The United States and China held the first Diplomatic and Security Dialogue in Washington on June 21, 2017. The dialogue was the first under the framework of the “Comprehensive Dialogue Mechanisms (CDMs)” agreed to by President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping at their summit at Mar-a-Lago, Florida in April 2017. Other dialogues under the CDMs, to take place by the end of the year, cover economics, law enforcement and cybersecurity, and social and people-to-people exchanges.
The Chinese side was represented by State Councilor Yang Jiechi and PLA Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui. The American side was represented by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis. On the eve of the dialogue, President Donald Trump tweeted that his approach to China, an approach focused on getting Beijing to rein in North Korea’s missile and nuclear ambitions, “has not worked out.”
There was neither a joint statement nor a joint press conference following the dialogue. In their press conference after the dialogue Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Mattis referred to the exchange as “frank” and “candid,” diplomatic language that usually refers to contentious discussions. In fact, little appears to have been agreed upon. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to a “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula; companies in both countries should not do business with North Korean entities sanctioned by the United Nations.
There was no change in either country’s position on the South China Sea. The two sides agreed to enhance coordination in the global fight against terrorism. China agreed to take unspecified steps to assist the Iraqi government.
In the words of Secretary Tillerson, “We discussed how this administration will stand up for American and universal values like human rights. We will not be shy about raising our concerns about China’s human rights record, and I was direct and candid in our meetings today.” According to American officials, the United States intends on raising human rights in all of the four CDMs.
Dui Hua understands that both issues like the barring of American citizens from leaving China and cases of imprisoned activists were raised during the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.
One of the cases that might have been raised during the June 21 dialogue was that of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. Unbeknownst to the Americans, and possibly the Chinese as well, Liu had been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer on May 31 and granted medical parole on June 7. At the time of the dialogue Liu was receiving treatment at a Shenyang hospital.
The news that Liu had been granted medical parole and transferred to the Number One Hospital of the China Medical University was announced by the Liaoning Province Prison Administrative Bureau on June 26. In the ensuing days governments and human rights organizations called for Liu to be sent abroad for medical treatment. American Ambassador Terry Branstad, who had just arrived in Beijing, used the occasion of his first press briefing to call for Liu Xiaobo to be treated for liver cancer “elsewhere.” Leading members of Congress including Senator Marco Rubio joined in calling for Liu’s complete release and departure from China. On June 30, the House of Representatives passed a resolution introduced by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressional Executive Commission on China Co-Chairman Chris Smith. The resolution called on Beijing to “unconditionally release Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia” and allow them to meet with family and seek medical treatment overseas.
Beijing initially rejected calls for Liu Xiaobo to be treated by foreign cancer specialists in China, and refused to consider sending him overseas for treatment. Eventually, Beijing allowed two foreign liver cancer specialists to visit Shenyang and examine Liu Xiaobo on July 8. They issued a statement agreeing with the Chinese medical team’s diagnosis but stated that, in their opinion, Liu Xiaobo could be safely transported abroad for medical treatment.
Some officials and media outlets claimed that it is against Chinese law for a prisoner serving a sentence of medical parole to be allowed to travel overseas. In fact, a number of Chinese political prisoners have been granted medical parole and sent to the United States for treatment “in accordance with Chinese law,” including Ngawang Choephel, Jigme Sangpo, Xu Wenli, Wang Youcai, and Rebiya Kadeer. Liu passed away on July 13.
In the weeks following the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, US-China relations took a sharp turn for the worse. The Pentagon announced that it would sell $1.4 billion of arms to Taiwan and the Senate passed a bill that would allow American naval vessels to visit ports in Taiwan, something that has not happened since 1979. The Department of State sharply criticized China’s human rights at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, and released a report in Washington naming China as one of the world’s worst human trafficking countries. On June 29, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against a Chinese bank, the first time that the United States had sanctioned a Chinese bank since 2006.
An official document Dui Hua recently uncovered revealed a rare act of clemency given to a Uyghur youth convicted of splittism. Originally from Hotan, Xinjiang, Metabdulla Iminniyaz (麦提阿卜拉*伊敏尼亚孜) was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and three years’ deprivation of political rights in Changchun, Jilin, in October 2014. While serving in Gongzhulin Prison, he was granted an eight-month sentence reduction on May 27, 2017. Dui Hua previously reported cases of Uyghurs detained or tried on charges of splittism or inciting splittism outside of Xinjiang, including Tianjin, Shaanxi, Henan, and Liaoning. Most of the Uyghurs in these cases were in their 20s; the lengthiest sentence was 13 years’ imprisonment.
In June, Sichuan-based female journalist Yang Xiuqiong (杨秀琼) was formally arrested for illegally procuring state secrets for foreign entities, a more severe charge than provoking a serious disturbance, the charge she was originally detained for. Yang was a major contributor to 64tianwang, a now-defunct news website originally founded by prominent activist Huang Qi covering protests, government corruption, brutal law enforcement, and disappearances of activists and dissidents. Huang also faces the same endangering state security charge for releasing an official document about the crackdown of the critical website.
In July, Dui Hua released a press statement on the news of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s medical parole status. Dui Hua was mentioned in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Hong Kong Free Press. The foundation clarified that Liu’s medical parole status should not be regarded as a “release;” under Chinese regulations, even during the period of medical parole, the parolee is supervised by local public security bureaus. Chinese authorities rejected calls from the international community, Liu’s foreign doctors, and Liu himself to seek medical treatment abroad. Executive Director John Kamm, noted that “Common in the early years of the last decade, a prisoner granted medical parole has rarely been allowed to go abroad for medical treatment in recent years.” Liu passed away on July 13.
The Ordos Intermediate People’s Court in Inner Mongolia recently convicted a local government official of battering his wife—the journalist Hong Mei—to death. The case has received significant attention largely due to Hong’s standing as a successful journalist who had been reporting on domestic violence and the implementation of China’s year-old Anti-Domestic Violence Law. Major Chinese news organizations covering Hong’s death include Xinhua, Caixin, Sina, and Tencent News. Digital media outlets Quartz and Sixth Tone also reported the story.
Previous Digest: June 2017
John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s advocacy stories prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999.
Following my first meeting with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) in October 1991, I made 18 trips to Beijing before the end of 1994 – an average of one trip every two months. At a meeting with Vice Minister of Justice Jin Jian and Deputy Director of the Ministry’s Prison Administration Bureau Wang Mingdi in April 1992, I was given the green light to ask about any prisoner incarcerated in one of the approximately 700 prisons and 300 reform-through-labor camps administered by the Ministry of Justice.
Deputy Director of the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Administration Bureau Wang Mingdi. Image Credit: HumanRights.cn
Thereafter I would prepare lists of 20 names and fax them to the Ministry of Justice prior to visiting Beijing. The lists were simple. In the left-hand column was the province where the prisoner was serving his or her sentence. (In those days, before the opening of the Yanshan Prison in Hebei, all prisons were administered by provincial prison bureaus.) In the middle column was the prisoner’s name in pinyin. In the right-hand column were the Chinese characters for the prisoner’s name.
Upon my arrival in Beijing I would confirm the date and time of my meeting with Wang Mingdi with the MOJ’s Department of Judicial Assistance and Foreign Affairs through my host organization, the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade. Once that was settled, I would leave the hotel for the Ministry’s headquarters, making sure to arrive promptly.
In the early 1990s, the MOJ was headquartered in a drab, rather run-down building down a dusty road off the main highway to Beijing’s Capital Airport. Outside the gates of the headquarters were several shops, including a bicycle repair business, and in front of this there was a pool table where locals, including prison officers, played billiards.
After I entered the MOJ’s headquarters, I was shown to a room where I was received by Deputy Director Wang and an assistant from the foreign affairs department. Out would come my most recent list. Wang Mingdi would read from a document that provided basic information on the prisoner including correct name in characters, aliases if applicable, age, gender, ethnicity, place of residence, details of detention and trial, name of prison, and, sometimes, information on health and behavior. The latter information was useful in determining if the prisoner was eligible for sentence reduction, parole, or medical parole.
Wang Mingdi would never give me a copy of the document he was reading from. Instead I had to copy down what he said, word for word. This was a laborious process taking well over an hour. Typically, I would receive information on around 80 percent of the prisoners I asked about.
In October 1994 I was preparing to visit Beijing on my last trip of the year. On October 31, I faxed a letter to Wang Mingdi with a list of 20 names as an attachment.
I arrived in Beijing on November 26 for an eight-day visit. After assisting a business client carry out a technical seminar and making a presentation on the recently concluded congressional elections to the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, I set about meeting with interlocutors with whom I discussed human rights. I was disappointed to learn that Wang Mingdi was not in Beijing. Since he was the only one in MOJ authorized to provide information to me on prisoners, it looked like I would leave Beijing empty-handed.
I was fortunate however to meet Minister Zeng Jianhui, head of the State Council Information Office, on December 2, and he agreed to accept the list I had sent to Wang Mingdi. He also accepted a clipping on the three counterrevolutionary prisoners in Jilin who had been given long sentences for establishing a counterrevolutionary group. In our conversation, I also asked Minister Zeng to see if he could find out anything about Ren Wanding, a veteran democracy activist who had entered the grounds of the US embassy during the violent aftermath of the June 1989 protests. The US embassy subsequently turned him over to the police; he was sentenced to seven years in prison in January 1991.
News clipping of the three counterrevolutionary prisoners in Jilin who had been sentenced for establishing a counterrevolutionary group.
To my surprise, Minister Zeng offered to find out the information and send it to me by fax in Hong Kong. I was skeptical. China had never given a detailed written response to a prisoner list, and to do so over an open fax would be highly unusual.
I returned to Hong Kong. Two weeks after my meeting with Zeng Jianhui, I received a fax with information on 16 prisoners, including all three of the Jilin counterrevolutionaries and Ren Wanding. Thirteen of the responses concerned prisoners on the list I sent to Wang Mingdi on October 31. One of those prisoners was Ge Hu, a teacher in Shanxi Province who had been sentenced to seven years in prison for “counterrevolution” in 1990. One week after faxing my list to Wang Mingdi, Ge had been granted medical parole.
Two other counterrevolutionary prisoners on the list, Hao Jinguang and Zhang Chengjian, received sentence reductions in the months following the response to my list. They were released from prison early. Unfortunately, others, including Ren Wanding, were destined to serve their entire terms.
In the years that followed the written response to my list, I and Dui Hua have submitted hundreds of prisoner lists with thousands of names to the Chinese government. We have received responses on more than 1,000 prisoners, and many of them have been granted clemency. The breakthrough took place in December 1994. Six months later, the Ministry of Justice stopped responding to my lists in large part because of the sharp deterioration in US-China relations that took place in the wake of the visit by Taiwan president Lee Tenghui, but by then precedent had been established. When responses resumed in 1997, they were made for the most part in writing, a practice that has continued to the present day.