2019 Annual Report—Executive Summary


The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (Commission) was established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 (Public Law No. 106–286) as China prepared to enter the World Trade Organization. The Commission is mandated to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and Congress. The Commission is also mandated to maintain a database of political prisoners in China—individuals who have been detained or imprisoned by the Chinese government for exercising their internationally recognized civil and political rights, as well as rights protected by China’s Constitution and other domestic laws. The Commission’s 2019 Annual Report covers the period from August 2018 to August 2019. The comprehensive findings and recommendations in this report focus on the Chinese government’s compliance with or violation of internationally recognized human rights, including the right to free expression, peaceful assembly, religious belief and practice, as well as any progress or regression on the development of the rule of law. As discussed in the subsequent chapters of this report, the human rights and rule of law conditions in China have continued to worsen this past year. A part of the Commission’s mandate is the inclusion of recommendations for legislative and executive action. In addition to the recommendations contained in this report, the Commission drafted, edited, and provided support for numerous legislative initiatives over the last year, including those related to human rights in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law, Tibet policy and human rights, the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen protests, and the use of advanced technology to facilitate human rights abuses in China. Over the past year, the Commission held congressional hearings on “Hong Kong’s Future in the Balance: Eroding Autonomy and Challenges to Human Rights,” “Tiananmen at 30: Examining the Evolution of Repression in China,” and “The Communist Party’s Crackdown on Religion in China.” The Commission also held a town hall event in New York City with the New York and New Jersey Tibetan communities. The Commission regularly conducts congressional briefings and meetings with non-governmental organizations, academics, legal professionals, and human rights advocates. The Commission’s Political Prisoner Database is an important tool for documenting political prisoners in China and providing publicly accessible information on individual cases for U.S. Government officials, advocates, academics, journalists, and the public. As Legislative and Executive Branch decisionmakers seek a more effective strategy for promoting human rights and the rule of law in China, the Commission plays an essential role in reporting on conditions, raising awareness of human rights violations, and informing U.S. policy. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Commission Chair and Co-Chair, and we appreciate the attention of the U.S. Congress and Administration to the issues highlighted in this report.

It has been three decades since China’s People’s Liberation Army was ordered to forcefully end the peaceful protests for political reform in Tiananmen Square and throughout China. The violent suppression of the 1989 Tiananmen protests was a key turning point in history as the Chinese government and Communist Party suspended experiments in openness and reform and strengthened a hardline approach to prevent the growth of independent civil society and reinforce their control over the people of China. Since the Tiananmen crackdown, the Chinese government and Party have expanded a costly and elaborate authoritarian system designed to intimidate, censor, and even imprison Chinese citizens for exercising their fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion. Authorities targeted and imprisoned citizens calling for democratic reform—including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, who took part in the Tiananmen protests and co-authored Charter 08, a political treatise that called for constitutional government and respect for human rights. In the years since Tiananmen, Liu Xiaobo spent a total of almost 16 years in detention and died in state custody in 2017. After Xi Jinping became Chinese Communist Party General Secretary in 2012, and President in 2013, the space for human rights advocacy and political reform narrowed further as the Chinese government and Party exerted a tighter grip over governance, law enforcement, and the judiciary. Under President Xi’s tenure, authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on the legal community and rights defenders; curtailed civil society, acadamia, and religious life; led an anti-corruption campaign that helped remove political opposition inside the Party; and eliminated term limits on the presidency, signaling Xi’s intention to remain in power indefinitely. During its 2019 reporting year, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (Commission) found that the human rights situation has worsened and the rule of law continued to deteriorate, as the Chinese government and Party increasingly used regulations and laws to assert social and political control. The Chinese government continued its crackdown on “citizen journalists” who report on human rights violations, with mainstream Chinese journalists calling conditions in China an “era of total censorship.” The abuse of criminal law and police power to target rights advocates, religious believers, and ethnic minority groups also continued unabated, and reporting on such abuses became increasingly restricted. Further, the Chinese government has become more efficient in the use of advanced technology and information to control and suppress the people of China. Nowhere is this more of a concern
than in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), where the Commission believes Chinese authorities may be committing crimes against humanity against the Uyghur people and other Turkic Muslims. Over the past year, Chinese authorities have expanded a system of extrajudicial mass internment camps in the XUAR. Although the true number of detainees has not been publicly reported, experts estimate one million or more Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and others currently are or have been detained and subjected to abuse and forced labor in mass internment camps. Outside the camps, the Chinese government and Party have created a pervasive and high-tech surveillance system in the XUAR that some observers have called an “open-air prison.” The system integrates facial recognition cameras and real-time monitoring of cell phones into an Orwellian policing platform that observes every aspect of life in the XUAR and allows Chinese officials to tighten their control of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in the region. This surveillance system is implemented—often with the assistance of domestic and international businesses— using security personnel and surveillance technology that helps Chinese officials repress Uyghurs and others in the XUAR. As the world commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 2019, China’s leaders not only refused to provide a full, public, and independent accounting of events, but also continued to prohibit any public mourning by the families of the victims and censored discussion of the events of 1989 in mainland China. Hundreds of thousands of people joined together in Victoria Park in Hong Kong to participate in a candlelight vigil on the Tiananmen anniversary. In Hong Kong, millions of people took to the streets to protest the Hong Kong government’s introduction of a bill to amend the city’s extradition law, revisions that would put anyone in Hong Kong—including U.S. citizens—at risk of extradition to mainland China, where lack of due process and custodial abuses have been well documented. The protest on June 16, 2019, which organizers estimated had over two million participants, was spurred by the unwillingness of the Hong Kong government to formally withdraw the extradition bill. As protests continued throughout the summer, Hong Kong police used rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons against peaceful protesters. Although consideration of the extradition law amendments was suspended, protesters continued to call for the bill to be withdrawn and for accountability for the excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police and criminal gangs— who were suspected of working with police—against protesters

The 2019 Hong Kong protests are a manifestation of an unprecedented grassroots movement revealing deep discontent with the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. Under the “one country, two systems” framework based on the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and established by Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the Chinese government agreed to allow Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” with the “ultimate aim” of electing its Chief Executive and Legislative Council members by universal suffrage. Yet instead of making progress toward universal suffrage, Hong Kong authorities have prosecuted and sentenced pro-democracy leaders, disqualified and removed pro-democracy legislators from office, and introduced a new national anthem bill that would restrict free expression. In addition, mainland Chinese authorities continued to arbitrarily detain Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai, who was first abducted in 2015. Anson Chan, the former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and Legislative Council member, recently offered this insight: “If only Beijing would understand what makes Hong Kong tick, what are the values we hold dear, then they can use that energy to benefit both China and Hong Kong. Instead, they have this mentality of control.” In Tibet, the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s escape into exile passed without any progress toward a genuine dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives. This past year, Chinese authorities continued to systematically repress the peaceful exercise of internationally recognized human rights and intensify their restrictions on the religious and cultural life of Tibetans. Access to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) remained tightly controlled, with international journalists reporting that it was more difficult to visit the TAR than North Korea. In a white paper issued in March 2019, the Chinese government restated the claim that it has the sole authority to select the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, in violation of the religious freedom of the Tibetan Buddhist community. Chinese authorities continued to aggressively target unregistered Christian churches this past year as part of the implementation of new regulations on religious affairs. In a troubling development, congregations with hundreds of worshipers were officially banned, including Zion Church and Shouwang Church in Beijing municipality; Rongguili Church in Guangzhou municipality, Guangdong province; and the Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu municipality, Sichuan province. Sources also reported Protestant church closures in Guizhou, Henan, Anhui, and Zhejiang provinces. The Chinese government and Communist Party seek to legitimize their political model internationally while preventing liberal and universal values from gaining a foothold inside China. The Party’s United Front Work Department and Central Propaganda Department are increasingly active beyond China’s borders, working to influence public perceptions about the Chinese government and neutralize perceived threats to the
Party’s ideological and policy agenda. These efforts focus heavily on shaping the mediums through which ideas about China, what it means to be Chinese, and Chinese government activities are understood. The practical effect of these efforts is the exportation of the Party’s authoritarian values. On the ground, this takes multiple forms, such as interfering in multilateral institutions; threatening and intimidating critics of the Chinese government; imposing censorship mechanisms on foreign publishers and social media companies; influencing academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies; and compelling American companies to conform to the Party’s narratives and to convey those narratives to U.S. policymakers. Chinese government-led investment and development projects abroad, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, bring with them a robust non-democratic political agenda. Just as at home, the Chinese government tries to integrate economic development and political control to leverage the market without endangering the Party’s authoritarian values. The people of China continued to actively organize and advocate for their rights, despite the Chinese government’s deepening repression. In the labor sector, non-governmental organizations and citizen journalists documented numerous worker strikes and other labor actions over the past year, despite an expanded crackdown on labor advocates and citizen journalists throughout the country. At Jasic Technology in Shenzhen municipality, Guangdong province, workers who attempted to set up a trade union were taken into custody in a crackdown starting in July 2018. Authorities also detained supporters of the Jasic workers, including university students, labor rights advocates, and citizen journalists, many of whom remained in detention as of August 2019. Earlier this year, Chinese internet technology workers launched a campaign against exploitative work hours—referred to as “996,” a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule for six days a week common in many Chinese companies. Such long hours violate China’s labor laws. Women in China continued to face severe discrimination in hiring, wages, and promotions along with gender bias and sexual harassment in the workplace. Public pressure from advocacy campaigns, including a #MeToo-inspired movement, led Chinese officials to initiate policies to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination in employment. Nonetheless, inadequate enforcement and discriminatory laws persist. Rising authoritarianism in China is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century. In the coming decades, global challenges will require a constructive Chinese role that respects and elevates the voices of over 1.3 billion people in China instead of suppressing them. U.S. foreign policy must prioritize the promotion of universal human rights and the rule of law in China, not only to respect and protect the basic dignity of the people of China, but to better promote security and prosperity for all of humanity.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION ■ The Chinese government and Communist Party continued to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press in contravention of international human rights standards. ■ At the UN Human Rights Council’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s compliance with international human rights norms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the Chinese government and Communist Party violated freedom of expression and freedom of the press. NGO stakeholders raised concerns about Chinese government influence over the UPR process. ■ Conditions for journalism in China continued to deteriorate. Some professional Chinese journalists described current conditions for journalism as an “era of total censorship.” In addition, the government’s ongoing crackdown on “citizen journalists” who have founded or are associated with websites that document human rights violations continued, as seen in the detention of individuals focused on labor conditions, such as Wei Zhili, Yang Zhengjun, and Ke Chengbing. Foreign journalists faced multiple challenges from the government, including surveillance, harassment, and obstruction. ■ The government and Party continued to link internet security to national security. This past year, authorities detained and prosecuted individuals who criticized government officials and policies online. Authorities also censored or distorted a range of news and information that the government deemed “politically sensitive,” including the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen, rights conditions in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), the protests in Hong Kong against proposed extradition legislation, and trade issues. ■ Declining academic freedom in China linked to Party General Secretary and President Xi Jinping’s reassertion of ideological control over universities was illustrated by reports of the internment of hundreds of predominantly Uyghur scholars in mass internment camps in the XUAR; the detentions of university students who advocated for labor rights; and the dismissal, suspension, and other forms of discipline imposed on faculty who criticized the government and Party.

■ China’s laws and practices continued to contravene international worker rights standards, including the right to create or join independent trade unions. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, an organization under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party, remains the only trade union organization permitted under Chinese law. ■ The Chinese government did not publicly report on the number of worker strikes and protests, and NGOs and citizen journalists continued to face difficulties in obtaining comprehensive information on worker actions. The Hong Kong-based NGO China Labour Bulletin, documented 1,702 strikes and other labor actions in 2018, up from 1,257 strikes and other labor actions in 2017. In March 2019, Chinese internet technology workers launched a campaign against “996”—a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. schedule for six days a week common in many Chinese technology companies. The campaign began with a project on the Microsoft-owned software development platform Github that identified how the schedule violates provisions in Chinese labor laws. The project received over 200,000 stars indicating popular support. ■ During the 2019 reporting year, Chinese authorities restricted the ability of civil society organizations to work on labor issues, and authorities expanded a crackdown on labor advocates across China. As of August 2019, authorities continued to detain over 50 workers and labor advocates, including Fu Changguo, Zhang Zhiyu (more widely known as Zhang Zhiru), and Wu Guijun. ■ Chinese authorities and university officials monitored, harassed, and detained students and recent graduates who advocated on behalf of workers. Authorities detained approximately 50 supporters of workers who attempted to organize an independent union at Jasic Technology in Shenzhen municipality, Guangdong Province, including Peking University graduate Yue Xin. In October 2018, Cornell University’s School, of Industrial and Labor Relations suspended two student exchange programs with Renmin University due to “gross violations of academic freedom” in China. As of May 2019, Chinese authorities had detained 21 members of the Marxist Society at Peking University, including Qiu Zhanxuan and Zhang Shengye.
■ Government data showed a continued decline in workplace deaths this past year, although Chinese workers and labor organizations expressed concern about inadequate safety equipment and training. In March 2019, a chemical explosion killed 78 people in Jiangsu province, the largest industrial accident in China since 2015. CRIMINAL JUSTICE ■ Chinese government and Communist Party officials continued to abuse criminal law and police power to punish government critics and “maintain stability” (weiwen) with the goal of perpetuating one-party rule. The Chinese government used the criminal law to target rights advocates, religious believers, and ethnic minority groups. ■ The government continued to claim that it reserved the death penalty for a small number of crimes and only the most serious offenders. Amnesty International estimated that China carried out more executions than any other country. The death penalty disproportionately targeted ethnic and religious minorities, such as Muslim Uyghurs, for their religious beliefs. ■ Authorities continued to use various forms of arbitrary detention to deprive individuals of their liberty this past year, contravening international human rights standards. ■ Authorities held rights advocates, lawyers, petitioners, and others in prolonged pretrial detention, including under “residential surveillance at a designated location,” a form of incommunicado detention that can last up to six months, restricts access to counsel, and places detainees at risk of abuse by authorities. FREEDOM OF RELIGION ■ Scholars and international rights groups have described religious persecution in China over the last year to be of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution. Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping has doubled down on the “sinicization” of religion—a campaign that aims to bring religion in China under closer official control and into conformity with officially sanctioned interpretations of Chinese
culture. Authorities have expanded the “sinicization” campaign to target not only religions perceived as “foreign,” such as Islam and Christianity, but also Han Buddhism, Taoism, and folk religious beliefs. ■ Violations of the religious freedom of Hui Muslim believers continued to intensify, with plans to apply “anti-terrorism” measures currently used in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region (Ningxia)—a region with a high concentration of Hui Muslim believers. A five-year plan to “sinicize” Islam in China was passed in January 2019. Meanwhile, ongoing policies included measures requiring Islamic religious leaders and lay believers to demonstrate their political reliability. ■ Chinese authorities continued to subject Protestant Christian believers in China belonging to both official and house churches to increased surveillance, harassment, and control. The Commission observed reports this past year of official bans of large unregistered churches, including Zion Church and Shouwang Church in Beijing municipality, Rongguili Church in Guangzhou municipality, Guangdong province, and Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu municipality, Sichuan province. After the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See in September 2018 paving the way for unifying the state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increasing persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy. ■ As in previous years, authorities continued to detain Falun Gong practitioners and subject them to harsh treatment, with 931 practitioners reportedly sentenced for criminal “cult” offenses in 2018. Human rights organizations and Falun Gong practitioners documented coercive and violent practices against practitioners during custody, including physical violence, forced drug administration, and other forms of torture. ■ Bans on religious belief proliferated at the local level for students and various professionals. Party disciplinary regulations were revised to impose harsher punishment on members for manifestations of religious belief.
Percentage of Worker Strikes and Other Labor Actions by Sector Manufacturing Construction Transportation Services Other Total Number Reported 2018 15.5% (263) 44.8% (763) 15.9% (270) 13.3% (227) 10.6% (180) 1,702 2017 19.7% (267) 38.1% (518) 8.6% (117) 15.2% (207) 10.8% (148) 1,257

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