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VII. Conclusion

As China begins to tackle its AIDS crisis, it should learn from the experience of other countries. Some of the most effective responses to the crisis in many parts of the world have been led by people living with HIV/AIDS, and their families, friends, and partners. In countries such as Uganda, openness on the part of governments to civil society involvement in the AIDS struggle has led to diverse, vigorous and often successful anti-AIDS efforts.

China has begun to permit a small number of NGOs to provide frontline services in the AIDS epidemic, but the government still does not view NGOs as a resource from which it can draw expertise and insight into positive policies and laws to combat AIDS. Community organizations have historically been excluded from high-level policy and legal debates in China’s top-down system, although AIDS organizations and grass-roots groups formed by persons vulnerable to HIV infection are beginning to successfully call for more opportunities to share their input.198 For instance, in April 2005, over eighty Chinese AIDS organizations publicly called for more input by grass-roots organizations into the Country Coordinating Mechanism, the Chinese committee that allocates funds from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.199 Some authorities, at the local as well as the national levels, have responded positively to these moves. Authorities in Shanghai and Chengdu have at times invited input by NGOs into AIDS policy discussions.200 In a welcome move in November 2004, the State Council invited public comment on proposed regulations for health exams, and reportedly received 3,162 letters in response, an indication of the high degree of public interest in health policy.201 

Despite such positive moves, the Chinese government’s overall strategy regarding cooperation with civil society in the fight against HIV/AIDS remains muddled. As recently as April 2005, China blocked another popular website that provided information and support about HIV/AIDS to the gay community.202 Again and again, the government’s lingering suspicion about the role of non-governmental groups seems to trump the public health imperative of working with civil society. This official confusion hinders the work of activists and NGOs, and thus undercuts the Chinese government’s efforts to combat the country’s AIDS epidemic.

China’s halting acceptance of the work of AIDS activists throws into even sharper focus the serious restrictions imposed on the country’s civil society. In fact, the Chinese government is more tolerant of groups working on HIV/AIDS than of non-governmental groups working in many other fields. Many activists and civil society groups in China face even greater official obstructions and harassment than that documented in this report; even worse off are groups trying to protect or preserve the rights of ethnic or religious groups.203

The Chinese government’s treatment—or harassment—of AIDS activists is thus significant not just because of its potential impact on the country’s AIDS epidemic, but also because it sheds light on the government’s tolerance for the growth of civil society in general. So far, the outlook remains uncertain. If China is to benefit from the energy and talents of its citizens, the Chinese government should stop impeding the activity of nongovernmental groups and instead embrace them as partners in making and implementing policies. The threat posed by the AIDS epidemic is only the sharpest reminder of the urgency of changing the Chinese government’s attitude toward activists and civil society groups.

[198] Chen Wenjun, “An exploration of legal questions,” page 6; “Dui 2004 nian guojia aizibing fangzhi shehui dongyuan xiangmude zhaozhi zhinande jidian yijian [Several suggestions invited and facilitated by participants in the 2004 national AIDS prevention community forum program],” December 22, 2004, [online] 

[199] Vivien Cui, “Grass-roots groups seek more say on AIDS cash,” South China Morning Post, April 26, 2005.

[200] In drafting new regulations for the city of Shanghai in 2004, the city invited a group of international experts and some Chinese NGOs to share suggestions; and the Chengdu Gay Community Care Organization reports that they have input into public policies on AIDS prevention and care (brochure produced by Chengdu Gay Community Care Organization).

[201]Gongwuyuan luyong tixian shizhun xiugai [State Council Employee Hire Medical Inspection Criteria], Xinhua, November 16, 2004, [online] (retrieved May 20, 2005).

[202] Cindy Sui, “China blocks popular website for homosexuals,” Agence France-Presse, May 18, 2005.

[203]  See for instance the systematic mistreatment of Muslim Uighur groups (Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China, “Devastating Blows: Religious Repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 17, no. 2, February 2005) and Tibetan groups (Human Rights Watch, “Trials of a Tibetan Monk: The Case of Tenzin Delek,” A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 16, no. 1, February, 2004).

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