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Rubio, Smith Release China Commission’s 2017 Report, Announce New Initiatives on Hong Kong, Liu Xiaobo
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair and cochair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), issued the Commission’s 2017 Annual Report and announced several joint initiatives on Hong Kong and commemoration of the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Chinese political prisoner, Liu Xiaobo. The CECC’s 2017 Annual Report provides detailed analysis on human rights conditions and rule of law developments in China, and offers recommendations on ways to integrate these issues into U.S.-China relations.
“The Commission’s 2017 report documents continued deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in China, as President Xi Jinping consolidates power in advance of the 19th Party Congress slated for later this month,” said Rubio. “Chinese authorities are ruthlessly targeting human rights lawyers and advocates; clamping down on foreign NGOs, media outlets and Internet companies; restricting religious freedom particularly in ethnic minority Tibetan and Uyghur areas and forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees to near certain persecution and even death. This year the central authorities further intervened in the affairs of Hong Kong, disqualifying democratically elected legislators and jailing pro-democracy leaders. In the face of this repression, the universal desire for basic human rights persists. This report is dedicated to the late Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, whose hopes for the Chinese people, articulated in his essays, poetry and ultimately Charter 08 remain aspirational. As President Trump heads to China next month, he must press China to uphold international human rights norms, respect the rule of law, and adhere to universal standards.”
“At the cost of American jobs and security, the Chinese government has become more repressive domestically, more protectionist in its trade policies, and more assertive globally. The Administration is going through a review of its China policy at the moment, the Annual Report has recommendations that can assist them develop strategies that link American values and interests–it should be required reading at the White House, at the State Department, and by all Members of Congress,” said Smith. “Nothing good happens in the dark that is why the Administration should shine a light on the Chinese government’s failures to abide by universal standards, shine a light on the cases of tortured and abused political prisoners, shine a light on China’s unfair trade practices and still coercive population control policies. A freer and more democratic China is a critical U.S. interest, and it should be pursued in tandem with other U.S. diplomatic, economic, political, and security priorities.”
The chairs announced their intention to work on several joint initiatives during the upcoming year including:
Nomination of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement for the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize: The Chairs stated their intention to nominate Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and the entire Umbrella Movement for the prize, citing their peaceful efforts to bring political reform and protect the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Congressional Commemoration of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo: The Chairs announced bicameral legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Liu Xiaobo and the Chinese Democracy Movement. The CECC also announced its intention to start a “Liu Xiaobo Fellows Program.”
Both chairs commended the capable and professional work of the CECC’s research staff in producing the Commission’s 16th Annual Report.
The full text of the chairs’ letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
We transmit to you the 2017 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (the Commission) as required by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 (Public Law No: 106—286). Under this legislative mandate, the Commission monitors and reports on human rights violations and the development of the rule of law in China, and provides recommendations to address these issues in U.S.-China relations.
The Commission’s structure, consisting of a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, Representatives, and senior-level Administration officials, is intended to foster cooperation between the legislative and executive branches, and promote bipartisan attention to critical issues in U.S.-China relations. In the coming year, we hope the Administration can appoint Commissioners from the Departments of State, Labor, and Commerce, as required by the Act.
The Commission’s Annual Report comes out on the eve of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and prior to your upcoming visit to China. The topics covered by our Annual Report remain some of the most contentious issues in bilateral relations and are critically linked to the protection of U.S. national interests.
Over the past several years, the Chinese government has become more protectionist in its trade policies, more authoritarian in domestic politics, increasingly dismissive of international norms and “Western” ideas, and more assertive in expanding its extraterritorial reach globally.
The Commission’s 2017 Annual Report further documents the Chinese government and Communist Party’s continued efforts to silence dissent, criminalize activities of human rights lawyers, control civil society, suppress religious activity, and restrict the operations of foreign media outlets, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over the past 12 months. The report also provides evidence that Chinese authorities arbitrarily detained and tortured political prisoners, forcibly repatriated North Korean refugees, and continued to implement coercive population control polices, in violation of China’s international obligations.
These issues necessitate high-level engagement from U.S. policymakers and elected officials. As your administration pursues a China policy review, we commend the Annual Report’s findings and policy recommendations to your attention, as we believe they will assist in developing strategies to advance U.S. interests and maintain principled U.S. leadership on issues of human rights and development of the rule of law in the vital Asia-Pacific region.
Based on developments this past year, the report identifies the following key areas that merit the focus of Congress and the Administration in the coming year:
Law as an Instrument of Repression. The Chinese government continues to use the law as an instrument of repression to expand control over Chinese society, while outwardly providing the veneer of a system guided by the rule of law. In the past year, the government moved forward with implementing a series of far-reaching new laws that provided the basis for broader and more severe crackdowns on ethnic minority groups and human rights defenders, censorship of the Internet, and restrictions on foreign NGOs and international businesses that operate in or trade with China. The report recommends that the Administration seek a rules-of-the-road agreement that ensures reciprocal treatment for U.S. institutions, businesses, and nationals operating in China and urges the Administration to coordinate with allies, businesses, and NGOs to develop a unified strategy to respond to China’s unfair industrial policies, digital protectionism, and the PRC Law on the Management of Overseas NGOs’ Activities.
Human Rights Lawyers Viewed as Security Threat. Persistent reports emerged of human rights lawyers and advocates being arbitrarily detained on state security-related charges, for which Chinese law permits officials to enforce de facto incommunicado detention. These rights lawyers and advocates are denied due process rights, tortured in detention, and forced to “confess” to crimes they did not commit. Rights lawyers and their families were subject to constant surveillance and restrictions on their freedom of movement. Pressure on the activities of human rights defenders continues to be an issue of concern. The report recommends that the Administration consider more expansive use of existing U.S. laws, such as the Global Magnitsky Act, to hold accountable Chinese officials complicit in arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, and other severe human rights violations. The report also urges the Administration to deny requests for repatriation of Chinese citizens accused of corruption until the Chinese government can demonstrate that it is meeting due process protections consistent with international human rights norms and has ended both torture in detention and all forms of arbitrary detention.
Severe Violations of Religious Freedom. The report notes the Chinese government’s efforts to expand its political influence and control over the activities of religious communities through more restrictive regulations, at both the national and local level, with particularly severe abuses occurring in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Tibetan autonomous areas. Efforts to shutter and harass Protestant Christian “house churches” and the demolition of renowned Tibetan Buddhist institutes of learning, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, are particularly concerning developments. The report recommends expanded U.S. leadership on international religious freedom through coordinated multilateral efforts and bilateral interactions that stress the strategic and economic value of promoting this fundamental freedom. The report also recommends that the Administration fully implement the Tibet Policy Act of 2002 and produce guidelines for U.S.-China counterterrorism dialogues so that the United States does not condone China’s crackdowns on peaceful political dissent or restrictions on the freedoms of religion or expression in ethnic minority areas.
Challenges to Hong Kong’s “High Degree” of Autonomy. The actions of the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong governments during the past reporting year continue to raise concerns about the long-term viability of the “one country, two systems” model. The preemptive intervention of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), and the subsequent disqualification of six democratically elected legislators, raised serious concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy, its guaranteed freedoms, and the rule of law. In July 2017, the Hong Kong Court of Appeals sentenced Nathan Law, the youngest of the disqualified legislators, along with fellow pro-democracy leaders Joshua Wong and Alex Chow, in connection with their activities during the 2014 pro-democracy protests. The three had already completed community service sentences when the Hong Kong Department of Justice pursued the harsher sentences, raising concerns about the political nature of these prosecutions. Given the important economic interests the United States has in Hong Kong, and China’s international commitments to protect a “high degree of autonomy” in Hong Kong, the Commission recommends that the administration continue to issue annually the report on Hong Kong outlined in Section 301 of the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992. In addition, the report recommends that the Administration and Congress work together to determine how to protect U.S. interests in Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms, including through consideration of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (S. 417 and H.R. 3856).
Shining a Light on Political Prisoners. The Annual Report highlights multiple political prisoner cases, including human rights lawyers and rights defenders, citizen journalists, labor and environmental advocates, religious leaders, and advocates for ethnic minority rights, Tibetans, and Uyghurs. The Commission urges Members of Congress and the Administration to consistently and publicly advocate for political prisoners because experience demonstrates that raising individual cases can result in improved treatment, lighter sentences, and in some cases, release from custody. The report recommends that the Administration create a Special Advisor for Political and Religious Prisoners to coordinate prisoner advocacy across the entire U.S. government. The Commission maintains an extensive Political Prisoner Database as a resource, with over 1,400 cases of currently detained political prisoners in China—a staggering but far from exhaustive figure.
Making Human Rights a Strategic Priority. The U.S.-China relationship is marked by both growing interdependency and competition, and the issues covered by the Annual Report are among the most contentious in our bilateral relationship. Principled U.S. leadership is needed to develop a long-term policy approach that challenges China to abide by its international commitments, adhere to universal standards, and embrace the rule of law. In addition to the recommendations made above, the report suggests a focus on reciprocity, internet freedom, human trafficking, digital protectionism, protecting North Korean refugees, and addressing the problem of China’s “missing girls.” It urges the Administration to develop an action plan that will facilitate interagency coordination on human rights and develop coordinated approaches that prepare all agencies to pursue measurable, results-orientated human rights and rule of law outcomes. A freer and more democratic China is a critical U.S. interest and this goal should be pursued in tandem with other U.S. diplomatic, economic, political, and security priorities.
While the Chinese government may not be the responsible global stakeholder envisioned by many proponents of China’s entry into the World Trade Organization 16 years ago, we must not forget that the desire for freedom, justice, and democratic openness are not alien to China or its people. These are universal principles that will further U.S. interests and be the foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous, and better future for the citizens of both China and the U.S.
The Commission and its staff stand ready to assist in any way to carry out the report’s recommendations or further explain its findings.