China's Long March on Human Rights - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
China’s Long March on Human Rights

Despite Beijing’s promise that this summer’s Olympic Games would lead the People’s Republic of China to better live up to its name, the human rights situation has deteriorated. Freedom House warns that the recent crackdown in Tibet “is part of a larger pattern of government repression as the Olympics approach.”

The organization points to “Harassment and detention of human rights defenders,” including several activists who were advocating that the PRC improve its behavior. The Beijing government also has tightened its already stringent web controls. Human rights activist Hu Jia was put on trial for alleged subversion because of his Internet writings.

Moreover, Freedom House reports, “Increased restrictions on private religious practice,” particularly evangelical house churches. The organization rates China as “Not Free” with a bottom-scoring 7 in political rights and near bottom rating of 6 in civil liberties.

The bad news is obvious. But there is good news, hard as that might seem to believe. We should remember what China was like when it really was Communist China.

Jean-Louis Margolin of the University of Provence wrote in The Black Book of Communism that, even excluding casualties from the country’s civil war, “it is clear that there were between 6 million and 10 million deaths as a direct result of the Communist actions, including hundreds of thousands of Tibetans. In addition, tens of millions of ‘counterrevolutionaries’ passed long periods of their lives inside the prison system, with perhaps 20 million dying there. To that total should be added the staggering number of deaths during the ill-named Great Leap Forward — estimates range from 20 million to 43 million dead for the years 1959-1961 — all victims of a famine caused by the misguided projects of a single man, Mao Zedong, and his criminal obstinacy in refusing to admit his mistake and to allow measures to be taken to rectify the disastrous effects.”

Today’s China is not Mao Zedong’s China. The deaths in the recent Tibet crackdown as well as the crushing of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, while horrid and tragic, were of a very different magnitude.

This year’s Olympics will not be a replay of the 1936 Berlin Games, because the PRC is not Nazi Germany. Perversely, China’s latest repressions reveal a country far freer than two decades ago.

THAT PROGRESS DOESN’T, however, mean the West should be complacent about Beijing’s human rights practices or hosting of the Games or have any illusions about just how bad things are.

True, the State Department recently removed the PRC from the list of the top ten human rights abusers, but only because Chinese officials have agreed to a dialogue over their practices. Thankfully, the Department didn’t pull any other punches, which makes its latest survey depressing reading indeed.

We read, for starters, that the PRC’s “overall human rights record remained poor.” Jonathan Farrar, acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, explained at a press conference that in China “the democratic political reform has not kept pace” with the economic changes.

That’s putting it mildly. Some of the “serious human rights abuses” detailed in the Report include “extrajudicial killings, torture, and coerced confessions of prisoners, and the use of forced labor, including prison labor. The government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under law.”

The courts remain under government control, with little due process. Religious liberty is restricted. Moreover, “The government continued its coercive birth limitation policy, in some cases resulting in forced abortion and sterilization.”

The State Department assessment spends 37 pages detailing Chinese misbehavior. The starting point is the failure to respect “the integrity of the Person.” According to the Department, with or without trial, some Chinese are subjected to the “arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life.”

Activists, ranging from human rights campaigners to angry farmers, sometimes just disappear. Those imprisoned often face “torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” including sexual abuse.

The government routinely uses house arrest as a “nonjudicial punishment and control measure against dissidents, former political prisoners, family members of political prisoners, petitioners, underground religious figures, and others it deemed politically sensitive.”

Although the authorities claim to hold no political prisoners, the State Department finds that claim laughable. The Report explains, “Tens of thousands of political prisoners remained incarcerated, some in prisons and others in reeducation-through-labor camps or administrative detention.”

Naturally, the government monitors all forms of communication and “generally did not respect” the free speech rights of citizens, academic freedom at universities, or right of association by most anyone — and insists on strict controls on the Internet.

Political freedoms also are de minimis. Village elections are allowed, but do not undermine the iron grip of China’s one-party state. “Corruption remained an endemic problem,” notes the Department, which “plagued courts, law enforcement agencies, and other government agencies.”

Moreover, “in practice workers were not free to organize or join unions of their own choosing.” Collective bargaining exists in theory rather than in reality; there is no legally-guaranteed right to strike.

Chinese rule is particularly harsh in Tibet, which helps explain the recent unrest. In contrast, Beijing largely respected the rights of residents of Hong Kong and Macau, though neither territory has implemented robust democratic rule.

THIS IS A RECORD that has gone from worse to bad. That the PRC has escaped its former Maoist madness is laudable but the country’s present condition is disappointing and tragic and doesn’t have to remain that way.

The PRC’s current repressive condition presents two challenges: one for China’s elites and one for the rest of the world.

China’s rulers have yet to learn that a government has no more fundamental duty than to respect the lives and liberties of its citizens. The issue goes beyond basic morality. If China aspires to global leadership — and it does — then it will have to demonstrate that it is worthy of the world’s trust. That will occur only when the PRC acts in the interests of the Chinese people rather Communist Party apparatchiks.

Many people in the West look at the suffering of the Chinese people and advocate all kinds of actions by our governments: from a boycott of the Olympics to economic sanctions to treating China as an enemy. These “solutions” range from the merely bad to the truly awful, but they also miss the most important point.

The most effective thing Washington can do about China’s human rights atrocities is to publicize them, as through the latest State Department report. Citizens of the West can act too. We can organizing letter-writing campaigns, protests, and boycotts; refuse to shut up about Chinese misbehavior; and counter brutal repression by denying it the shelter of euphemism.

The Olympic Games and assorted celebrations should be used as an opportunity to highlight human rights violations. And those going to the Olympics should look at their time there as an opportunity to meet Chinese citizens and tell them the truth about Western freedoms, in the great hope that these will one day be Chinese freedoms as well.

Doug Bandow
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Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute.
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