Should Obama Downgrade Xi’s Planned State Visit?

By , August 17, 2015

Last week, China Law & Policy published a post encouraging President Obama, even in light of the current crackdown on rights defending advocates in China, to move ahead with President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the U.S. currently scheduled for September. However, China Law & Policy recommended that President Obama raise the plight of the rights defending lawyers by highlighting the important role public interest lawyers have played in the United States.

State Visit or not, the real question is: What Will the First Lady Wear?

State Visit or not, the real question is: What Will the First Lady Wear?

Our posting received a plethora of responses, including one from Adam Bobrow, CEO and Founder of Foresight Resilience Strategies, LLC, a Maryland-based strategic consulting firm to develop new solutions for companies facing cybersecurity challenges. With prior experience in the White House and the Department of Commerce, Bobrow explains the procedures surrounding a State Visit and argues that while the Xi visit must occur because of many thorny issues plaguing the US-China relationship, the visit should be downgraded to an “official visit,” not a State Visit.

Guest Blogger Adam Bobrow

Adam Bobrow

By Guest Author Adam BobrowThanks to Elizabeth for her original post which made me think more about Chinese President Xi Jinping’s September State Visit to Washington.  Elizabeth’s thoughtful take addressed the question of the White House’s response to the crackdown on rights defenders in China.  I agree that President Obama’s meeting with Chinese President Xi should go forward but I have tried to take into account additional strategic and economic policy considerations in assessing whether Xi’s State Visit seems appropriate at this time.  For reasons addressed below, I do not think that incorporating a session on the crackdown will work but suggest that the White House downgrade the meeting from a State Visit to another category of Head of State visit, such as an official visit or a working visit.

The Obama-Xi meeting should take place because there are many issues that the United States and China need to discuss at the highest levels.  But the pomp and circumstances and the inherent approbation of a State Visit sends the wrong message to China about the ways in which Chinese government policies impact the U.S. economy and elements of global security that the United States has vested interests in maintaining.

Background on State Visits

A State Visit, while it does not have an absolute definition, follows certain traditional guidelines surrounding its logistics and the respect accorded the foreign Head of State or Government.  In the United States, such a visit has an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, a 21-gun salute for the visiting Head of State, a joint review of U.S. troops, and a State Dinner with the visiting Head of State as the guest of honor.  Because the last element is the easiest to measure—either a State Dinner occurred or it did not—I have used the inclusion of a State Dinner during a visit as a proxy for State Visits.

During the current Administration, President Xi’s State Visit would be only the ninth State Visit in the almost seven years since President Obama was sworn into office.  Perhaps more telling, of those nine State Visits, President Obama will have hosted two different Chinese Presidents.  No other country’s leaders have enjoyed two State Visit invitations during this Administration even though Mexico, South Korea, Japan, and India—all State Visit countries during the Obama Administration—have changed leaders since President Obama hosted their previous Head of State or Government.

Why Should Obama and Xi Meet?

In Elizabeth’s blog post, she advocates that President Obama should, “invit[e] Xi Jinping to a session with U.S. public interest lawyers and their supportive corporate law brethren” to demonstrate the United States’ support for the plight of rights defenders in China.  During President Xi’s visit President Obama can and certainly should raise the unacceptable and self-defeating nature of the ongoing roundup of weiquan (rights defending) lawyers by the Chinese authorities––either by insisting that there be a window reserved in the primary bilateral meeting (preferred) or by bringing the topic up spontaneously in that meeting or at the joint press conference. The latter is less effective to change Chinese behavior but important as a domestic political issue in the United States. But keep in mind that the Chinese officials planning the State Visit will not agree to a meeting that includes some of the private critics of their conduct in the United States.  The U.S. government cannot unilaterally control the broad agenda for the visit by insisting on certain meetings, such as one with U.S. public interest lawyers.

But even with this limitation, the larger question remains: why should the U.S. and Chinese Presidents meet?  Currently, the United States and China face a number of urgent issues that directly impact their relationship.  For far too many of these, however, neither side will agree even on the terms of reference for their differences, preferring either to deny a problem exists or to insist on a formulation that assigns the responsibility exclusively to the other party.  These thorny issues are myriad: Chinese island reclamation and freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas; alleged cyber incursions into U.S.-based systems including personnel files held by the U.S. government and commercially valuable data held by a wide range of U.S. businesses; the devaluation of China’s currency in response to slowing growth in China; the creation of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, a new international development institution created with China as the leading shareholder; national security limitations on Chinese investment in the United States; the impact of China’s own National Security Law on U.S. businesses operating in China; and even China’s continued non-market economy status in U.S. antidumping investigations. Today’s New York Times reveals another agenda item: Chinese public security agents operating in the United States and allegedly intimidating or threatening some Chinese expatriates suspected of graft to return to China. This is an additional issue for which the two countries offer incompatible explanations. Unfortunately, political leaders in both countries have framed these issues in ways that make them difficult to discuss, much less resolve.

The meeting of the two Presidents could advance bilateral cooperation, however, on two issues of current importance.  First, both sides seek to advance negotiations on the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) by exchanging updated negative lists of excluded investment areas.  Second, each side also wants to advance cooperation on curbing greenhouse gas emissions in advance of the 21st session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris in December.  Obama and Xi could announce concrete and meaningful progress on BIT and greenhouse gas emissions based on strong preparation at the staff- through Cabinet-levels and help provide negotiating teams on each topic with clear instructions on the way forward in both cases.

When weighing the decision of whether to downgrade the meeting, political and protocol reasons for the level of the visit must also contend with the substantive policy questions already discussed. The issue of face plays a role in this calculation as President Xi hosted President Obama for a State Visit in Beijing last year, complete with State Arrival Ceremony at the Great Hall of the People and a State Banquet. Refusing to accord President Xi the same courtesies would cause great offense. In addition, leaders meet to increase opportunities to get to know one another and build a relationship that might advance issues or prevent future conflicts. Two years ago, the White House cited this reasoning in meeting in a more relaxed setting away from Washington in the lead-up to the two Presidents’ summit at the Sunnylands Estate in California. The very specific intention of the informal setting away from Washington was to reduce the pressure to make public pronouncements and face the increased scrutiny of a scripted and formal visit so that the leaders could get to know one another better. Whether the more informal setting did allow greater candor, the added scrutiny of a State Visit can only undermine efforts by the two Presidents to build their relationship as a hedge against growing frictions in any meaningful way.  Next month, the two Presidents will meet farther apart on urgent bilateral issues than at any prior meeting they have had and with often conflicting visions of the world as they would like it to be.  Ranging from President Xi’s marketing of China’s New Model of Great Power Relations, which premises more space for Chinese actions on the world stage free of American interference or even commentary, to President Obama’s preference for selling the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) as a way of writing new international trade rules to prevent China from writing those rules instead, these competing visions are not currently amenable to building trust during a one-day visit.

Where does that leave us in terms of a verdict on the impending visit?  Looking at the list of issues where no progress is likely, it is probable that each President will raise a differing subset of those issues without actually hearing what the other has to say.  They will talk past each other and reach no conclusions nor even advance the terms on which officials at lower levels will address these issues going forward.  On the other (skimpier) hand, the Presidents may make meaningful progress on the two issues identified above:  BIT negotiations and climate change measures ahead of the Paris negotiations in December. The non-policy considerations present a trickier, more qualitative question of whether the slim possibility of greater candor in a less formal set of meetings makes it a better bet to risk the strong negative reaction of a Chinese government that sees the downgrade as a personal snub to President Xi. The White House needs to decide based on the best interest of the United States and the American people, of course, rather than how its decision in Washington will be received in Beijing or even by some larger subset of the Chinese people.

In this instance, the pomp and circumstance of a State Visit will reduce the efficacy of the potential positive outcomes of the meeting and send a misleading positive message about the current parlous state of U.S.-China relations.  Rather than providing additional space for the two Presidents to increase mutual understanding and provide clear guidance to their bureaucracies on how to resolve some outstanding issues, the Presidents may make some small and specific progress in two areas.  But the strictures of a State Visit also make it likely that the two governments will feel compelled to send a message that the visit demonstrates a highly productive bilateral relationship on firm grounding. That message would obfuscate real differences in search of solutions, potentially setting back relations rather than moving them forward, and backfire as the evidence clearly belies such a positive message. The White House should downgrade the meeting, restore the informal approach of Sunnylands, and hope that more time focused on substance and less on meaningless public praise by each country of the other may permit more candid discussion and advance solutions to pressing problems.

CL&P on the BBC Discussing China’ Rights-Defending Lawyers

By , August 14, 2015

BBC_News.svgOwen Bennett Jones, on his new and insightful BBC radio show, NewsHour Extra, discussed the recent assault on China’s rights-defending lawyers.  Featuring Dr. Li Ling of NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, Prof. James Feinerman of Georgetown Law School, Prof. Eva Pils of Kings College London, barrister Philip Riches, and yours truly, the discussion proved lively if slightly pessimistic regarding the current crackdown on China’s rights-defending activists and their future under the current Chinese Communist regime.

Rights-defending lawyers Yu Wensheng and Teng Biao both give their assessments of the recent crackdown.

To listen to the show (55 minutes total), please click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02yg6z4

Obama, China & Lawyers: Xi’s Visit Must Go Forward

By , August 4, 2015
China's President Xi Jinping, leading a major crackdown on China's human rights attorneys.

China’s President Xi Jinping, leading a major crackdown on China’s human rights attorneys.

For the past few years, the Chinese government – under the leadership of Xi Jinping (pronounced See Gin-ping) – has methodically targeted China’s human rights lawyers and advocates.  On a yearly basis, dozens of human rights lawyers, known in Chinese as weiquan (pronounced way-choo-ann) lawyers, are detained, some disappeared, and a few tried and convicted usually on the trumped up and amorphous charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” (Art. 293 of China’s Criminal Law).  By focusing its energy on key civil rights advocates such as Xu Zhiyong (currently serving a four-year prison term for picking quarrels), Pu Zhiqiang (currently awaiting trial on picking quarrels) and Cao Shunli (died in police custody on a charge of picking quarrels), the Chinese government hoped the weiquan movement would cease from growing.

But it did not.  By the beginning of 2014, the number of Chinese lawyers who self-identified as part of the weiquan movement number around 200 (see Eva Pils, China’s Human Rights Lawyers: Advocacy and Resistance).  And this number does not include non-lawyer advocates.  These lawyers and advocates have taken on a variety of issues: disability discrimination, sexual harassment in public places, product safety, persecution of the religious group Falun Gong, and official corruption just to name a few.  While their causes are broad, their approaches are similar: use of the weiquan lawyers’ network; bold courtroom tactics; and use of the media – both traditional and social – to call on the government to abide by its own laws and protect individual rights.  It is these tactics and this message that the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) considers a threat to its rule.

Attorney Wang Yu

Attorney Wang Yu

In the early hours of July 9, 2015, the Chinese government tried a new approach to rid itself of the weiquan movement.  Beginning with the detention of Wang Yu, a weiquan lawyer known for representing persecuted Falun Gong practitioners, public security authorities instituted a well-orchestrated, nationwide campaign where over 200 weiquan lawyers and advocates were apprehended and brought to various police stations throughout the country for interrogation.  According to Amnesty International, as of August 3, 2015, 232 advocates had been targeted in the past month with 27 still in police custody or just “missing.”  Their transgressions?  Zealously advocating for China’s most vulnerable.  Likely though the police will charge them with “picking quarrels” or “inciting subversion of state power.”

Not only is this crackdown unrivaled in its scale, it is also filled with a vitriol not seen since the days of the Cultural Revolution or the weeks after the Tian’anmen massacre. Wang Yu and her law firm, the Fengrui Law Firm, have been lambasted in the state-controlled media with the claims that Fengrui is nothing more than a “criminal gang” in “serious violation of the law (see also China Law Translate‘s translation of the infographic appearing in China’s Legal Daily).  Never before has a group of lawyers received such a public and broad rebuke.

Obama & Xi to meet in DC in September.

Obama & Xi to meet in DC in September.

The Chinese government’s unprecedented and alarming attack on its weiquan lawyers comes only weeks before President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States.  Many have called on President Obama to cancel the visit because of the detention of these lawyers.  But that would be a mistake.  Instead, President Obama should take Xi’s visit as an opportunity to highlight the United States’ commitment to public interest lawyering by inviting many of the country’s various public interest lawyers to a meeting with President Xi.  And not just the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, two organizations that repeatedly sue the federal government for its civil rights transgressions.

human_rights_firstEveryday throughout the United States, legal services attorneys challenge the power of the state while simultaneously accepting the state’s funding.  In New York, to advance the rights of individuals with disabilities, MFY Legal Services, Inc. sued New York State for warehousing adults with mental disabilities in adult homes instead of integrating them in the larger community as demanded by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In California, the Public Interest Law Project, working with local legal services organizations, has repeatedly sued various city governments for their failure to zone for  and finance the development of affordable housing, a requirement under California law.  The National Center for Law and Economic Justice sued various New York City agencies for failing to ensure that public benefits information was accessible to the visually-impaired.

Affordable housing, mental health issues, disability discrimination, these are all issues that China is currently grappling with and is why President Obama should highlighting the role that United States legal services attorneys have played in bringing these issues to the forefront and protecting these individuals’ rights in this country.  Even though these cases appear to challenge the government’s authority, in the end this approach is necessary to provide an escape valve for growing societal pressures.

800px-The_Association_of_Bar_of_New_York_EntranceFinally, if China wants to ensure that it remains hospitable to international business, it cannot round up weiquan lawyers, refer to them as a criminal gang, deny them access to lawyers (even though such a right is guaranteed by China’s Criminal Procedure Law), and detain them on trumped up charges. A functional legal system cannot be limited to just to business disputes.  A  legal system is only as strong as the protections it affords society’s weakest.  It is part of the reason why some of the legal services cases mentioned above were co-counseled with corporate law firms.  It is why the recent letter from New York City Bar Association President, Debra Raskin, to President Xi condemning his government’s recent round-up of public interest lawyers is essential.

State visits are highly choreographed affairs where words and actions matter.  Too often this means that words that directly criticize are not said.  But here, by inviting Xi Jinping to a session with U.S. public interest lawyers and their supportive corporate law brethren, such as Ms. Raskin, President Obama could get the message across that the Chinese government’s current behavior is not just in violation of its own law and international law, but is also self-defeating.  Individual claims must be heard; this is why the United States and every state government continues to fund legal services organizations that directly challenge them.

China Passes National Security Law

Ready for National Security!

Within a day of its publication of the second Draft Foreign NGO Law on May 5, the Chinese government also published for comment a Draft National Security Law.  Today, that document became law. Although criticized for its vagueness and breadth, the passed law is still just as broad if not more so.  The new law also covers protection of seabeds and adds the word “extremism” to the provision on terrorism (Article 28), a provision that immediately follows the one that protects “normal religious activity” and calls for the opposition to foreign influences and interference in domestic religious affairs (Article 27).

The law itself comes off more as abstract principles. But make no mistake, the Chinese government and the Public Security Bureau which has oversight of the Law, means business.  The fact that they elevated this abstract document to the level of a law is a telling sign and foreign governments should be looking at it carefully.

The full English translation of the National Security Law has been published at China Law Translate and can be found here.

Just For Fun: Art Review – China Through the Looking Glass

By , June 17, 2015

 

China Through the Looking Glass

China Through the Looking Glass

Picasso did it with Africa; Gauguin did it with Tahiti; Remington with the American West  And, as we learn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s amazing new show, China Through the Looking Glass, many of the West’s greatest fashion designers have done it with China.  What is the it?  Using another culture for inspiration for your art.

But as the first room in this exquisite exhibit demonstrates, this show is not about China.  It is about the fantasy that China is for many of the West’s most famous designers: Paul Pioret, Chanel, Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent.  Each of these designers have looked to China for inspiration, using their interpretations of China in their designs.  This is strikingly clear in the first room of the exhibit – an incredible display of mirrors, movies, music and clothing.  Each of the Western dresses are showcased next to a traditional, Chinese imperial piece of clothing (graciously on loan from Beijing’s Palace Museum), showing that while there are similarities, the two are far from the same.

The Looking Glass Gone Wrong?  Backwards Chinese Characters on this Chanel Dress

The Looking Glass Gone Wrong? Backwards Chinese Characters on this Chanel Dress

Fortunately, the Saturday I attended the exhibit, I was accompanied by an American fashion designer friend who could not get enough of this exhibit.  As she explained, what is exciting about “China” is that for Western designers, they can “add another layer of creativity because they do not carry the cultural context” that Chinese designers would have.  In many ways, these Western designers are more free to create new concepts.  Silk, manchu robes, the qipao, the mao suit, often shorthand for China in the Western fashion, can be taken to another level by Western designers while maintaining something “Chinese-y” (of course the French have a word for this: chinoiserie).

But at what point does homage become stereotype and in today’s globalized world, does that stereotype become a harmful public view? Those questions are asked, but left largely unanswered, in the portion of the exhibit featuring Anna May Wong, an American actress of Chinese descent who served as a muse to many fashion designer.  Wong repeatedly received ecstatic reviews of her performances, but in America, she was constantly typed-cast to play one of two roles: the Lotus Woman or the Dragon Lady.  The clothes in this gallery – inspired by many of Wong’s movie outfits – are juxtaposed with pictures of Wong in many of her stereotyped roles.  At what point do Western apply their interpretations of China to more than just clothes, but also to people?  These questions are raised in another gallery on the floor, the one dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent’s 1977 campaign “Opium.”  Would such marketing fly today?

Anna May Wong and a dress inspired by her

Anna May Wong and a dress inspired by her

On one level, China Through the Looking Glass is sublime and should not be missed – beautiful, Chinese-inspired fashions are artistically laid out (by Hong Kong film director Wong Kar-wai no less) throughout the show, surrounded at times by traditional Chinese artifacts.  The fantasy-feel permeates the show, giving an otherworldly excitement to many of the outfits.  But Looking Glass is more than just a pretty show – it is a show that challenges and questions just how far that looking glass should go.  At what point should our short hands for China stop?

******************************************************************************************************

Rating: ★★★★½
China Through the Looking Glass
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art
On Display until August 16, 2015

Wang Nan’s Tian’anmen 26 Years Later

An early photo of Wang Nan, late 1980s

Wang Nan (pronounced Wong Nan) is a 45 year old Beijinger.  Born in 1970, he has seen his city radically change under China’s economic miracle.  In fact, as a photojournalist, he has documented China’s unfathomable rise and has been fortunate enough to partake in it.  Wang Nan and his wife live more than comfortably in their renovated, Western-style apartment, where his photos from around the world line the walls.  He knows he has been lucky, and he will tell you that immediately when you meet him; even with his world travels, he is still a fairly humble man.  His 11-year-old daughter worships him even when he sings off key on their Sunday morning car rides to visit his mother.  His 78-year-old mother, like all mothers, criticizes him as soon as he arrives – his hair is too long, he’s too skinny, he spoils his daughter – her granddaughter – too much.  But like all mothers, she is proud of her son.  And Sunday is her favorite day of the week.

But Wang Nan is not 45 years old.  He has not shared in China’s economic miracle.  He does not have a daughter.  And he never sees his mother.   For Wang Nan never made it past the age of 19.   Instead, in the early morning hours of June 4, 1989, on the corner of Nancheng Street and Chang’an Boulevard – the Boulevard of Eternal Peace – a People’s Liberation Army’s bullet ripped through this high school student’s head.

As Louisa Lim recounts in her powerful book The People’s Republic of Amnesia, Wang Nan’s heart was still faintly

June 4, 1989, the aftermath of the Tian’anmen Crackdown

beating when doctors found him unconscious, bleeding from the head.  They wanted to take him to the hospital, but the soldiers forbade it.  Frantically, the doctors used their last bandage to cover his wound and stayed with him until he died two hours later.  With the sun rising on that June 4 morning 26 years ago and desperate to hide the bodies, the soldiers dug a shallow grave in the lawn of the nearby school and dumped Wang Nan’s body  there along with two other civilians.  There it would lie until a few days later, when the stench was overwhelming  and the dirt was beginning to wash away, the health department came to collect the bodies.

Wang Nan’s mother, Zhang Xianling (pronounced Zhang See-ann Ling), one of the founders of the Tian’anmen Mothers, has never been allowed to visit the spot where her son took his last breath.  Every June 4, she is held under house arrest, with police standing guard at her apartment door, refusing to let her leave or for anyone else to come in.  In a symbol of tormented anguish, she will communicate with the outside world on the anniversary of her son’s death by holding a photo of him out of her apartment window.

Zhang Xianling with a picture of her son, Wang Nan, killed on June 4, 1989

Twenty-six years later, as Lim poignantly recounts in her book, it is this impediment to remembrance and the Chinese Communist Party’s (“CCP”) complete control of the history surrounding June 4th that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.  And as Lim points out, it is not just the parents who lost children that are not permitted to remember.  Bao Tong (pronounced Bow (rhymes with pow) Tongue), director of China’s Office of Political Reform in 1989 and right-hand man to his mentor Zhao Ziyang, believed that Deng’s economic reform must be coupled with political reform, otherwise corruption would prevail.  After the Tian’anmen crackdown, it was those thoughts that were blamed for the student protests and resulted in a seven year prison sentence for Bao.  In 2005, when Zhao Ziyang passed away, the police, which constantly stand guard at his apartment, refused to let Bao attend the funeral.  When his elderly wife attempted to go, the police pushed her to the ground, causing her to break a bone.

It is this recounting of the people’s history and the ghosts that still haunt them, that makes The People’s Republic of Amnesia one of the most important and moving books about the Tian’anmen crackdown.  Lim also does an excellent and unbiased job of describing the precise events that lead up to the crackdown making the book a must read for anyone who wants to understand China’s history and the current leadership’s obsession with “social stability” and complete control.

But Lim not only tells the stories of those who witnessed the crackdown, but also those for whom June 4, 1989 has no significance, namely the babies born after 1990.  In one study that Lim conducted, only 15 out of 100 Chinese college students were able to identify the infamous Tank Man photo, a photo that epitomizes the Tian’anmen crackdown and that is perhaps one of the world’s greatest symbols of courage.  She follows a college student who goes to Hong Kong to try to understand Tian’anmen, but when he returns to China, he just seems confused and deflated.  And then there is the Patriot, a Chinese car salesman who goes to Beijing to participate in the government-sponsored protests against the Japanese.  Their failure and inability to know about the Tian’anmen crackdown demonstrates the true effectiveness of the CCP’s re-writing of the Chinese people’s history.

Or does it?  Yes, there is a generation of Chinese who have not heard of the Tian’anmen massacre.  And then there are others who choose not to care.  But to assume that the CCP can so easily erase this dark moment in China’s history is to deny the Chinese people their conscience.  There is still a generation of Chinese – those born in the late 1960s and early 1970s – who know about Tian’anmen because they were alive when it happened.  When this generation comes to power and can change the history, will they?  Yes they might be busy making money now, but they have yet to ascend to leadership roles that would enable them to disclose the truth and recognize the bravery of those who died on June 4, 1989.

Tens of thousands march in Hong Kong last year to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Tian’anmen Massacre

There are the 11 Chinese college students, currently studying in various universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, who wrote an open letter to the Chinese people to communicate what happened on June 4, 1989.  The government-controlled Global Times responded with an op-ed condemning these students.  Like the students of 1989, these students have chosen to jeopardize their futures in China in an attempt to get the CCP to acknowledge June 4.

And then there are those – like the doctors who tried to help Wang Nan as he laid dying or the medical intern who, knowing the danger, gave Zhang Xianling her son’s last effects, or the individual who took out an ad in 2007 in a Chengdu newspaper stating “Paying tribute to the strong(-willed) mothers of June 4 victims” – who, when confronted with the choice, will do what is morally right, not what is politically expedient.

For these people, the world must continue to remember June 4, 1989, so that when the Chinese people themselves can commemorate this anniversary on their own terms, the memory will still be there.

Rating: ★★★★★

The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited
By Louisa Lim
(Oxford University Press, 2014)
211 pages

 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Still Time to Respond to China’s Draft Foreign NGO Law

Less than a week is left for the public, including foreign entities, to submit comments on China’s draft Foreign NGO Management Law, a law that will completely alter the ability of foreign NGOs to work in China.  But it will be China’s own grassroots NGOs that will feel the blow of this law the most.  Many of China’s grassroots NGOs, in particular those that assist society’s most vulnerable, receive funding as well as capacity-building support, from these foreign NGOs.   (To read more about various provisions of the law and how exactly it will work, please click here).

Aside from human rights groups, little has been said about the law from the foreign entities that will be covered by it.  As Prof. Jia Xijin, an expert on NGO management in China, has made clear, the current draft law covers almost every non-profit that wants to do anything in China.  A non-profit that wants to set up an office in China will be covered.  But even more than that, any non-profit that just wants to do an event in China or an exchange, that behavior will also be covered even if the organization or its event is not particularly China-focused.  A dance troupe that wants to perform in China, covered.  A museum that wants to do an exchange in China, covered.  Doctors Without Borders responding to an emergency in China, covered.  Universities in particular, with their myriad educational, scientific and other exchanges with Chinese counterparts, will likely be the first victims of the law if it is passed as it is currently written.

Fortunately, New York University (“NYU”) has taken the lead in organizing a group U.S. universities to respond to the current draft law.  For universities interested in participating in that effort, the university’s general counsel’s office should email Danny Magida. [Email address removed since the comment period is over]

Other fields – the arts, bar associations, business associations, medical non-profits – should be taking a page from academia’s playbook and  submit joint comments.  If this law is passed as it is currently drafted, it will cover these fields as well and, because there is a limited number of Chinese partners that will be willing to work with a foreign NGO, could squash the ability of many of these non-profits to continue their work and exchanges with China.  That would ultimately hurt the Chinese people.  And the American people.  Average American’s understanding of China sometimes come from these changes, creating feelings which have largely been positive to U.S.-China relations.

Even businesses and corporate lawyers should be paying attention to this draft Foreign NGO Management Law.  Foreign businesses and corporate law firms are the few entities not covered by the current draft.  But foreign corporations doing business in China should be frightened by this law and its sister – the draft National Security Law.  Both are extremely vague – almost definitional-less – and overly-broad in the entities and conduct covered.  Both show the current power of the security apparatus in crafting China’s laws.  This type of legal drafting might currently be limited to civil society-like laws,  but it may reflect a larger mindset – that law should serve the Chinese Communist Party – that will inevitably be felt in the business world as well, if it hasn’t already.

Comments are open until June 4, 2015 and can be filed through the China’s National People’s Congress’ website here.

For instructions on how to comment, click here to this helpful cheat sheet.

To read China Law & Policy’s in-depth three-part series on the Foreign NGO Management Law, click here for Part 1; click here for Part 2; click here for Part 3.

China Law & Policy is happy to post entities comments to our website.  Please feel free to email info@chinalawandpolicy.com and we will post your comment on the draft Foreign NGO Management Law.

China’s Draft Foreign NGO Law’s Impact on a New World Order

It’s not only the South China Sea that is witnessing China’s differing interpretation of international law and its commitments under various treaties.  With its draft Foreign NGO Management Law, China is also turning up its nose to various international human rights treaties and bodies.  But while the United States sends surveillance planes to bait the Chinese into a skirmish over islands that are not clearly China’s and not clearly the Philippines or Vietnam’s, it remains noticeably silent on the draft Foreign NGO Management Law. (For an interesting take on how to solve the South China Seas issue without resorting to a U.S.-China conflict, see Prof. Jerome Cohen’s analysis here).

As Human Rights in China (HRIC) pointed out in a recent analysis, ignoring the draft Foreign NGO Law’s impact on China’s international human rights commitments comes at a dangerous cost.  China is a sitting member of the U.N.’s Human Rights Council, a Council that less than a year ago issued a resolution calling on its members to create an environment where civil society can flourish and admonishing those state’s that passed laws similar to what China has proposed in the current legislation.  China’s draft law will do precisely the opposite of creating a flourishing domestic NGO sphere; it will create a vacuum in funding and in knowledge for China’s smaller domestic NGOs that do important work benefiting some of China’s most vulnerable – those left behind by the country’s economic development.  The Chinese government has yet to state whether it intends to fill that void with money from its own coffers.  But probably not.

In its analysis, HRIC goes on to highlight China’s other violations of various human rights treaties.  But its most important impact is noting that these transgressions cannot be ignored.  China is not some poor player that struts and frets its hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  It is the world’s second largest economy with influential positions in the United Nations.  What it does, and how it interprets its human rights commitments, will inevitably impact the rest of the world.  Countries that might not have clamped down on their own civil society for fear of international reprisals, now have cover to do so.  With the world’s silence, it becomes all the more apparent that international human rights treaties play second fiddle – if even that – to military interests over a bunch of rocks that might or might not contain large oil and natural gas reserves.

To read HRIC’s analysis – which is a must read – pleas click here.

One Love: How Foreign NGOs & Governments Should Respond to China’s Draft Foreign NGO Law

In Part 1 of this three-part series, we analyzed how the draft law will restrict foreign NGOs in China,  In Part 2, we examined how the spirit of the draft law is already being felt.  For Part 1, click here; for Part 2, click here

u2More than a week has passed since the Chinese government published its draft Foreign NGO Management Law.  But yet the world largely remains silent – no word publicly from the foreign NGO community in China, the foreign universities that do work in the Mainland or the foreign governments who often fund NGOs working there.  But in light of the draft law’s potentially disastrous effects, is silence really a good strategy?

 

 

We’re One, But We’re Not the Same?  Which Foreign NGOs Will Be Covered by the Draft Law

The draft Foreign NGO Management Law is anything but an example of clarity.  But there are two things we know for sure from the current version: foreign NGOs that have an office in China are covered and foreign NGOs without offices in China that seek to conduct activities there are also covered.  (Art. 6).  We also know that the ultimate authority over all foreign NGOs, whether setting up an office in China or merely conducting activities there, is the Public Security Bureau (PSB) (Arts. 7, 12, 20 & 47).

What is the future of U.S. universities in China?

What is the future of U.S. universities in China?

As China Law Translate notes in its Cheat Sheet for Understanding the Foreign NGO Law, what is a foreign NGO is defined expansively as any “not-for-profit, non-governmental social organization.”  (Art. 2).  Such a broad definition can “include universities, international professional associations and interest groups, artistic groups and athletic associations” in addition to what we view as traditional NGOs like the Red Cross.

Similarly, the term “activity” is left undefined, allowing it to encompass anything.  However, even those foreign NGOs without an office in China will be required to establish a relationship with a Chinese partner in order to obtain a temporary activity permit to perform any work in China.  (Arts. 18-20).  The entire process can take 60 days or more, depending how easy it is to establish a relationship with a Chinese partner.  (Art. 20 & 22).  Will Doctors Without Borders have to apply for a temporary activity permit before responding to a medical emergency in China?  Under the current, vague draft, yes.

Universities are also covered under the current draft law.  It is that fact that has alarmed many Chinese scholars who realize that academic exchanges will be negatively impacted by the current, vague draft.

Ultimately, under the proposed draft Foreign NGO Management Law these terms will all be defined by the PSB.  And changed as the PSB sees politically expedient.

Well We Hurt Each Other Then We Do it Again?  Universities and Foreign NGOs Need to Stand Together

divide_conquerAs Thomas Carothers and Saskia Brechenmacher highlight in their report Closing Space: Democracy and Human Rights Support Under Fire, governments seeking to limit foreign NGOs are “skillful at dividing and conquering the international aid community.” Is the Chinese government hoping that some foreign aid organizations will not oppose the draft law, eager to curry favor so that they can continue their work in China?

But with the amorphous definition of a foreign NGO under the draft law, that is a dangerous strategy for any foreign NGO with either offices in China or that just conducts activities there.  Almost all NGOs are covered under the current definition and that is why it is important that the foreign NGO community, including universities, stand as one in commenting and opposing the current draft.

Universities and major non-profits have an even greater responsibility to publicly comment on the proposed draft law.  In the current environment in China, not all foreign NGOs are equal.  The Rights Practice, which just had one of its staff members deported from China, likely does not have the same credibility before the current Chinese regime as the Gates Foundation, NRDC,  or Save the Children, which in January hosted President Xi Jinping at one of its spaces in Yunnan.  These are organizations that have long supported Chinese civil society actors  in benefiting the Chinese people.  It is important that these major NGOs continue to support civil society in its entirety, not just those sectors that the PSB presently approves.  Further, these major NGO’s do not know when their own work will imperil them with the PSB and thus, could find themselves subject to the harsh, vague provisions of the current draft Foreign NGO Management Law.  Five years ago, who would have thought that a group of individuals with hepatitis seeking to end discrimination would be considered a threat.  But that is where Yirenping finds itself today.

U.S. and European universities have the best footing to comment on the draft Foreign NGO Management Law. save the children These universities likely have thousands of academic exchanges – covering law, science, engineering, medicine – exchanges where the Chinese university likely derives tremendous benefit.  Even with the growing police state, the Chinese government probably does not want to risk losing even some of these beneficial relationships.

It is imperative that these major foreign NGOs and universities stand with those foreign NGOs that are the current target of the law and openly comment on the draft law.  Is the Gates Foundation really going to be kicked out of China?  Is UC Berkeley’s Engineering School?

You Give Me Nothing Now It’s All I Got: Where is the White House on All of This?

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Brunei's Sultan and Prime Minister Hassanal Bolkiah (L) listens during the Trans-Pacific Partnership Leaders meeting at the Hale Koa Hotel during the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR2TXQO

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama recognized that if the we don’t write the rules, China will.  Unfortunately, for the non-profit world, Obama limited that rule-writing to trade issues and support for his Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It is time that the White House recognize that with China, there are more rules out there than those that directly govern trade.  The Obama Administration has allowed too many non-trade issues – U.S. journalist visas, now foreign NGOs – to receive scant attention as a U.S.-China policy matter.  With the U.S. abandoning these issues, China is writing the rules in these important areas, and these will be rules that other countries will copy.

But the Administration is not without recourse.  It too can submit comments on the draft law and should. When U.S. technology companies appeared to be negatively impacted by China’s draft Counter-Terrorism Law published late last year, Obama made his displeasure publicly known.  There is no reason to why he cannot do the same with the draft Foreign NGO Management Law. And comments from the Administration can no longer be relegated to a State Department spokesperson.  If there is anything to be learned from the handling of the U.S. journalist visa issue with the Chinese government, a State Department spokesperson is not going to cut it when dealing with the world’s second largest economy.  It wasn’t until Vice President Joseph Biden visited China in December 2013 and publicly raised the U.S. journalist visa hold-up, did China start taking the issue seriously.  Soon after, U.S. journalists’ visas were renewed.

China's pollution - coming to U.S. shores

China’s pollution – coming to U.S. shores

Although the Obama Administration should oppose the draft Foreign NGO Management Law on the grounds that its radical clampdown on civil society is anathema to the interest of the Chinese people, opposition can also be tied to trade.  Chinese domestic civil society groups often deal with the flipside of  free trade – environmental degradation, workplace justice, product safety.  And these are issues that are increasingly coming to our shores: air pollution from China now reaches California; unsafe products made in China are sold in the United States.  Chinese NGOs seek to enforce environmental regulation and product safety laws.  Although their goal is to protect the Chinese people from the harms of unregulated capitalism, a side benefit of Chinese NGOs’ success accrues to the American people.  California becomes cleaner and U.S. citizens fear Chinese goods less.  But if the draft Foreign NGO Management Law is passed in its current form, an important lifeline of Chinese civil society – the foreign NGO – will potentially be cut off. To ensure a balanced trade relationship with China, the Obama Administration must comment on the current draft law.  One opportunity is right around the corner: the annual U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held this June in Washington, D.C..  The draft Foreign NGO Management Law, and the important role civil society plays in a free trade world should be on the agenda.

Finally, the increasingly unbridled power of the public security apparatus, evident in the draft Foreign NGO Management Law as well as the draft National Security Law, which was published only days after the NGO law, should frighten any entity that deals with China – be it a not-for-profit, a business or the U.S. government.  To ignore that development and to believe that the supremacy of the PSB is somehow limited to civil society issues is to do so at the peril of all of the United States’ interests in Asia, including business and military interests.

commentLike foreign NGOs and universities, the United States government has the opportunity to comment on the draft Foreign NGO Management Law and should do so.  Ironically, the comment period closes on June 4, 2015, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

Would you like to make your comment public on China Law & Policy?  Please email us at info@chinalawandpolicy.com with your agency’s comment and we will publish it (assuming it is related to the topic and is family-friendly).
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This concludes China Law & Policy’s three-part series on China’s draft Foreign NGO Management Law.  To read Part I where we analyzed how the draft law will restrict foreign NGOs in China, click here.  To read Part 2 where we examined how the spirit of the draft law is already being felt, click here. 

The Future is Already Present? How the Draft Foreign NGO Management Law Could Be Applied

For Part 1, which analyzes precisely how the law will restrict foreign NGOs in China, please click here

The Five Feminists - Clockwise from top left: Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Wei Tingting

The Five Feminists – Clockwise from top left: Zheng Churan, Li Tingting, Wang Man, Wu Rongrong, and Wei Tingting

For anyone who still doubts that the draft Foreign NGO Management Law is about the Public Security’s Bureau’s ability to control foreign NGOs and their domestic partners, recent events – namely the detention of five feminist activists, the indictment of the head of the Chinese think tank, the Transition Institute, and the expulsion of foreign aid workers – should make clear that the draft law is primarily a security document.

The recent month-long detention of five female activists for planning a small, anti-sexual harassment demonstration was less about feminism than it was about the spirit of the draft Foreign NGO Management Law.  According to a person with knowledge of the March 2015 interrogations of the five women, the police’s questions centered on the five women’s work with various foreign NGOs as well as their work with Yirenping, a successful Chinese public health NGO that often cooperates with foreign NGOs.  The subject of the women’s planned demonstrations were a secondary issue for the police.

Similarly, the recent Recommendation for Prosecution of Guo Yushan and He Zhengjun, founders of the liberal think tank, the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research, highlighted the Institute’s overseas funding and named various foreign NGOs (Heinrich Böll Stiftung (Germany), the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung (Germany), the Center for International Private Enterprise (U.S.), and Probe International (Canada)) as supporting the Institute’s “illegal business activities.”

The draft Foreign NGO Management Law, if passed in its current form, will make harassment of Chinese NGOs even easier than what we see now.  No longer will the police need to twist the criminal law to suit its objectives or will it be stymied by an earnest prosecutor’s office. Article 38 of the draft Foreign NGO Management Law forbids Chinese individuals from receiving foreign funds from an NGO without an office in China, much like the Transition Institute allegedly did.  Further, under Article 58(4), cooperating with an unregistered and unapproved foreign NGOs could lead to administrative detention of five days and a fine of 50,000 RMB (approximately $8,050).

Administrative detention is a form of punishment in China instituted at the behest of the local public security bureauadmin dete with no judicial oversight.[1]  It has long been criticized for violation of the arbitrary detention prohibition of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and, with little way to challenge it, is ripe for abuse including torture.  For those considered “personnel” of the foreign NGO, administrative detention could up to 10 days (Article 57) or 15 days (Article 59). With these expansive provisions, the public security bureaus will have a new tool to harass grassroots NGOs the police believe are “troublesome,” like it currently has deemed Yirenping.

Foreigners are not exempt from the draft law.  The administrative penalties make little distinction between foreigners and Chinese citizens in terms of detention and fines.  In addition, Article 62 gives the public security apparatus complete authority to deport a foreigner it deems in violation of the Foreign NGO Management Law.  This provision should not come as a surprise given the recent expulsion of two foreign NGO workers – Tim Millar of the Rights Practice and Jérémie Béja of China Development Brief – on visa technicalities.  Given the vagueness of the draft law, it will be very easy for the PSB to point to a provision of the Foreign NGO Management Law as a basis for deportation.

P1000689These provisions, which give expansive, unchecked powers to the PSB, will have a chilling effect on both foreign and domestic NGOs if they are allowed to remain in the final law.  Additionally, the inclusion of administrative detention puts China that much further from being able to ratify the ICCPR and be in-line with international standards.  But this draft has yet to become law and if there is a silver lining in all of this, it is the fact that the National People’s Congress (NPC) has opened the draft to comment, even comments from the object of the law itself: foreign NGOs.

To find out what foreign NGOs and foreign governments should be doing in light of the draft law, please click here to read Part 3. 

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[1] As China Law Translate notes in its informative Cheat Sheet for Understanding the Foreign NGO Management Law, “[t]here is a mechanism for court review and compensation for those wrongfully given administrative detention, but the remedy often follows punishment if at all.”

 

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