Human Rights Developments
The Chinese government continued to subvert the rule of law, violating its own criminal procedure code, using trumped-up criminal charges against political dissidents, and re-interpreting some laws and regulations to ensure specific outcomes. The November 21 formal arrest of Wei Jingsheng for "conducting activities in [an] attempt to overthrow the Chinese goverment" was the most blatant example. Wei, China's most famous dissident, has been missing since April 1, 1994, and as of his arrest date, his whereabouts were still unknown. At the time of his disappearance, in violation of China's own Criminal Procedure Code, no warrant for his arrest was issued and family members were not notified. Authorities also moved to blunt criticism of the use of counterrevolutionary charges to sentence political dissidents, by turning to the 1993 State Security Law to charge dissidents with the crime of "leaking state secrets." On September 19, former student Li Hai became the latest to be so charged. Bi Yimin, director of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology of Beijing, was sentenced to a three-year prison term in February 1995 for allegedly misappropriating public funds. The money in question was legally transferred to two well-known dissidents serving thirteen-year terms for 1989 pro-democracy activities. In December 1994, Tong Yi, Wei Jingsheng's former secretary, was sentenced to "re-education through labor" on a trumped-up charge of "disturbing the public order." An attempt to pin a morals charge on her for cohabiting with Wei had already failed, and the original charge of forging an official seal on an application for study in the U.S. was deemed too minor to prosecute.
Chinese courts levied harsh sentences, up to twenty years, on those who challenged the one-party system. Where evidence was weak, courts substituted spurious criminal charges, or "re-education committees" administratively imposed shorter "labor re-education" terms, a form of punishment that the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had earlier labeled "inherently arbitrary in character." Severely ill political prisoners remained in detention under conditions that violated the U.N.'s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
Chinese officials blatantly attempted to censor delegates' participation in and press coverage of the Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel nongovernmental organization (NGO) Forum held in Beijing and Huairou in August and September. Even before the meetings convened, China challenged the U.N. accreditation of independent organizations with whose views it disagreed. Despite U.N. challenges and China's public promise to issue visas to all those registered by the NGO Forum, China used its position as host to deny visas to selected individuals. Security personnel monitored and disrupted NGO workshops and meetings, videotaping participants, their materials, and members of the audience. There were also attempts to confiscate NGO videotapes and to remove video equipment. Members of human rights organizations attempting to monitor Chinese violations of free expression and association were themselves under surveillance.
Members of the press were hampered in their coverage of the conference. Some hotel managers selectively refused reporters pre-arranged access to guests. As a condition of publishing, editors at the Earth Times, a daily newspaper that had been freely distributed at all major U.N. conferences and summits since 1992, were forced to comply with Chinese restrictions, including prohibitions on distribution at hotels and at the NGO Forum site and a ban on criticism of the host country.
In preparation for the conferences, Chinese officials cleared Beijing of prominent dissidents not already in custody so as to prevent meetings with outsiders. Tong Zeng, a leading campaigner for Japanese compensation to Chinese war victims, had expected to participate in a workshop about Japan's use of conquered "comfort women" during World War II. Instead, he was ordered to go on "vacation." Wang Zhihong, wife of dissident Chen Ziming who is serving a thirteen-year term for his 1989 pro-democracy activities, was "offered" a two-week prison visit with her husband. Dai Qing, who exposed fallacies and inconsistencies in the government's assessment of the Three Gorges dam project, had to leave the city. In yet another move to "ensure the security" of delegates, the government announced the executions of sixteen "criminal elements."
That same month, Shanghai activist Dai Xuezhong, a member of the unofficial Human Rights Association, received a three-year sentence for alleged tax evasion. On April 10, labor activist Xiao Biguang went on trial on "swindling" charges; as of November, a sentence had not been announced. On August 18, Ding Zilin and her husband Jiang Peikun were detained in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, for some forty days for "economic reasons," then released without explanation. The couple, whose seventeen-year-old son was killed during the June 1989 massacre in Beijing, compiled a list of those killed and maimed in the crackdown and tried to persuade the government to reverse its finding that the 1989 demonstrations were counterrevolutionary. Gao Yu, a dissident journalist imprisoned in October 1993, was finally sentenced in November 1994 to a six-year prison term after the procuracy twice returned the case to the court. Despite a ruling that "the evidence...is partial....," no new evidence was ever offered to justify the verdict.
In December 1994, in one of the most important political trials since those that followed the 1989 protests, the Beijing Intermediate Court sentenced nine dissidents, including medical researcher Kang Yuchun, lecturer Hu Shigen, Democracy Wall activist Liu Jingsheng, and printing plant worker Wang Guoqi, to terms ranging from three to twenty years. They were among sixteen arrested in May and June 1992 and charged with "leading a counterrevolutionary group and with "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement." A human rights monitor, U.S. citizen Harry Wu, was arrested on June 19, sentenced on August 24 to a fifteen-year prison term for spying and immediately expelled from the country.
Despite the release in July of Shanghai activist Yang Zhou for treatment of an esophageal condition, reports of serious and untreated illness among jailed political prisoners continued in 1995. One of the most egregious cases was that of Chen Ziming, sentenced to a thirteen-year term in early 1991 and released on medical parole in May 1994. Still under treatment for urinary tract cancer, he was returned to Beijing No. 2 Prison on June 25, 1995, on the pretext that the skin condition that had led to his parole had cleared up. The medical condition of long-term prisoner Bao Tong, former principal aide to ousted Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, did not improve; he remained in a prison hospital, and his family lacked access to his medical records and was refused permission to choose his doctor.
Released dissidents and the families of those still imprisoned continued to be harassed. Five months before he was re-arrested in May, Public Security Bureau officials threatened Wan Dang with death if he continued to speak out. Liu Gang, released in June after completing a six-year term, was prohibited from leaving his home in Liaoning Province for two years and from talking with foreign journalists. Police broke into Liu's house in June and July, tried to run over family members on the street, and threatened friends and relatives who maintained contact with him. On September 1, Liu was again detained, this time for ten days, for refusing to "share his thoughts" with security officials. Gou Qinghui, the wife of Xiao Biguang, was prohibited from returning to her job at Yanqing Theological Seminary, attending church or meeting at home with co-religionists. Tong Yi's father was warned that his job could be jeopardized if his daughter refused to comply with prison regulations. On January 16 and 17, Tong was beaten by fellow inmates in collusion with prison guards after protesting sixteen-hour work days.
Restrictions surrounding religious practice continued during 1995, and the official drive to register and subject to lay control all congregations, including the smallest family churches, escalated. Harsh crackdowns came in areas where foreigners were active proselytizers and trainers of lay leaders, where evidence of indigenous networks of unofficial churches surfaced, where evangelists were especially active, and where "underground" church members challenged the authorities through public worship. In April, during the Easter season, more than forty Catholics were detained in Jiangxi Province. Most were released, but several were sentenced to terms ranging between two and five years. At the end of October, Catholic lay persons and clergy arrested between February and June in Hebei, Inner Mongolia, and Jilin Provinces, remained in detention. But the more usual pattern during 1995 was to detain and physically abuse Catholics and Protestants until their families, the local church community or foreign evangelical organizations paid onerous fines. During a gathering of some 500-600 Protestants in Jiangsu Province in late January or early February, Protestant leaders from the province and from Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province were detained, severely beaten, heavily fined, and released. More than 300 were detained in Yingshang County, Anhui Province, at the end of May.
During 1995, Chinese offi-cials tightened restrictions on freedom of expression. At the beginning of the year, the press was notified that it was required to put a favorable spin on sensitive issues, such as double-digit inflation, failing enterprises, and demonstrations by unemployed workers. On May 19, the party's propaganda chief ordered the twenty largest national newspapers not to cover issues that "have not been resolved" or are "impossible to resolve" and to use reports by Xinhua, the official news agency, for all breaking stories. In July, the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily was banned from covering a Beijing meeting about the colony's future. Its owner had angered the government with criticism of Premier Li Peng.
Information flows were further restricted in connection with the sixth anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown. At the end of May, Nick Rufford of the London Sunday Times, was questioned for thirteen hours by officials who demanded the names of his Chinese contacts. From June 2-6, officials cut the CNN feed to hotels in Beijing, concerned that commemorative footage might include shots of the 1989 massacre. Also in June, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications moved to limit local users' access to the Internet. Invoking China's sovereign status, he declared that "by linking with Internet, we do not mean absolute freedom of information." In August, when Greenpeace members from outside China tried to stage a demonstration in Tiananmen Square protesting China's nuclear testing, they were detained for thirty hours, interrogated about the involvement of Chinese citizens, and deported.
Films did not escape censorship. When New York Film Festival officials refused to cancel a showing of The Gate of Heavenly Peace, about the June 1989 crackdown in Beijing, Chinese officials asked Zhang Yimou, whose Shanghai Triad opened the festival, to cancel plans to attend. He agreed. Zhang's work as a filmmaker in China has been entirely dependent on government approval.
Officials further curtailed freedom of association and assembly during 1995. An April law forbade Chinese citizens from attending foreign-run schools. That same month, police broke up a peaceful demonstration against corruption by some thirty entrepreneurs in Guangzhou. In April, security agents broke up a series of marches by former Nanjing residents who had been banished to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and who were attempting to return. In June, authorities denied permission to two female war victims to demonstrate outside the Japanese embassy.
Human rights conditions in Tibet deteriorated throughout 1995. During the first quarter of the year, at least 123 dissidents were detained, more than in all of 1994. The government intensified its campaign challenging the legitimacy of the Dalai Lama, even as a religious leader, and the battle over who was to choose the new Panchen Lama, the second most important spiritual leader and the most important Tibetan leader residing there, resulted in the detentions of at least forty-eight people between May and July. The six year old identified by the Dalai Lama as the legitimate successor, but rejected by Chinese officials, disappeared, along with his immediate family. Authorities further curtailed religious activity by limiting the number of monks and nuns in any one nunnery or monastery, and by instituting an absolute cap on the total number in all of Tibet and a ban on the building of monasteries and nunneries.
Pro-independence activities, such as possession of the Tibetan flag, resulted in raids on the offending monasteries. In May, after independence posters surfaced at Labrang Monastery in southern Gansu Province, an area inhabited by Tibetans, five monks were arrested and two badly beaten, one so severely he suffered neurological damage. In 1994-95, two nuns, Gyaltsen Kelsang and Phunstog Yangkyi, were unexpectedly released from custody shortly before they died from injuries sustained in prison. In an attempt at restricting news flows, on three separate occasions women tourists leaving Tibet were stopped at the airport and strip-searched. Confiscated items included private letters, film, audio cassettes, and a diary.
The Right to Monitor
The Role of the International Community
The Clinton human rights policy of "constructive engagement" toward China lacked both substance and clout, with a few notable exceptions. The administration indicated in October that certain post-1989 sanctions would remain in place for the time being, namely a prohibition on weapons sales, denial of licenses for transfer of dual-use technology, and suspension of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) program in China. But for the most part, the administration downplayed human rights while concentrating on "stabilizing" relations with China at the economic and political level. The detention of the Chinese-American human rights activist Harry Wu pushed human rights to the top of the U.S.-Sino agenda, but only temporarily. The Chinese government used both Wu's detention and the controversy over the Taiwanese President Li Teng-hui's visit to the United States in June 1995 as bargaining chips to secure a summit meeting between Clinton and Jiang Zemin which took place in New York on October 24.
Clinton raised human rights concerns in his discussions with Jiang Zemin, but he declined to issue a public appeal for the release of any specific political prisoners, as he had following a previous meeting with Jiang in 1993. The two presidents agreed to meet again in Osaka in November, and the administration described the summit as "very positive" though it resulted in no concrete progress on human rights.
"Constructive engagement" got off to a shaky start in 1995 with the United States threatening a trade war over Chinese copyright and trademark violations. As the administration set a deadline for imposing sanctions, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary led a "presidential mission" to China in February, accompanied by more than seventy-five corporate executives. O'Leary used the opportunity to go after business deals in the energy sector, signing more than U.S. $1 billion worth of agreements. In meetings with Premier Li Peng and other senior officials, she raised human rights concerns privately but avoided any public criticism of China's human rights practices.
In March, Vice-President Al Gore held a frosty meeting with Li Peng in Copenhagen around the edges of the U.N. Social Summit. Li Peng denounced U.S. interference "in other people's affairs," while the vice-president stressed the administration's desire to maintain "constructive relations" with China while "strengthening dialogue" in areas where the two governments have differences. Gore was publicly silent about human rights.
The Copenhagen meeting occurred just days after a vote in the U.N. Human Rights Commission on a resolution criticizing China's human rights practices. Co-sponsored by the European Union, the U.S., Japan and others, the measure attracted broad support from Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. For months, the United States, in particular, had lobbied in capitals around the world to line up votes in favor of the resolution. China responded in kind, warning European governments, for example, that support for the resolution could endanger their prospects for doing business in China and offering to engage in bilateral "human rights dialogues" with various governments in lieu of facing action at the United Nations. Although the Chinese government failed to prevent passage of a no-action motion, resulting in the first-ever debate on a China resolution, it narrowly won the final vote, with twenty-one countries voting against, twenty for and twelve abstaining.
It was clear by May that the international community would do little to come to the defense of beleaguered activists in China waging a petition campaign. At the height of their protests in the weeks leading up to the June 1989 anniversary, President Clinton renewed Most Favored Nation (MFN) trading status for China for one more year. The president reiterated his belief that "broad engagement with China, including on human rights issues, offers the best prospect in all areas of concern to us." He denounced China's human rights record as "unacceptable," but defended the administration's "vigorous" approach to human rights, including bilateral and multilateral efforts, as well as its work with the private sector to develop "voluntary business principles."
Nearly a year after the president's initial promise to develop a voluntary code of conduct for businesses, the White House officially announced the fruit of its efforts just prior to the MFN decision. The principles did not focus exclusively on China, as originally promised, but instead were designed for universal application. Half-heartedly endorsed by eight major companies who said they would serve as a "useful reference point" in framing their own codes, the principles did contain several positive elements, but were vaguely worded and lacked any concrete details as to how they would be implemented.
In Congress, resolutions to overturn the president's MFN decision never came to a vote in the House. Instead, a consensus bill (the 1995 China Policy Act) was formulated and adopted by a huge bipartisan margin (416 to 10) in July, demanding that the administration take diplomatic initiatives to improve human rights in several specific areas. In addition to giving the administration a clear human rights mandate, the bill required a report in thirty days on what actions had been taken at the World Bank, the U.N. and elsewhere. The Chinese government expressed "strong resentment" and opposition to the bill, but clearly was relieved that MFN was not challenged. The bill was referred to the Senate; as of November, no action had been taken.
The administration reacted strongly to the reimprisonment of Chen Ziming in late June; he had been released on medical parole in May 1994 as a gesture just prior to Clinton's MFN decision. Shortly thereafter, Harry Wu was detained, and the administration launched a campaign of high-level public and private lobbying to secure consular access to Wu and, ultimately, his release. Wu's case was a top item of discussion at a key meeting between Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in Brunei on August 1, in conjunction with the annual conference of the Association of South East Asian Nations. The meeting coincided with a decision by the World Bank's executive directors on a $260 million non-basic human needs loan for a major highway project. Several influential members of Congress wrote to the administration and World Bank officials urging the Bank to postpone considering the loan as a way of indicating concern over Wu and the deterioration of human rights in China generally. But the Treasury Department opposed the suggestion, and the administration claimed that it did not have the authority to hold up a loan on its own, although it had previously prevented loans to Vietnam and Iran from being considered by the executive directors. Furthermore, the administration argued that seeking a delay would "undercut [its] ability to pursue our human rights objectives in our ongoing bilateral discussions with China." World Bank lending to China, despite occasional abstentions or no votes by the U.S., continued to outstrip loans to any other government. According to the Bank's annual report, in the fiscal year ending June 1995, China received $2.9 billion from the Bank.
Meanwhile, the White House continued an interagency review on possible Export-Import Bank funding for U.S. companies involved in the highly controversial Three Gorges dam project in China. In late September, the White House completed the review and recommended against Ex-Im Bank funding the project, both on environmental and human rights grounds. By November, no decision had been made by the Bank on an initial request from a U.S. company seeking funding.
As the year ended, prospects for developing a multilateral strategy to promote human rights in China through concerted political or economic pressure appeared dim. In July, the European Union's trade commissioner, Leon Brittan, outlined a long-term strategy to expand dramatically the E.U.'s ties with China while removing human rights as an impediment. His proposal acknowledged that both public pressure and private discussion would be needed to bring about human rights improvements, but stressed cooperative efforts to develop the rule of law in China over the long-term, rather than pressure. He also endorsed the E.U.'s political dialogue as a venue for raising human rights concerns. A meeting of the E.C.-China Joint Committee took place in Brussels in early October to review overall Sino-E.U. relations. Human rights concerns were discussed only briefly; Leon Brittan again affirmed the E.U.'s interest in playing a "constructive role" to improve China's judicial system. While Brittan was unveiling his proposal, President Jiang Zemin was preparing to visit Germany, Hungary and Finland. The visit was aimed at countering the effect of the Taiwanese president's trip to the U.S., but it also provided Jiang with an opportunity to generate greater recognition and acceptance, as well as new trade deals. In 1994 and 1995, Germany was China's largest European trading partner, with bilateral trade in the first five months of 1995 totaling over $4 billion. The president of Germany, Roman Herzog, and Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel presented China's foreign minister with a list of political detainees; Chancellor Kohl stressed the universality of human rights, but undercut these moves by stating that different levels of economic development and varying cultural traditions had to be taken into account. Demonstrators were kept away from Jiang, as the German government tried to prevent a replay of Li Peng's visit in 1994 which was cut short by protests. With economic and political relations on track, Kohl planned another visit to China in mid-November.
In the weeks preceding Jiang Zemin's meeting with President Clinton in New York, Canada's prime minister, Jean Chretien, welcomed Li Peng to Montreal in mid-October as a featured speaker at a conference of the Canada China Business Council. Canada's policy towards China was similar to that of the U.S. and Europe, discreetly raising human rights in official discussions and U.N. fora, while concentrating on improving relations through "constructive engagement." In an even more subdued way, Japan followed a similar approach (see Japan section).
By the end of 1995, Beijing had successfully insulated its economic and political relations and ambitions from being seriously affected by its human rights record. For the most part, the Chinese government escaped accountability for its egregious violations of human rights, even as it sought recognition as an emerging superpower. No government was willing to exert the consistent political and economic pressure needed to compel the Chinese government to comply with its international obligations. The prospect of instability and greater repression in the wake of Deng Xiaoping's passing, however, raised doubts about the long-term prospects for economic reform and development of the rule of law in China without greater attention to human rights by the international community.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Asia
After the February publication of The Three Gorges Dam in China: Forced Resettlement, Suppression of Dissent and Labor Rights Concerns, Human Rights Watch/Asia campaigned to limit involvement in the dam project by U.S. investment houses. Major institutional investors, many of whom represented public employee pension funds, were apprised of the human rights abuses and asked to eschew purchase of Three Gorges bonds. The initiative represented a continuation of our ongoing corporate social responsibility project which has included advocacy for a code of conduct for corporations active in the Chinese business community. We also provided our information to the Export-Import Bank, the White House, and to U.S. agencies involved in a review of possible U.S. funding for companies involved in the Three Gorges project.
Throughout the year, our New York, Washington, Brussels and Hong Kong offices engaged in advocacy, pressing for the release of prominent prisoners and detainees such as Wei Jingsheng, Tong Yi, Chen Ziming, and Harry Wu, and making specific policy recommendations to the European Union and the U.S. government. A major campaign was conducted on behalf of the U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution. The Brussels and Washington staff routinely briefed European Union commission staff, members of the European Parliament, and the U.S. Congress and State Department, including those traveling to China. Human Rights Watch/Asia followed up Energy Secretary O'Leary's February visit to China by contacting members of the corporate delegation who traveled with her. China was a major focus of discussions in Japan during a Human Rights Watch/Asia mission in September.
Human Rights Watch/Asia maintained an ongoing dialogue with U.S. companies involved in China regarding human rights/worker rights, the Three Gorges project, and the administration's voluntary code of conduct. Human Rights Watch/Asia urged U.S. businesses to intervene on behalf of Harry Wu, and some companies and trade associations did make private appeals for his release.
In May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the harvesting of executed prisoners' organs for medical transplantation purposes, at which Human Rights Watch/Asia testified, updating information contained in our 1994 report. The issue of organ transplants received new prominence as part of the broader debate in Congress on China's human rights record.
At the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a speech by Human Rights Watch condemned the practice of re-education through labor, arbitrary detentions, and overall prison conditions in China.
Reports and press releases kept the focus on Chinese attempts to find new avenues for limiting dissent. Enforced Exile of Dissidents revealed the Chinese policy of effectively exiling dissidents under the guise of permission to go abroad for medical treatment or scholarly pursuits. In response to the crackdown on dissident activities before the sixth anniversary of the June 1989 Beijing crackdown, we published China: Keeping the Lid on Demands for Change, an assessment of human rights between the June 1994 decision "delinking" MFN and human rights and May 1995. A similar analysis was given in congressional testimony in the House of Representatives.
Your Rights in Beijing: A Brief Guide for Delegates to the 1995 NGO Forum on Women was the culmination of efforts to document attempts by the Chinese government to restrict NGO participation in the Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel forum meeting. With the help of other human rights and women's rights organizations, some 10,000 copies of the brochure were distributed. A French translation was available, and the document was posted to several sites on the Internet.