 1992, fluc members were secretly arrested, and the organization was effectively smashed.
Dissident labor leader Han Dongfang applied for permission to hold a one-man demonstration on March 23 to press for an amendment to a new Trade Union Law that would guarantee the right of workers to organize freely. The application was turned down. When the Trade Union Law was finally passed by the National People's Congress in April, state-sponsored amendments ensured that the All China Federation of Trade Unions, a Party organization, remained the sole legal union.
The Right to Monitor
While no domestic human rights organization was permitted to operate in China, underground groups in several different provinces, including Hunan, risked severe consequences to get information on prisoners to the outside world. Veteran human rights advocates such as Ren Wanding, Wei Jingsheng and Yulo Dawa Tsering remained in prison. No international human rights organization was permitted to conduct fact-finding missions in China.
Bush administration officials pursued a two-track policy toward China in 1992. They argued that "engagement, rather than confrontation" was the most effective way to encourage change in China, hoping that economic reform would eventually lead to political reform. But when it came to protecting U.S. business interests in China, President Bush was willing to take a hard-line approach to extract concessions from Beijing. While refusing to impose sanctions or increase pressure on Beijing to promote human rights, he risked a multibillion dollar trade war by threatening tough sanctions to promote U.S. commercial interests.
By the end of 1992, the policy had failed, and the human rights "dialogue," touted by the President when he renewed China's Most Favored Nation (mfn) trade status in June, was moribund. But the tough stance on commercial concerns bore fruit: on October 9, Beijing signed an unprecedented, far-reaching agreement on market access to avert some $3.9 billion in sanctions on Chinese exports to the United States.
The President signaled his determination to bring Beijing's hard-line leaders back into the international fold when he met privately with Premier Li Peng during a U.N. Security Council session in New York on January 31, despite vocal, bipartisanopposition from Congress. Twenty-two senators wrote to President Bush in a vain effort to convince him that such a meeting was "inconsistent with U.S. policy...while the harsh post-Tiananmen crackdown ordered by Mr. Li continues." The meeting was a propaganda coup for Li Peng: the official Chinese news agency boasted after his return to Beijing that Li had set the West straight about human rights.
The President maintained his firm opposition to human rights conditions on mfn status for China and twice fought off efforts by a broad, bipartisan majority in Congress to attach such conditions. The Chinese government rewarded him by continuing its repressive policies, with only token prisoner releases and the publication of two "white papers," on criminal reform and Tibet.
On March 2, President Bush vetoed legislation requiring specific improvements in human rights, trade and nuclear proliferation before the President could extend mfn status to China for another year (a decision made each June, under existing law.) The legislation had broad support in the House (357 for, 61 against) but failed on March 18 to garner sufficient backing in the Senate (60 for, 38 against) to override the veto.
A second mfn struggle later in the year dramatized even more sharply the differences between the two branches of government over China policy. A new bill outlining conditions for renewing in 1993, modeled on a proposal by Human Rights Watch, took the administration's own approach to trade issues and applied them to human rights. In December 1991, U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills had threatened to impose double tariffs on a selected group of key Chinese exports if China failed to respect U.S. patents and copyrights. Once the names of the targeted products appeared in the Federal Register, Beijing said that U.S. demands would be met. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Human Rights Watch proposed that tariff increases be imposed selectively unless human rights improvements took place, and that government-owned industries be singled out for particular penalty.
Bills based on this proposal were introduced in the House and Senate, but even this more selective, moderate approach to sanctions drew strong opposition from the administration. Its spokespersons argued that this targeted approach was "simply unworkable" on technical grounds, because of the supposed difficulty of identifying state-run enterprises, and that China's leaders were "unlikely to meet" the conditions, thus making their imposition tantamount to revocation.
Yet throughout the summer, as talks on market access stalled, the administration stepped up the pressure on China by threatening billions of dollars worth of sanctions if agreement was not reached by mid-October, and carefully targeted them in much the same way as provided for by the mfn human rights bill. In August, Trade Representative Hills, in accordance with U.S. trade law, published a list of Chinese exports selected for huge retaliatory tariffs.
At the same time, the administration refused to acknowledge that three years of unconditional mfn status had yielded minimal results, and that mfn status, by permitting billions of dollars worth of trade with the U.S., was in effect subsidizing Beijing'spolicy of coupling economic reform with harsh political repression. The Congress's alternative approach, if embraced by the President, would have exerted effective pressure for both economic and political reform by making state-run enterprises less competitive and exacting a price for continued human rights abuses.
The new mfn bill won support in both houses of Congress but was vetoed by the President on September 28, who argued that "our human rights dialogue gives us an avenue to express our views directly to China's leaders" and that "comprehensive engagement" was the foundation of his policy. The House voted to override the veto, but the Senate vote fell short (59 for, 40 against.)
Meanwhile, on June 2, President Bush had extended mfn status to China for another year, citing "positive, if limited, developments" in the administration's human rights dialogue with China. The accompanying report to Congress, as well as an earlier report submitted in May (in compliance with the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for fiscal years 1992 and 1993), made it clear how limited those developments were. The administration claimed that it had "secured an accounting" of 800 political prisoners whose names were on a list presented to the Chinese in June 1991. In fact, Beijing had handed over contradictory, inconsistent and virtually useless information. Follow-up requests by the State Department for further information elicited little response, and efforts to persuade China to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisons got nowhere.
Despite a series of meetings between Chinese officials and Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Richard Schifter in January 1992, and between Arnold Kanter and the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs in March, the Chinese continued to deny leading dissidents visas to leave China. It later granted five requests out of 20 on the State Department's list.
By October, in the wake of the President's sale of F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan the previous month, a move considered by China to be a betrayal of U.S. commitments to China, the human rights "dialogue" was on ice.
In his report to Congress, the President took credit for speaking out on behalf of Tibetan victims of human rights abuses, both in bilateral exchanges and before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. In fact, the U.S. role at the Commission's session in March was extremely controversial. The U.S. delegation, by opposing a draft put forward by the European Community and other nations, effectively assured the defeat of a resolution condemning human rights violations in Tibet. The U.S. took this position on the grounds that the measure should deal with violations in all of China. A compromise draft presented on the eve of the vote, dealing with violations in "China/Tibet," drew support from the U.S. but was rejected on a procedural motion, since many delegations objected that it gave implicit recognition to China's claims over Tibet.
During the mfn debate in 1991, the President had promised to step up the administration's efforts to stop export of prison labor products to the United States from China. After nearly ninemonths of negotiation, a "memorandum of understanding" between the United States and China was signed on August 7, 1992. Its most important provision provided for inspection of sites suspected of producing prison goods, but it was vague about the conditions for inspection, stating merely said that such visits should be "promptly arranged." By the end of October, the agreement remained untested; the State Department had given the Chinese a list of 18 sites from which prison goods had been exported to the United States, but none had yet been visited by the single U.S. Customs Service official assigned to the embassy in Beijing to implement the agreement for the whole of China. Authorities in Beijing were ostensibly conducting their own investigation of the 18 sites, a preliminary step provided for in the agreement. (U.S. officials told Asia Watch that the huge Lingyuan prison complex, believed involved in exports to the United States, was not on the list.)
The administration also fought off an attempt by Congress to legislate a "code of conduct" for U.S. companies operating in China and Tibet, modeled roughly after the Sullivan Principles for South Africa. The proposed code took at face value the claims of U.S. businesses that supported unconditional renewal of mfn status by insisting that U.S. economic ties could be a positive force for human rights in China. It called on U.S. companies to ensure they were not knowingly using prison labor or prison-made products; to protect freedom of assembly, expression and association of their employees; to discourage compulsory political indoctrination in the workplace; and when the opportunity arises, to attempt to raise with the Chinese government cases of political prisoners. Despite the administration's opposition and the watering down of some of the original language, the code was included in the Export Administration Act (conference report) passed by the Senate on October 8; however, it died in the House of Representatives when Congress adjourned.
The President did sign into law, on October 9, an immigration bill allowing some 70,000 Chinese students to remain permanently in the United States if conditions do not allow their safe return to China by the middle of 1993. The President must make such a determination by June 30, 1993, and if he finds unsafe conditions, Chinese citizens would have one year to apply for permanent resident status. The Chinese government, anxious to entice overseas nationals to return to China, criticized the law as "untenable."
In May 1991, legislation was introduced in the Senate to establish a Radio Free China, patterned after Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, to broadcast to China daily news of events in China. However, when questions were raised about the scope, feasibility and implementation of the proposal, Congress established a bi-partisan commission to come up with recommendations. In July 1992, the commission concluded that an independent service broadcasting into China, as well as into North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Tibet and Burma, should be established. A minority of the commission, with the concurrence of the State Department, argued for strengthening Voice ofAmerica instead.
U.S. policy towards China at the World Bank remained unchanged in 1992. As it has since the 1989 crackdown, the administration technically limited its support to loans that served "basic human needs." However, multilateral lending to China soared to record levels in 1992. Indeed, China received more money from the World Bank than any other country during the fiscal year ending June 30, 1992-over $2.5 billion, compared to an annual rate of $590 million immediately after the June 1989 crackdown. This show of support for the Chinese government was accompanied by a return of major U.S. commercial banks, such as BankAmerica and Citicorp. The administration abstained on one World Bank loan ($180 million for the Yanshi thermal power project in January), and opposed another ($82.7 million for a regional cement project in March) on the grounds that they went beyond serving basic human needs. However, these votes were token gestures. Treasury Department officials confirmed to Asia Watch that the administration was making no effort to slow down World Bank consideration of loans to China, to restrict the level of lending or, as the U.S. had done prior to 1990, to convince others at the Bank to oppose loans that did not meet basic human needs. This policy allowed the administration to give the appearance of responding to congressional pressure for a brake on loans, while in fact allowing lending levels to increase.
The record-breaking loans to China were criticized by former U.S. Ambassador to China Winston Lord as "a testimony to China's success in having the world overlook what it's doing to its people." In a Los Angeles Times article, Richard Schifter, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs in the Bush Administration, argued that though Bank loans are intended to alleviate poverty in China, "the repressive central government of China is the beneficiary and gets the credit" for the loans.
The Work of Asia Watch
Asia Watch's largest single project during 1992 was the effort to document the post-1989 crackdown in Hunan province. For nine months, the Hong Kong office of Asia Watch worked with Tang Boqiao, a leader of the 1989 student movement, to unearth details of more than 200 previously unknown imprisoned pro-democracy activists in the province. The collaboration also produced information of unparalleled detail about the labor camp and prison system, and about the macabre range of punishments and torture used by Chinese security forces. A report, entitled Anthems of Defeat and published in late May, revealed that the 1989 crackdown was far more widespread in the vast hinterland beyond Beijing than had previously been suspected.
The Hong Kong office went on to document similar crackdowns on dissent in other little-known areas of China. An April 1992 report, Continuing Crackdown in Inner Mongolia, presented new cases of imprisoned ethnic Mongolian activists, as well as confidential government reports urging the local authorities to tighten controls on Mongol cultural and political life. It also offered the most complete profile to date of the Inner Mongolianpenal system.
Another report, released in September 1992, documented the abuse suffered by pro-democracy activists imprisoned in Liaoning province. It also presented the most powerful evidence to date of the Chinese government's systematic exporting of prison-made goods: a sales catalogue in English and Chinese, advertising an astonishing range of goods produced by some 30 prison and labor camp enterprises throughout Liaoning province for overseas sale-including to the United States. Highlights from the catalogue, which appeared in the report, established for the first time a direct link between particular imprisoned pro-democracy activists and specific prison-made exports. These and other cases from the Hunan report provided the U.S. Customs Service with abundant data for its ongoing investigation into the Chinese prison export industry.
Throughout 1992, the Hong Kong office continued to serve as a direct link between Asia Watch and the small but growing mainland Chinese dissident community, gathering vital, first-hand information on the continuing suppression of dissent.
In late 1992, the Hong Kong office began to unearth substantial evidence demonstrating that many political prisoners in China have been and still are falsely diagnosed as "mentally ill" and forcibly confined by judicial authorities to institutes for the criminally insane.
The Asia Watch office in Washington concentrated on trying to influence U.S. policy toward China, in addition to providing policymakers, the media, and the diplomatic community with documentation of human rights abuses in China and Tibet.
Asia Watch maintained regular contact with the State Department and was often consulted for information on prisoner cases, as in January, when the State Department asked for an assessment of Beijing's response to a list of prisoners that had been presented to the Chinese government in 1991.
The Washington office provided information and briefings to other government agencies, including the U.S. Customs Service, the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Treasury Department.
Much of Asia Watch's activity was aimed at servicing a broad constituency in Congress concerned about China and Tibet. Asia Watch testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August at the first congressional hearing ever held solely on Tibet. Staff also presented written or verbal testimony at hearings on mfn status for China before the House Ways and Means Committee (Subcommittee on Trade) in June and the Senate Finance Committee in July. On June 4, Asia Watch testified in New York at a hearing organized by the Commission on Broadcasting to the People's Republic of China.
Asia Watch provided material for congressional letters and other initiatives protesting President Bush's meeting with Li Peng, and seeking to influence U.S. actions on China and Tibet at the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Asia Watch reports on China were frequently cited in congressional debates and floor statements, or were excerpted in the Congressional Record. Congressional offices also consulted Asia Watch on variouslegislative efforts related to China, including mfn bills and the proposed "code of conduct" for U.S. companies operating in China and Tibet. Members of the business community and trade union groups solicited advice on ways of preventing or monitoring prison exports from China.
Asia Watch staff in New York monitored the status, whereabouts and well-being of Chinese political prisoners, producing updates and analyses of individual cases such as that of Bao Tong.