Hearing on Accession of China to the WTO
Testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means
May 3, 2000
Ten years ago, I was Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, and Vice President of a large multinational corporation producing and trading chemicals in the Far East. That year–1990–was the first year of the national debate over whether or not to renew China’s most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status, something we now refer to as “normal trade relations (NTR).” I came to Washington and testified before this committee and before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in favor of renewing MFN. The record will show that I was among the first witnesses to come before Congress to argue against revoking China’s tariff status. I haven’t changed my position: I still believe that one of the worst things this country could do regarding human rights in China would be to terminate or curtail trade relations.
Today the debate is not about whether to revoke China’s NTR. It’s about whether or not to grant China permanent NTR in the context of an agreement over China’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiated by the United States Trade Representative and signed in Beijing last November. After 10 years of renewing MFN and NTR year after year, no one – not even the leader of the AFL-CIO who recently said that we should keep China “on probation” – believes that Congress will revoke China’s NTR. The debate is now between perpetual NTR and permanent NTR; regardless of the outcome of this debate, China will enjoy exactly the same access to the US market as it enjoys today. Its tariffs will not change whether or not Congress votes to give China permanent NTR. I believe the time has come to grant China permanent NTR (hereafter PNTR) not only because China’s accession to the WTO and the granting of PNTR will yield human rights benefits for the Chinese people, especially those who are pursuing legal and political reform, but also because it will clearly benefit the people of the United States as well.
When I employed human rights arguments to make the case for MFN 10 years ago, my credentials were challenged. I was a business leader, what did I know of human rights? I felt the challenge was valid, so I publicly and deliberately made a commitment to this chamber to use my relationships in and knowledge of China to lobby the Chinese government on behalf of prisoners of conscience. That commitment has been honored. My work is my testimony. In 10 years I have made more than 50 trips to Beijing to raise the cases of individuals believed to have been detained for the non-violent expression of their political and religious beliefs. I have worked on hundreds of cases with a dozen different Chinese ministries and provincial governments.
In 1995, I established the Prisoner Information Project, a unique program with China’s Ministry of Justice for keeping track of Chinese prisoners. Last year I established a foundation whose principal task is to uncover the names of hitherto unknown prisoners and put them on lists that are then submitted to the Chinese government with requests for information on their present status. With the support of Smith Richardson Foundation and the International Republican Institute, the Dui Hua Foundation has already uncovered more than 500 names of detainees previously unknown to foreign governments and non-governmental organizations. The Chinese government has begun responding to these new lists of names, and is continuing the responses to the old lists.
Annual Renewal of NTR and the Question of Leverage
The Chinese government is willing to make concessions to win PNTR, but it is no longer willing to make concessions to obtain annual renewal, or what might be called perpetual NTR. China’s leaders stopped making concessions to win annual renewal when they concluded that China wouldn’t lose MFN and its successor, NTR. Instead of making concessions in the run-up to annual renewal, the Chinese government is more inclined to strike hard at its domestic opponents. This trend began in the summer of 1992, when the Beijing Intermediate People’s Court tried and convicted Bao Tong, the highest-ranking Communist Party official accused of June 4 related offenses, and then publicized his conviction, hours before the House voted on MFN. With a few exceptions since then (notably the 1993 release of Xu Wenli, who is now back in prison, and the 1994 releases of Wang Juntao and Chen Ziming), Beijing has used the occasion of the debate and vote on annual renewal to demonstrate to its people that it is not afraid of the United States, that it will not make concessions to keep what it already has. It figures that Congress won’t revoke what most Americans who have studied the question see as non-discriminatory tariffs that form the basis of a normal trade relationship.
Some feel that the United States will lose leverage if we grant China PNTR. What leverage? I challenge those who think the annual debate helps dissidents in China to name one prisoner who has been released from prison or one other human rights concession that has been made during the last six years to obtain annual renewal. The game has changed. Prisoners will be released, lists answered, covenants signed, dialogues held and rights delegations hosted for other purposes: to influence an Olympics games bid, to ensure a pleasant visit by a state leader to a foreign country, to ward off resolutions at United Nations meetings and yes, to obtain PNTR, but not to obtain annual renewal. They already have NTR in perpetuity, and they’re not going to lose it, so why make concessions for it?
I for one don’t have a problem using China’s desire to gain something it doesn’t have to win concessions in the area of human rights. China, after all, wants so many things. The list is inexhaustible, and changes from day to day. Most of all China wants the respect of the international community. It wants to be seen as a great power, a country with a proud and ancient civilization that seeks to assume its rightful place in the community of nations. It increasingly recognizes that, to accomplish this, it needs to abide by international standards, whether those standards apply to trade, arms control or human rights. For this reason I have long felt that the highest priority of our human rights diplomacy must be to convince China to ratify the two international human rights covenants that, together with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, make up the international bill of rights. Ratification entails periodic reporting, and more importantly, the onerous task of defending one’s record before the international community. I would trade the State Department’s sponsorship of a resolution criticizing China at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, an effort that has failed time and time again, in exchange for China’s firm commitment to ratify, by a date certain, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and to file its first comprehensive report as a state party before the deadline set forth in that document.
Are there things that the United States government could be doing that it is not presently doing to encourage greater respect for human rights in China? The answer is yes, and I will shortly put forward some suggestions. Before doing so, I want to make a few points.
No program initiated by the United States government can, in and of itself, bring greater respect for human rights, democracy and rule of law to China. Achieving those goals is the responsibility of the people of China, to be achieved by means and through sacrifices they deem most appropriate and according to the timetable they think most realistic. The United States can help, but we can determine neither the course nor the timing of change in China. We can help by promoting transparency and accountability, a strengthened legal system that safeguards due process, and humanitarian treatment for those in prison who seek change through non-violent advocacy. And we can trade with and invest in their companies, bringing with us those core American values for which we as a people are respected around the world.
Following from this and from what I said earlier about the absence of leverage arising from the debate on annual renewal, support for PNTR should not be made conditional on the identification and enactment of new tools to promote respect for human rights in China. Members should judge PNTR on its own merits or lack thereof. Is granting China PNTR good for the United States? Will China’s accession to the WTO be good for the people of China and will it bring about a China better integrated into the world community? To decide these questions other than by examining them on their own merits is to engage in a dangerous game of self-deception, to falsely entertain the notion that we are giving up something whose worth is proven in exchange for something whose value is not known.
Legislation granting China PNTR should be unencumbered by extraneous conditions and side agreements that might or might not pass the other chamber of Congress. Congress has been debating the issue of China’s trade status for more than ten years. The time has come for an up or down vote. If members want to consider new tools to prod China in the directions we want it to move, let those tools be judged on their own, cooly and in the fullness of time, just as both sides have had ample time to examine the question of MFN and NTR.
New Initiatives on Human Rights
Let me now turn to some initiatives that the United States can undertake, initiatives that do not necessarily involve trade sanctions and that are not directly related to PNTR but whose success is made more likely by the passage of PNTR.
I come well prepared for this part of my testimony. I’ve been coming up with ideas for new human rights initiatives for much of the last ten years. In fact, four years ago I circulated a list of ten possible initiatives to members of Congress and the administration. I am attaching a copy of that list, typographical errors and all, to today’s statement to this committee (see Attachment One).
Many of you will notice ideas with which you’ve become familiar. In fact, several of the initiatives have found their way into legislation and been enacted into law, including the establishment and maintenance of a prisoner information registry and the increase in the number of human rights monitors in American diplomatic missions in China. Radio Free Asia (RFA) is up and running. The President has gone to China and lobbied the government to release the old counterrevolutionaries, a proposal I know to be popular with reformers in the country. At least five members of Congress, in separate bills over the past six years, have suggested the creation of commission modeled on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (1). Although the President has apparently abandoned the code of business principles for companies operating in China, a detailed code of conduct has been drafted and agreed to by non-governmental organizations and companies doing business in China (see Attachment Two).
Common to all of these initiatives is the idea that the United States should take steps to encourage transparency in China’s legal system, something that the process of WTO accession will help immeasurably. Before making things more transparent in the area of the legal and penal systems, we need to invest in the people and resources to insure effective monitoring, to get at the truth in as much detail as possible. We can then go about acting on and publicizing the truth through such means as diplomatic demarches, Congressional hearings, the annual reports on human rights in China and programs broadcast on VOA and RFA.
The 1999 State Department Authorization Bill
Last November, Congress passed and President Clinton signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act. This massive piece of legislation included the State Department Authorization Bill, two sections of which are relevant to today’s deliberations: Section 872, which provides $2.2 million for additional personnel at our diplomatic missions in China to monitor human rights, and Section 873, which calls on the Secretary of State to establish and maintain a registry to “provide information on all political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and prisoners of faith in the People’s Republic of China.”
Six months have passed since these ideas were translated into law, but I regret to say that little has been done either to enhance monitoring by our missions or to establish the registry. Members might ask themselves why we should consider coming up with new initiatives to address human rights concerns if those that are enacted into law are ignored by the executive branch. It shouldn’t be necessary for me to give reasons why greater monitoring and better accounting are desirable, but, given the lack of follow-up, I’m compelled to do so.
Insofar as monitoring by our diplomats is concerned, the number of personnel currently tracking human rights developments in China is woefully inadequate for the tasks expected of them. The State Department’s country report on human rights in China has grown in length and detail year by year, and its contents and conclusions are employed extensively by Congress in practically every discussion of policy toward China. In addition to the country report, diplomats with human rights responsibilities are largely responsible for compiling and analysing the information that goes into the religious freedom report and the report on Hong Kong. They are so burdened with report writing that they cannot undertake such tasks as attending meetings with Chinese officials in charge of policies affecting religion and freedom of information, collecting materials on laws and regulations affecting human rights, searching out local legal journals and newspapers that provide the raw material for discovering new names and cases, and meeting with dissidents and their families. If the day comes when China allows international observers at its trials – another goal of our human rights diplomacy in China – we won’t have the people in the field to attend them unless Section 872 is implemented.
The country report on human rights is a valuable document, but it can be improved and made more valuable. It is especially important to draw distinctions about human rights conditions in different parts of the country, and by doing so to encourage “human rights competition” among provinces and municipalities. Based on the work I do in China, I am certain that local leaders are aware of the importance of cultivating a more open and humane image. I know of specific prisoner releases and other positive developments that have taken place because of concerns over a locality’s image abroad. Identifying those parts of China that are the most tolerant and the most open will also help American businesses decide where to invest.
As for the mundane and often denigrated task of compiling and presenting prisoner lists, let me make it clear that I think this enterprise is the single most important activity American officials, politicians, activists and business leaders can undertake to promote respect for human rights in China. (2) Why? Doing so demonstrates in the clearest terms America’s respect for the integrity and dignity of the individual. Showing concern for lowly and obscure prisoners, not just the “big names” who for the most part have already been released, tells the Chinese government a lot about our priorities. Most important, as I said above, it is the Chinese people who will ultimately win greater respect for human rights, rule of law and democratic processes. Surely this great enterprise is impeded and delayed if those who are most willing to champion change are locked away in prison. Raising the names of those imprisoned for the non-violent advocacy of their political and religious beliefs hastens the day of their release and return to their local communities to work for change.
This is not conjecture on my part. Prisoner intervention works – not always, and not as quickly as we’d like – but the evidence is clear that prisoners about whom the international community expresses concern are more likely to secure early release and better treatment than those who are forgotten or unknown. Let me share with you results from two efforts to engage the Chinese government in a dialogue on its prisoners.
The Complaints Procedure of the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association
The International Labor Organization (ILO), a body to which China and the United States belong, has submitted, through its Committee on Freedom of Association, inquiries into the situations of jailed Chinese labor leaders to the Chinese government. The lists of these prisoners are drawn up by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), of which the AFL-CIO is an active member, and the lists are presented as part of complaints alleging violations of the freedom of association by the Chinese government. Six formal complaints covering scores of prisoners have been made since 1990.
I recently visited ILO headquarters in Geneva as part of a study, supported by a grant from Smith Richardson Foundation, of the prisoner accounting efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations. I was told that, by virtue of its membership in the ILO, China is obligated to respond to complaints made by the ICFTU and submitted through the Freedom of Association Committee. In the opinion of the ILO’s senior officers, the Chinese government has made a good faith effort to provide information on the prisoners named in the complaints. I was provided with a complete set of the complaints and the Chinese responses.
In example after example, the Chinese government has reduced the sentences of important labor leaders about whom the ICFTU has filed complaints and such groups as Amnesty International have expressed concern. Let me cite a few of the most striking examples: Chen Gang and Guo Yunqiao, leaders of the Worker’s Autonomous Federations of Hunan Province, were sentenced to death for their involvement in the June 1989 disturbances. Their death sentences have been commuted and they are serving out 11 year and 13-year sentences, respectively. Peng Shi and Liu Zhihua of the same province were sentenced to life; they are now serving out 10 and 11-year sentences, respectively. Mao Yuejin, another worker’s leader from Hunan, was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1989. He has been released. Tang Yuanjuan and Li Wei of Changchun were released early by court orders that overturned their original sentences of 20 and 13 years, respectively. Labor leaders Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng of Guangdong Province were convicted of subversion by a court in Guangdong Province, a crime that carries a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment. Prompt intervention by the international community, led by the ICFTU and the AFL-CIO, resulted in sentences of three-and-a-half years with credit for time served. Both have been released.
To show that the benefits of intervention are not necessarily restricted to those specifically named in complaints and inquiries, consider the example of Mu Wenbin. This hitherto unknown prisoner was tried at the same time and by the same court as Li Wenming and Guo Baosheng. He too was convicted of subversion, but the court exercised its discretion and sentenced him to five years. I have been advised that Mu will be released next month.
The experience of the ILO reinforces the belief that, if China can be persuaded to ratify the international human rights covenants, it will honor its reporting obligations, permitting a degree of international scrutiny well beyond what is currently possible.
The Prisoner Information Project
Other evidence of the efficacy of intervention can be obtained from an examination of the results of my foundation’s Prisoner Information Project. (For a complete account of this effort see “The Prisoner Information Project: A Status Report,” testimony before the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives, April 30, 1998.)
In 1995, China’s Ministry of Justice agreed to accept from me four lists of 25 names of Chinese citizens believed to have been imprisoned for the non-violent expression of their political and religious beliefs, and to make a good faith effort to provide information, in a standardized format, on their situations. Shortly after providing information on the first list of names, the ministry suspended the project in response to the State Department’s decision to grant Lee Teng-hui, then president of Taiwan, a visa to come to the United States. I continued to submit lists of names, however, and by the end of the year the ministry had in its possession three lists totaling 75 names.
The ministry refused to provide the promised information until the eve of President Jiang Zemin’s state visit to the United States in October 1997. In the interim between the submission of lists in 1995 and the resumption of the project in 1997, I and friends in Congress, including Congressman Phillip Crane of this committee, pressed the Chinese government to live up to its commitment, resubmitting the “List of 75” over and over again. Within the Chinese government, those 75 people became some of the best-known prisoners in the country.
To date, the Ministry of Justice has provided information on a total of 47 names on the “List of 75.” (In April 1999, China’s cooperation with the project was suspended for a second time on account of the State Department’s sponsorship of the China resolution at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting. The ministry resumed providing information six weeks ago in conjunction with congressional hearings on PNTR.) Subtracting people for whom no records have been found (it is likely that these individuals did not serve sentences in prisons), those sentenced to reeducation camps (all of whom have been released) and those who had already been released at the time I filed the inquiry, we are left with 31 names of prisoners who the Ministry of Justice has confirmed were serving prison terms at the time inquiries were filed in 1995.
I am attaching a table that summarizes what has happened to these 31 prisoners (see Attachment Three). To date, at least 17, have benefited from early release or reduction of sentence. They include well-known and little known prisoners, and they hail from all parts of China.
More evidence that intervention on behalf of prisoners is effective comes from Guangdong, China’s most open and progressive province. I have maintained a dialogue on prisoners with local authorities in the province for several years. Since 1995, I have filed inquiries on a quarterly basis on all individuals known or suspected to be in prison. Of 12 people known by me to be in prison during the five-year period that ended in December 1999, all but three have had their sentences reduced or had sentences imposed that were below the minimum sentence prescribed by law. Six of these nine prisoners have been released and another is due for release next month (see Attachment Four).
In most instances where the Chinese government has reduced a prisoner’s sentence or released a prisoner on parole in the last five years, the outside world has found out months if not years after the event. Prior to 1995, the State Council Information Office promptly advised me, by fax, when releases were made. As pointed out above, the Chinese government no longer makes human rights concessions to win annual renewal of normal trade relations. Beijing’s refusal to publicize what outsiders would consider good news demonstrates its unwillingness to give so much as the impression that concessions are being made.
A Congressional-Executive Branch China Commission
As noted above, a number of members of Congress have made proposals to establish a Congressional-executive branch commission modeled on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The commission would monitor developments in China in the areas of human rights, trade and national security, report on these developments and make recommendations on how to best address problems. Congressman Levin is said to be working on such a proposal. As a long-time supporter of the concept of such a commission, I am eager to learn more about the Congressman’s proposal, a proposal which should be examined on its own merits and, as argued above, not as a bill tied to PNTR.
Let me here suggest a job for the commission: It should act as the repository of letters from members of Congress to the Chinese government about prisoners, and letters sent in reply by the Chinese government. At present, Senators and Representatives frequently write letters to the Chinese Embassy expressing concern for and requesting information on Chinese prisoners. Often, these letters are answered, and important information is provided – even hints as to how one might lobby for early release. Even though Beijing has suspended the official dialogue with the United States on human rights, it has not stopped responding to members’ letters on prisoners. I have seen one letter from the Chinese Ambassador concerning two imprisoned house church preachers that was written less than two weeks after the tragic bombing of China’s Belgrade embassy. I have read others that discuss Tibetan prisoners who rank among China’s most sensitive cases.
The Prisoner Information Registry
The registry called for in Section 873 of last year’s State Department Authorization Bill will draw on many sources as it builds and maintains a comprehensive database. There will be unofficial sources, chiefly information obtained from non-governmental organizations like Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch Asia, Amnesty International, the Tibet Information Network and the Information Center on Human Rights and Democracy in China. Each of these NGOs maintains its own databases, and each has its own strengths from which the State Department might benefit.
There will be official sources of information, consisting of oral and written replies by the Chinese government to prisoner lists submitted by foreign governments and United Nations bodies (3), by individuals acting in semi-official capacities like the three religious leaders who visited China in early 1998, and by such groups as The Dui Hua Foundation. Special attention should be paid to the collection of police and court documents, especially detention notices, arrest warrants, bills of prosecution, and verdicts handed down by courts.
Accounts of political cases can be found in officially authorized newspapers, legal journals, yearbooks, collections of cases, provincial records, and county gazetteers. The Dui Hua Foundation, with grants from Smith Richardson Foundation and the International Republican Institute, is conducting the first-ever comprehensive search of such publications held in libraries in Hong Kong. In the space of seven months of research that began in September 1999, 320 cases involving 785 detainees were uncovered, of whom two-thirds are not documented in foreign governmental or non-governmental databases. To date, three collections of cases covering 135 detainees have been published by the foundation, and these compendia form the basis of prisoner lists being submitted to the Chinese government. (I have brought copies of these collections with me today.) Compiling and submitting a prisoner list based on information released in China’s own officially approved publications has obvious implications for the promotion of transparency.
The State Department’s prisoner information registry will be a valuable tool for the conduct of American human rights diplomacy in China. It will enable delegations from Congress to bring with them lists tailor-made for their itinerary and for the government ministries that they will meet. Similarly, the registry can be used to construct lists to be presented to visiting Chinese officials. It will aid in the process of identifying and differentiating conditions in different provinces, enriching our human rights reports and encouraging human rights competition. It will aid those American scholars undertaking rule of law programs in China to identify cases that can serve as precedent (e.g., where speech is dissident but ruled protected (4), and where their Chinese counterparts might have erred in the application of Chinese and international law (e.g., where individuals are convicted by retroactive application of supplementary regulations (5). The registry will also be useful to international humanitarian organizations seeking access to Chinese security detainees, and the knowledge contained therein will help push forward the President’s suggestion to the Chinese government to review the sentences of people still serving sentences for counterrevolution, a crime struck from China’s criminal statutes in October 1997 (6).
The business community in China can help collect information on cases for inclusion in the registry. I have written elsewhere of the monitoring role that companies can play (7). Encouraging companies to be more proactive in promoting respect for human rights in China has been an on-again, off-again initiative of the administration. In 1994, a voluntary code of principles for businesses in China was promised, but it took two years for it to see the light of day. An award was created to honor companies that uphold these principles, but it has been granted only once – to my company, in June 1997. I’m told that even the website devoted to the award has been dismantled. Companies should be given incentives, including material incentives, to promote respect for human rights in the workplace and in the business environment as a whole. If businesses can lobby for lower taxes, they can and should lobby for freedoms of association, expression and belief. They are acting in their own self-interest when they do so.
This testimony has touched on several initiatives that can be implemented in the area of human rights. We can increase the number of our diplomats doing rights work, and elevate rights concerns on the agenda of all high-level meetings. Our human rights reporting can be expanded and improved by implementing Sections 872 and 873 of last year’s State Department Authorization Bill. It is vital that the State Department establish the prisoner information registry without further delay. A CSCE-style commission can be formed to provide a sharper focus and more resources to address human rights violations, and the business community can be encouraged to become more proactive in promoting human rights. New initiatives should be considered on their own merits, and not as ways of “selling” PNTR.
That said, for initiatives in the area of human rights to produce results, the United States must remain engaged with China, and for that to happen, we need to make a success of the bilateral agreement on China’s accession to the WTO. I urge you to pass legislation granting China PNTR.
Notes on Ways and Means Statement
1. The idea of a China human rights commission modeled on the CSCE was first proposed by former Congressman Lee Hamilton in his May 1994 “US-China Policy Act.” The commission was to be called “The Commission on Law and Society in the People’s Republic of China” and it was to monitor the development of China’s legal system, the emergence of civil society and the development of institutions that provide humane and effective government. The Senate did not take up consideration of the act. The following year, former Congressman Jim Lightfoot (R-Iowa) managed to insert report language into the House version of the foreign operations appropriations bill directing the Secretary of State to examine the feasibility of developing a “Commission on Human Rights in the Pacific” whose functions and methods of operation would be modeled on the congressionally established Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. There is no evidence that the State Department undertook the feasibility study.
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Connecticut), in his “US-China Relations Act of 1997,” directed the President to appoint a 12-member Human Relations Commission made up of individuals from the executive branch, the legislative branch and the private sector. The commission would assess the status of human rights and worker rights in China, and in the event that the commission assesses that progress is not being made, make recommendations to strengthen policies towards China. To help assess the status of rights in China, the commission would establish a prisoner information registry.
In the same year, Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan), in his China Policy Act of 1997, called for the President and the Secretary of State to initiate negotiations with the governments of China and other countries in Asia to establish a commission that would be modeled on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In January 1999, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) inserted virtually identical language into the Senate version of Defense Appropriations Bill, but the language was stripped out of the final conference bill.
2. The State Department’s attitude towards submitting prisoner lists to China has been ambivalent. In 1998, it declined to endorse the proposal to establish a prisoner information registry (see testimony of Assistant Secretary of State Stanley O. Roth before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, June 8, 1998).
Prisoner lists were submitted to Chinese officials by former Secretary of State James Baker in May 1991 and by Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck in October 1993. In June 1994, shortly after President Clinton’s decision to de-link MFN renewal from human rights imposed the previous year, I was told by a senior official attached to the American Embassy in Beijing that the State Department was “getting out of the prisoner list business,” but in January 1995, John Shattuck presented a list to his Chinese counterparts on the occasion of the US-China bilateral dialogue on human rights. The 1995 list had 25 names on it, compared to more than 200 names on the 1993 list.
Shortly after the 1995 bilateral dialogue, Beijing suspended future official dialogues on human rights, citing the State Department’s sponsorship of a resolution criticizing China at the meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
In 1998 the United States did not put forward a resolution in Geneva, and in January 1999 another round of bilateral human rights talks were held. A brief list of “illustrative cases” was presented. Soon after the meeting, the State Department decided to once again sponsor a China resolution in Geneva. In May, the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade occurred, and Beijing once again suspended the official dialogue. The Chinese government is not presently accepting lists of prisoners or demarches on prisoners prepared by the State Department or the American Embassy in Beijing, but a Chinese spokesman, at a news conference in Beijing on April 20, indicated a willingness to resume the official dialogue on human rights if the United States takes “certain steps.”
When submitted, lists prepared by American officials and political leaders are often flawed: names are misspelled, Chinese characters are not provided, individuals who have committed acts of political violence are mixed in with those convicted of non-violent expression, and those who’ve already been released are listed with those still in prison. The lists sometimes contain phrases like “political prisoners” or statements like “believed to have been tortured” that make it difficult for Chinese officials to accept much less respond. In compiling lists, the State Department and other agencies, as well as members of Congress, tend to rely on recommendations from one or two non-governmental human rights organizations (NGOs). No NGO has produced a comprehensive listing of Chinese political and religious prisoners in almost five years, and NGO databases are badly in need of updating and rationalization. Virtually no independent research to uncover the names of Chinese prisoners in primary sources has been undertaken by the US government, nor have resources readily available to the State Department, like field reports from consulates, photographs of court notices or even transcripts of interviews with individuals seeking political asylum, been surveyed to identify new cases and names.
When an official Chinese response or some other document containing information on prisoners is obtained by one agency of government it is usually not shared with others. There is currently no central repository of information. Communication of information on Chinese prisoners is particularly bad between and among members of Congress and the administration. The US government has not sought information on Chinese prisoners obtained by other governments through their dialogues with China.
3. The Chinese government is currently engaged in official dialogues on human rights with the European Union, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Sweden. As an integral part of these dialogues, China accepts lists of prisoners and provides information on them. China appears reluctant, however, to respond to lists submitted by countries with whom it does not have a dialogue. The German Chancellor submitted a list of imprisoned journalists to Chinese officials during his November 1999 visit to China, but, six months later, no response had yet been given.
Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, on two occasions during his visit to the United States in April 1999, quipped that foreign leaders do not think that a visit to China is complete unless they’re able to hand over a list of Chinese prisoners.
In 1990, the Chinese representative to the United Nations Human Rights Commission declared that “China has consistently sent factual replies and information, including those concerning the ‘June 4th incident,’ in a responsible manner, to the relevant UN bodies.” It has indeed provided information on its detainees to the mechanisms of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (which visited China in October 1997), the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Execution, the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance (who visited China in November 1994) and the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who is negotiating with the Chinese government on a possible visit to the country. As noted in the statement, the Chinese government has provided a considerable amount of information to the International Labor Office, a UN-affiliated organization
4. An example of dissident but protected speech is that of Guo Yaotang, who in April 1990 painted anti-government slogans on his father’s grave. His father had been executed for political offenses in 1950. Guo was arrested and charged with counterrevolutionary incitement and propaganda, but the Henan courts decided that his slogans were not aimed at overthrowing the government. They ruled that the slogans reflected grief and dissatisfaction with the way his father’s case had been handled, and were written during traditional activities to show respect for ancestors.
5. A case worth raising is that of Wu Shishen, a Chinese journalist detained in October 1992 for the crime of illegally providing state secrets to foreigners. Wu was convicted in August 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment under supplementary regulations promulgated in April 1993, more than six months after the commission of the offense. The conviction is not only unsafe under Chinese law, but violates Article 15 paragraph one of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
6. The Chinese government’s position on the proposal for a general review of the sentences of counterrevolutionaries, conveyed to me in a letter from the Ministry of Justice dated April 17, 1998, is that while a general review is not possible under Chinese law, individuals convicted of counterrevolution can have their sentences reviewed “on a case by case basis.”
7. See “The Role of Business in Promoting Respect for Human Rights,” statement of John Kamm to “The OSCE at Twenty: Its Relevance to Other Regions,” a seminar presented by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington D.C., November 13-14, 1995.