Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Congressional-Executive Commission on China?

Congress created the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) in 2000 to monitor China's compliance with international human rights standards, to encourage the development of the rule of law in the PRC, and to establish and maintain a list of victims of human rights abuses in China. The Commission comprises nine Senators, nine members of the House of Representatives and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President.

The Commission's professional staff is made up of U.S. experts on China specializing in religious freedom, labor affairs, Tibet and ethnic minorities, the Internet and free-flow of broadcast and print information, and law and legal reform, including commercial law reform. The Commission submits an annual report to the Congressional leadership and the President. To gather information for the report, the CECC holds formal hearings and informal issues roundtables that bring together academics, activists, government officials, business representatives, and other experts on issues related to the Commission's mandate. Staff members also make frequent trips to China to gather information, meet Chinese officials, scholars, and analysts, and consult about the human rights situation and the development of the rule of law in China with U.S. diplomats, and others.

How are the Commission members chosen?

The Senate Majority Leader, in consultation with Senate Minority Leader, names the Senate's commissioners. Likewise, the Speaker of the House, in consultation with the House Minority Leader, chooses the House members of the Commission. The President appoints the five Executive Branch commissioners.

What led to the creation of the CECC?

During the debate in the year 2000 over the China Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) legislation, a significant number of Members of Congress were concerned that granting PNTR to China would deprive Congress of a legislative mechanism to examine and debate China's human rights record every year. Most of these members were willing to support the PNTR bill, but did not want to relinquish the annual debate over human rights in China. To address those concerns, Representatives Sander Levin (D-MI) and Doug Bereuter (R-NE) sponsored a proposal to create a commission to monitor China's human rights practices and also the development of the rule of law in China. Ultimately, this proposal became part of H.R. 4444, the China Relations Act of 2000, which won the approval of 237 members in the House. The Senate also supported the House bill, by a vote of 85-15, and President Clinton signed Public Law No. 106-286 into law on October 10, 2000.

What right does the United States have to examine human rights practices in China?

The CECC recognizes that only the Chinese people can decide China's direction and future, and that the United States cannot impose its will on the 1.3 billion citizens of the PRC. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which both China and the United States took part in drafting, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights set high human rights standards for all nations. The CECC seeks to encourage the Chinese Government to respect the rights that China's own constitution and laws guarantee to the Chinese people, and to bring its governmental practices into conformity with the international human rights standards. The Commission does not seek to impose U.S. standards on China.

Why is the rule of law important for China?

In a 1999 amendment to China's constitution, the National People's Congress declared: "The People's Republic of China practices ruling the country in accordance with the law and building a socialist country of law.''

The CECC believes that only in a society in which the people and the government itself are bound by law can citizens fully enjoy internationally recognized human rights. Developing the rule of law should also help China reach its national goals for future economic development, because an open, transparent legal system could strengthen economic and social institutions and make commercial dispute resolution faster, fairer, and more predictable.

Therefore, the Commission considers the human rights and rule of law aspects of its mandate to be intimately related. Many observers and analysts of China believe that progress in legal reform will result in greater compliance with the basic human rights norms described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants. The development of an open, transparent, and impartial legal system will result over time in a more democratic form of government, and will help protect ordinary Chinese citizens from the abuse of official power. Public accountability of government officials represents an essential element of a modern state. And a Chinese legal system with these modern characteristics will help to ensure that China lives up to its commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization.

Why are there two China Commissions?

H.R. 4444 created the CECC as a permanent commission comprising elected officials from the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and senior officials from the executive branch appointed by the President. Its mandate is to focus on human rights and the rule of law in China. The U.S. China Security Review Commission was created by the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act [Pub. L. No. 106-398, 114 STAT. 1654A-334 (2000)]. It is made up of private sector appointees with a mandate to assess whether the U.S. commercial, trade, and investment relationship with China is compatible with U.S. national security interests. Thus, the two commissions have different memberships, different mandates and focus on completely different issues.

What is the purpose of the CECC Prisoner Database?

The CECC mandate calls for the establishment of an accurate and up-to-date list of prisoners of conscience and other victims of human rights abuses in China. The Commission expects that over time this database will be a useful resource for Members of Congress and their staffs, government officials at state and local levels, human rights advocacy groups, academics, the news media, and the general public. Through the database, the Commission will play a key role in providing essential information for enhanced advocacy on individual cases.

How did the Chinese government react to the establishment of the Commission?

Responding to a question about House passage of the China Relations Act in May 2000, a Chinese (Foreign Ministry) spokesperson said China welcomed the U.S. decision to extend PNTR tariff status to Chinese manufactured goods. However, the spokesperson also criticized the part of the legislation that established the CECC, saying that the mandate of the Commission constituted an unwarranted interference in China's internal affairs. Despite the PRC government's official attitude, the Commission intends its work to be an essential element of bilateral relations. The CECC believes that cooperation and dialogue between Chinese government organizations and the Commission about the issues in the Commission's mandate will help strengthen bilateral relations. In practice, the PRC Government has taken a pragmatic approach to CECC requests for travel and meetings with PRC government officials. The Commission welcomes this attitude, and looks forward to increasing practical cooperation in the future.