CECC Releases 2016 Annual Report

CECC Releases 2016 Annual Report

Despite the expectations of many that economic engagement with China would lead to political reform, fifteen years after China’s accession to the WTO, the human rights situation there is increasingly dire.  The CECC’s latest report recommends Congress and the Administration press Beijing for greater transparency, adherence to universal standards, and development of the rule of law.  

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October 6, 2016

(WASHINGTON, DC)—Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Chairmen U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today issued the Commission’s bipartisan 2016 Annual Report, which provides detailed analysis of 19 issue areas regarding human rights and the rule of law, and offers specific recommendations on how progress can be made on these issues through the broader U.S.-China relationship.  The full report can be accessed on the CECC’s website (https://www.cecc.gov/publications/annual-reports/2016-annual-report). 

“The Chinese government’s human rights record is utterly deplorable, continuing a downward trend over the past three years.  It is a dark time for China’s reformers, dissidents, and rights defenders as they face escalating repression and conditions deteriorated again last year,” said Representative Smith. “The Chinese government took extraordinary steps to decimate the ranks of human rights lawyers, crush independent civil society, and expand control over the Internet and the press. Coercive population control policies continued to mandate the size of Chinese families and contribute to one of the world’s worst human trafficking problems. New regulations will likely expand repression for religious communities, as the “sinicization” campaign aims to further politicize religious life.  Tibetans, Uyghurs, and North Koreans seeking asylum were less safe last year—facing detentions, torture, and deportations.  Detained Falun Gong practitioners, and other prisoners, were reportedly victims of the horrible crime of organ harvesting. Hong Kong continued to experience erosions to the guaranteed freedoms and autonomy it was promised by Beijing. President Xi Jinping has run roughshod over human rights and the U.S. government has only responded tepidly. It is time to recognize that the economic engagement strategy has failed, and new policy approaches must be developed that link our values and interests. A new U.S. policy approach that champions individual liberties is owed to the thousands of suffering prisoners of conscience in China, as documented by the thousands of cases in the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database. And, we owe it to future generations of Americans, whose security and prosperity will depend on a stable U.S.-China relationship that is more open and transparent; free of censorship and coercion; based on adherence to universal standards; and, hopefully, increasingly democratic.”

 “The Commission’s report paints an undeniably bleak situation of the deterioration of human rights and the rule of law in China, with especially grave consequences for civil society, religious believers, human rights lawyers, and labor activists,” said Senator Rubio. “Beijing has become increasingly brazen in exerting its extraterritorial reach in the past year, as evidenced by the outrageous abductions of the Hong Kong booksellers.  Fifteen years after China gained entry to the World Trade Organization, it’s time we take stock of our approach and recognize that despite what proponents at the time believed would happen, China has in fact used the international rules-based system to fuel vast economic growth, while further restricting freedom and increasing repression. The stakes could not be higher for the Christian pastor unjustly imprisoned and devastated by the loss of his church, the rights lawyer languishing under house arrest and forced to confess to crimes she did not commit, and the Hong Kong student activists fighting for their city’s future. This report is dedicated to these people and their aspirations—it is vital that they know the United States, despite its economic relationship with China, will stand with that country’s reformers and dissidents and press the Chinese Government and Communist Party to respect basic human rights and uphold the rule of law, just as we expect of any responsible country.”

In a letter to President Obama and Congressional leaders, the Chairs cited the unique bipartisan structure of the CECC, which has Commissioners from both parties in Congress and the Obama Administration, and identified areas for more focused legislative and executive action, including developing the rule of law; countering human trafficking; improving freedom of the press, religion, and the Internet; ensuring ethnic minority rights; respect for Hong Kong’s autonomy; and further reform of China’s population control policies.

Both Chairs commended the capable, professional, and meticulous work of the CECC’s research staff in this important, congressionally mandated undertaking, now in its 15th year.

The text of the letter accompanying the 2016 Annual Report can be found below:

October 6, 2016

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

 Dear Mr. President:

We transmit to you the 2016 Annual Report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (the Commission).  The Commission was created by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000, which also extended Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to China, and is mandated to monitor and report on human rights violations and the development of the rule of law in China, and to provide 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 these critical issues in China. As the Commission’s 15th Annual Report demonstrates, it continues to be a vital source of accurate information about the Chinese government’s failure to comply with international standards and its ongoing repression of the Chinese people.

The Commission’s 2016 Annual Report coincides with the 15th anniversary of China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. The Chinese government has failed to implement the substantive legal reforms anticipated 15 years ago and persisted in violating international human rights standards and its own domestic laws, resulting in lasting harm to both U.S. interests and the Chinese people. Over the past year, human rights and rule of law conditions in China have further deteriorated in many areas as detailed by this report, continuing a trend that has seen the Chinese Communist Party and government expand efforts to crush independent civil society and religious activity, suppress the peaceful activities of human rights lawyers, ethnic minorities, and labor activists, and further implement the world’s most sophisticated system of Internet censorship and press restrictions.  China has also become more brazen in exerting its extraterritorial reach as demonstrated by the shocking abductions of Hong Kong booksellers, efforts to impede the travel of young Hong Kong democracy activists, and enforced disappearances and the coerced return of Chinese dissidents seeking asylum in Thailand. As the 2016 Annual Report makes clear, China, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, is less free, more repressive, and increasingly dismissive of international norms.

Given the strategic and economic interdependencies of the U.S.-China relationship, and the importance of rights protections for advancing U.S. interests, the Annual Report recommends that the U.S. government lead efforts to press China toward greater transparency and adherence to universal standards.  Promoting human rights and the rule of law must be a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, as concrete improvements in these areas are directly linked to the security and economic well-being of both the United States and of China.

Based on developments this past year, the report identifies the following key areas that we believe merit the focus of Congress and the Administration in the coming year:

Expansion of Rule by Law. The Chinese government continues to embrace rule by law, further entrenching a system where the Chinese Communist Party uses the law to strengthen its own power and crush dissent. The sweeping crackdown on lawyers and rights advocates in July 2015 was followed during this reporting year by a spate of detentions, enforced disappearances, and televised confessions of men and women engaged in work related to advancing human rights and public interest. At least 20 lawyers and legal activists were formally arrested on charges related to endangering state security, which carry the potential for lengthy prison terms, and 4 were sentenced on charges related to subversion. The government and party moved forward on a series of far-reaching new security laws that provided the basis for an even broader and more severe crackdown on ethnic minority groups, expanded government control over the Internet, and placed greater restrictions on international businesses that operate in or trade with China. The report recommends that U.S. government officials frequently and publicly raise political prisoner cases and work with like-minded allies on statements and resolutions at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and other multilateral forums where China and the United States are members. In addition, given the scope of the crackdown on human rights lawyers and rights defenders, the report recommends that the Administration consider more expansive use of existing law to deny U.S. entry visas to Chinese officials engaged in detentions, torture, disappearances, and other severe human rights violations.

Civil Society Seen as Security Threat. With the passage of the law governing overseas non-governmental organization (NGO) activity in China, the government codified an approach to civil society that treats many groups and individuals operating in this space as security threats.  Entities and individuals working in areas previously deemed acceptable by the government were forcibly closed and criminally detained in this past reporting year. The full implementation of the law will likely have a chilling effect on innovation, exchanges, and cooperative projects. The report recommends creative expansion of funding for civil society development in China, particularly in areas where China has made some recent commitments, such as projects to promote women’s rights and efforts to curb torture and wrongful convictions.  Furthermore, the report recommends that the Administration encourage a strong, unified, multi-lateral, and multi-stakeholder response to the NGO law.

Lasting Effects of Population Control.  The Communist Party announced a decision last year to adopt a universal two-child policy, but maintained population control policies that continued the enforcement of birth-limitation targets and the vast infrastructure of government officials who implement coercive policies in violation of international standards. The new policy does little to address China’s sex ratio imbalance of reportedly 34 million more men than women and an estimated 62 million “missing women and girls” due to a cultural preference for sons exacerbated by decades of enforced birth limitations. The report recommends the Administration discuss problems linked to the Chinese government’s population control policies and dramatic sex ratio imbalance as part of security, legal, trafficking, human rights, medical, public health, and “People-to-People” dialogues. In addition, the report recommends the full implementation of the Girls Count Act (P.L. 114-24) in foreign assistance programs for China and urges the Administration to consider appointing a Special Advisor at the State Department to oversee technical assistance and capacity-building projects. The report also asks the Congress to continue to consider the prohibition on U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) until all birth limitation and coercive population control policies are rescinded in China.   

Violations of Religious Freedom. The report notes the Chinese government’s efforts to expand political influence over the activities and growth of religious communities through both a national-level “sinicization” campaign and the convening of the first National Conference on Religious Work in 15 years. The report also notes the detention of Catholic clergy and Falun Gong practitioners, the ongoing demolition campaign targeting church buildings in Zhejiang province, and continued efforts to control the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism and restrict the religious practices of Uyghur Muslims. 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 use existing law to restrict entry visa access for individuals complicit in severe religious freedom violations.

Continuing Tragedy of Human Trafficking. China remains a country of origin and destination for the trafficking of men, women, and children. Women from Southeast Asia and Nepal were trafficked to China for forced marriages or sexual exploitation, and North Korean laborers worked under conditions described as forced or slave labor.  A system of arbitrary detention continues to exist in China, with detainees required to perform forced labor. The report recommends that the Administration use existing laws and policies to prevent goods made with forced labor in China from entering the United States. The report also recommends cooperative efforts between the Congress and the Administration to ensure the U.S State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons has sufficient resources and status to effectively counter modern-day slavery, and urges Congress to consider legislation to improve data collection and diplomatic action to address human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal in China.   

Restrictions on Internet and Press Freedom. The Chinese government continues to implement the world’s most sophisticated system of Internet control and press censorship, affecting both domestic and foreign journalists. Authorities rein in media, commentators, and Internet and social media users critical of government policies by shutting down popular microblog sites; detaining media professionals and China-based family members of Chinese journalists and bloggers living overseas; and blocking services that allow Internet users to circumvent China’s “Great Firewall.” The report recommends that the Administration give greater priority to combating restrictions on the free flow of news and information. The report also recommends expanded Internet freedom programming to help Chinese citizens circumvent Internet censorship and recirculate content produced in China but deleted by government censors. 

Failures to Abide by WTO Obligations. Against the backdrop of slowing economic growth and stalled economic liberalization efforts, the report notes little progress in China’s compliance with international trade obligations. During this reporting year, there was growing labor unrest inside China. U.S. and other foreign businesses faced significant difficulties due to the weak rule of law, lack of government transparency, Internet censorship, and preferential treatment for China’s state-owned enterprises. Additionally, foreign businesses faced discriminatory monopoly investigations, intellectual property theft, and draft laws that will require the transfer of technology and encryption keys for information technology firms seeking a share of the Chinese market. The report recommends that, barring significant improvements, the Administration continue to designate China as a “non-market economy,” and consider initiating additional WTO disputes seeking elimination of trade-restricting Internet censorship that unfairly penalizes American companies. The report also recommends that Congress consider legislation to require that market access for Chinese investors in U.S. news, media, and entertainment industries be conditioned on a reciprocal basis to ensure a level playing field for U.S. investors. 

Repression of Ethnic Minorities. The Chinese government maintained harsh security measures that disregard the protection of human rights in ethnic minority areas, including Tibetan autonomous areas and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).  The Commission observed no sign of Chinese interest in resuming the long-stalled dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives. To the contrary, the government expanded controls on religion and civil society in Tibetan areas and the XUAR.  The report concludes that the Chinese government can best promote stability by respecting ethnic minorities’ right to maintain their language and culture and to practice their religion freely, and urges the Administration to address these issues at bilateral security dialogues and in exchanges with Chinese military or police officials. The report also recommends that the Administration press for unrestricted access to ethnic minority regions and instruct U.S. directors of international financial institutions to oppose financing projects that fail to respect the culture, religion, or traditions of ethnic minorities.

Challenges to Hong Kong’s ‘High Degree’ of Autonomy. The actions of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments during the past reporting year continue to raise concerns about the future of the guaranteed freedoms, autonomy, and rule of law that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China and underpin Hong Kong’s financial reputation and prosperity. The disappearance, alleged abductions, and detention in mainland China of five Hong Kong-based booksellers is one of the most grave violations of the “One Country, Two Systems” policy since 1997. While recent LegCo elections saw some young activists associated with the “Umbrella Movement” protests of 2014 gain elective office, the process was marred before voting commenced, as the Hong Kong authorities disqualified candidates who refused to sign a loyalty pledge affirming Hong Kong as an “inalienable part of China.” 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’s report 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 whether separate treatment for Hong Kong, which is allowed under the Act, is merited if Hong Kong’s autonomy and its guaranteed freedoms are further eroded. 

U.S. Government Actions. Principled U.S. leadership seeking improvements in human rights and the rule of law in China is critical for advancing the security and economic interests that benefit both the American and Chinese people. The report recommends that the Administration and Congress work together to strengthen the “rebalance to Asia” and develop an interagency action plan that integrates human rights and rule of law interests across the full spectrum of bilateral relations. Developing a “whole of government” human rights diplomacy would prepare all agencies interacting with elements of the Chinese government to actively press for greater transparency and better adherence to universal standards, and advocate on behalf of Chinese prisoners of conscience and citizens who yearn for basic human rights and a government that reflects the will of the people. 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 Commission’s Annual Report contains detailed information and reporting as well as numerous other recommendations for consideration by the Administration and Congress.  The Commission also maintains an extensive Political Prisoner Database as an invaluable resource on individual prisoners or groups of prisoners—cases which should be raised, by name, during every interaction with the Chinese government. A government that holds its own people in such contempt cannot reasonably be viewed as a responsible global stakeholder. The Commission and its staff stand ready to assist in any way to carry out the report’s recommendations or further explain its findings.



Chris Smith                                                                                                          Marco Rubio

Chair                                                                                                                           Cochair