Respect for human-rights and rule of law have deteriorated markedly during the term of Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to a new U.S. government report, which blames an ideological tightening within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a slowing economy brings the legitimacy of its rule into focus, TIME magazine reports:
The almost 80,000-word bipartisan U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) 2016 report, released Thursday morning, raises long-festering issues such as repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as the erosion of autonomy in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.
However, the CECC notes a broader corrosion of freedoms, encompassing a social and political reinforcement of the supremacy of the CCP under Xi’s leadership, with deleterious consequences for civil society, media freedom, labor rights and judicial due process.
“Xi has overseen a deterioration in human-rights and rule of law conditions in China marked by greater consolidation of his own power — leading some analysts to draw comparisons to Mao Zedong — through forced ideological conformity and the systematic persecution of human rights lawyers and defenders,” says the report.
The panel also urged the US’s next president to put curbs on Chinese investment in American entertainment, internet and media assets, noting that the US needed to “address potential trade barriers in China, including ongoing and persistent restrictions on the free flow of news and information which affect foreign media companies attempting to access the Chinese market,” The FT adds:
Chinese censors block access to US internet companies such as Facebook and Twitter. The websites of media organisations such as Bloomberg, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have also been blocked in recent years, forcing them to scale back investment in Chinese-language sites aimed at the country’s more than 700m internet users. Chinese companies, meanwhile, are on track to spend more on outbound mergers and acquisitions than their US counterparts and have been snapping up assets in entertainment and other sectors barred to foreign investors in China.
The CECC identifies five areas of particular concern, TIME adds:
- Rule of Law: When China joined the World Trade Organization 15 years ago, it made commitments regarding enshrining financial fair play and judicial independence. However, the CECC report says that China has failed to implement substantive legal reforms, and instead of “rule of law” has become “rule by law — that is, using the law as a means to expand control over Chinese society while disregarding the law when it does not accommodate Party imperatives or advance Party objectives.”…Xi’s “tigers and flies” anti-corruption campaign has also seen accusations of torture and coerced confessions and even a spate of suicides by those in line for CCP disciplinary investigations….“Xi is also looking to promote allies ahead of a major leadership transition next year,” Meredith Sumpter, Asia director of Eurasia Group think-tank, tells TIME. “His efforts to ensure that he will be able to fill the five available positions on the Politburo Standing Committee have included making political rivals targets of anti-graft probes.”
- Civil Society: “Rule by law” has also increasingly been used to quash civil society, and groups and individuals working in what were previously acceptable areas are finding that they are under siege…..Much of this stems from Document No. 9, the internal CCP directive issued just as Xi came to power, which pointed to China’s flourishing civil society as a risk to the Party’s hold over society. “Advocates of civil society want to squeeze the Party out of leadership of the masses at the local level, even setting the Party against the masses, to the point that their advocacy is becoming a serious form of political opposition,” says the document….China’s new foreign NGO and domestic Charity Laws are designed to interpret that “threat” pretty broadly, drastically limiting the ability for civil society to operate outside government sponsorship.
- Labor Rights: Over the last three decades, CCP legitimacy has been inextricably linked to economic growth and raising the living standards of the Chinese people. But that legitimacy is facing unprecedented challenges as economic growth slows to the weakest annual rate in 25 years and economic liberalization flounders. ……. Labor NGOs have long been subjected to various forms of harassment, often when their actions chaff with the interests of venal individuals connected to the CCP, but labor rights advocates have reported a comprehensive upping of pressure from late 2014. “With the economy slowing down, the government is nervous, as workers have shown their ability to not just organize, but organize and win,” says China Labour Bulletin researcher Keegan Elmer. “The NGOs are a crucial part of the broader worker struggles in the country, and this ruling and crackdown were directed just as much at their struggles as they were at civil society and international labor rights.”
- Media: Freedom of the press has, of course, never been a strong point since the birth of the People’s Republic. This year, China ranked 176 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, and was “the world’s worst jailer of the press” for the second year in a row, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists……”
- Nationalism: Increasingly, CCP directives exhibit a nationalist bent. The 13th Five-Year Plan, adopted this year, explicitly cites an intention to “spur a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” in line with the “Chinese dream.” ……Authorities in Tibetan and Xinjiang autonomous areas continue with policies that further threaten indigenous culture, religion and language, even labeling ordinary religious activities by Uighur Muslims as extremism and terrorism. Self-immolation protests in Tibetan communities have slowed — perhaps, the CECC speculates, due to the authorities imposing collective punishment on the family members of self-immolators.