Posts tagged: China

The Sentencing of Jiang Tianyong: What it Means for China & the World

By , December 3, 2017

Civil rights activist, Jiang Tianyong, sitting in the courtroom awaiting his sentence on Nov. 21, 2017

Last month, and three months after civil rights activist Jiang Tianyong pled guilty to “inciting subversion of state power,” the Changsha Intermediate Court finally issued its sentence: two years in prison (much of it already served) and the deprivation of Jiang’s political rights for three years.

As far as the crime of subverting state power goes, a crime the Chinese government has increasingly used to silence its civil rights activists, things could have been worse.  Jiang is seen as a leader in China’s civil rights circles, a lawyer who has daringly taken on some of China’s most politically sensitive cases, such as representing Falun Gong practitioners as well as ethnic Tibetans in the aftermath of the 2008 Tibetan riots.  As a result of his zealous advocacy in these cases, in 2009, the Chinese government denied the renewal of his law license.  But lack of a law license did not stopped Jiang from continuing his work.  Ironically, much of his advocacy began to focus on a new vulnerable group: China’s civil rights lawyers.  In 2011, Jiang played an active role in ensuring that blind activist Chen Guangcheng’s cruel house arrest remained in the public eye.  More recently, Jiang was important in supporting many of his colleagues who were caught up in the Chinese government’s July 9, 2015 nationwide crackdown on over 200 civil rights lawyers and activists (“709 Crackdown”). Through blog posts, tweets, calls for protests and interviews with foreign media as well as with Philip Alston, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Jiang effectively kept the 709 Crackdown visible.  It is this type of ardent support for his colleagues that has made him the him the soul of the movement.

Civil rights lawyer Zhou Shifeng at his sentencing. August 4, 2016

And in a legal system where the Chinese government essentially determines the crime and sentence of any activist regardless of evidence, such a leadership role would result in a charge that could lead to a substantial prison term.  But Jiang was only charged with – and pled guilty to – the lowest level of subversion under Article 105 of China’s Criminal Law: inciting subversion of state power; a crime that carries a prison term of three years maximum.  Some of Jiang’s colleagues – those caught up in the 709 Crackdown – received harsher sentences for actually subverting state power under Article 105, not just inciting it: Zhou Shifeng received seven years, Hu Shigen seven and a half years.  And more recently, two other activists, Lee Ming-che and Peng Yuhua, both arrested after the 709 Crackdown but still part of the Chinese government’s attack on free speech, were each charged with – and pled guilty – to Article 105’s subversion of state power and were sentenced to five years and seven years, respectively.

Jiang Tianyong, second from left, and proudly standing with other activists outside of a detention center.

But make no mistake, Jiang has suffered just as much as these other activists while in detention.  According to the China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, Jiang was repeatedly denied access to his own lawyers and allegations of torture have emerged.    He was demonized in the state-run press and social media outlets, and, although his own lawyers could never gain access to Jiang, the state-run CCTV was able to interview him in which he “admitted” to fabricating allegations of torture of his colleague Xie Yang.  After being held incommunicado for over nine months and under who knows what kinds of conditions, on August 22, 2017, Jiang pled guilty to the crime of inciting subversion.  In his televised, in-court confession, Jiang called upon his fellow rights defenders and rights lawyers to learn from his experiences.  A shockingly far cry from Jiang’s Twitter description“A lawyer who was born at just the right time; a lawyer who’s willing to take any case; a lawyer hated by a small political clique; a lawyer who wants to win the respect of regular folk; a lawyer who kept going even after being stripped of his law license.” (translation courtesy of China Change) – causing many, including his wife, to strongly believe that his confession was forced.

Cultural Revolution Poster: “Imperialists and reactionaries are all paper tigers”

Although much of Jiang’s ordeal calls into question the Chinese government’s commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights and why it must continue to abuse its own people, another deeply troubling trend has emerged: the Chinese government’s anti-foreign rhetoric.  In reporting on the Jiang’s sentencing last month, the state-run Legal Daily blamed the “foreign, anti-China” forces influencing Jiang for much of his behavior.  It is that paranoia of anything foreign that is the most dangerous to the current world order.  With the U.S. retreating from its position of global, moral leader, China is seeking to rise and promote its type of leadership.  From the trial of Jiang Tianyong, that moral leadership model seeks to create societies that are not just unresponsive to its own people, but shut off from connections with the rest of the world.  But it is those connections between cultures and people that have long been a driving force of the post-WWII model and have helped to maintain the peace in much of the world these last 75 years.

But in blaming these elusive, foreign, anti-China forces, the Chinese government ignores the real reason why these civil rights activists exist: the injustices in Chinese society.  It is Jiang’s own life that is a testament as to why the Chinese government’s efforts to suppress these civil rights activists will ultimately fail.  For a long time Jiang was just an ordinary guy; after graduating from college, Jiang was a teacher for almost 10 years. But in 2004, wanting to pursue greater justice for others, he gave up teaching to become a civil rights lawyer, passing the bar exam in 2005.  People like Jiang are not motivated by foreign forces or other entities; they are motivated to correct the injustices and sufferings of others to make their society better.  The Chinese government cannot stop people from feeling that way and the real question is – why would they want to.

Ooo, So Awkward….Trump’s Upcoming Visit to China

By , November 3, 2017

Nov. 3, 2017 @ 12:00 pm – The Trump Administration has just announced that Trump will extend his stay in Asia to attend the East Asia Summit.  This post was written last night, prior to that announcement.  

It’s got to be awkward to go on a whirlwind tour of Asia, meeting with various world leaders, and at the same time knowing that back home senior officials from your campaign are being indicted and one is even pleading guilty.  But that is exactly where U.S. President Donald Trump will find himself on Sunday when he lands in Japan for a nine-day tour that will also include stops in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.

It will be Trump’s two-day visit to Beijing – on November 8 and 9 –  that will likely be the most absurd, or at least the most absurd for Chinese President Xi Jinping; Trump will likely remain unaware about the asymmetry in their positions.  While he leads America’s retreat from global engagement and fails domestically to create a governing coalition that can successfully pass any of his major campaign promises, Xi’s star in the rise. With a celebrated speech before the world community in Davos, a successful One Belt, One Road conference that extends China’s influence and economic power  even beyond Asia, and a 19th Party Congress that further consolidated his power and control, Xi looks more and more like the reliable, senior statesman in the relationship.

But even in light of this imbalance, any meeting between the two most powerful leaders in the world leading the two largest economies will be a big deal.  And, even if Trump chooses to disengage Asia, America is still an important military presence in the region, so Trump’s visit, and what comes of it, will be important.  So what should we expect?

Expect the Continued Failure of Trump’s China Agenda

Xi & Trump, agreeing in Mar-a-Lago Photo Courtesy of CNN

On some level, Trump’s meeting with Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April was a success.  Not focusing so much on policy, Trump used the meeting to forge a personal relationship with Xi, a relationship that has proved beneficial in his dealings with China, in particular in regards to North Korea.  In August, China agreed to strong U.N. sanctions against North Korea including banning imports of North Korean coal, iron and lead.

But Trump still lacks a cohesive China policy and it is that shortfall that has become an Achilles heel for the United States, especially on the only other aspect of the relationship that is important to Trump: trade.  At the April Mar-a-Lago meeting, Xi and Trump announced the 100 Day Action plan to open Chinese markets to U.S. goods such as beef, liquefied natural gas and financial products.  But 100 days later, the only action achieved was the Chinese importation of U.S. beef, a deal that in fact had been brokered by the Obama Administration the year prior.  The July U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue, an annual summit between the economic heavyweights in the U.S. and Chinese government, proved equally as futile: the Dialogue ended without any agreements on trade, the cancelation of the joint press conference and no joint statement.

Not much has changed since July in the Trump White House, at least vis-a-vis China.  The Administration is still dangerously short of China experts.  The State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs still lacks an appointed Assistant Secretary of State (although Susan Thornton, a noted China hand, is serving as the Acting Assistant Secretary).  Aside from Matthew Pottinger, a veteran China journalist who currently serves as Senior Director of Asian Affairs on the National Security Council, the inner White House largely lacks anyone with intimate knowledge of China.  And while Jeffrey Kessler, a trade attorney whose career has dealt specifically with China, was recently nominated to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Enforcement and Compliance, his nomination comes too late to enable his expertise to serve a role in shaping Trump’s upcoming visit.

So for Trump’s November visit, expect a lot of bluster, promises to do more in the future, but don’t expect results.  And don’t expect Trump to raise the issue of human rights or the continued crackdown and disappearance of rights activist.  His Administration has barely focused on it.  Instead, at the September 2017 Social and Cultural Dialogue between the two countries, the only vague reference to any type of human rights issue was mention of China’s Foreign NGO Law, a law that has been used to break civil society in China.  However, the U.S. State Department issued a positive assessment of the law, noting that it has not impeded the “legal activities” of American NGOs.  Given the difficulty that many U.S. civil society NGOs have had in continuing their work in China since its passage, the State Department’s assessment seems to diverge significantly from reality.

Photo of the World Leaders at the 2011 East Asia Summit, the US’ first

Expect the Rest of Asia to Feel Abandoned and to Start Looking Elsewhere

Last month, the White House heralded Trump’s Asia trip as a way to “underscore his commitment to longstanding United States alliances and partnerships, and reaffirm United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” But that commitment is belied by Trump’s decision to skip the East Asia Summit. [Editor’s Note: On Nov. 3, 2017 at around noon, the Trump Administration announced that Trump would extend his trip to attend the East Asia Summit]

The East Asia Summit brings together the leaders of 16 Asian countries plus, since 2011, the leaders of Russian and the United States.  At the two-day summit, the world leaders discuss the major issues confronting the region including those involving trade, politics and security and through the Summit, the leaders shape the future of the region.  During his two terms as president, Barack Obama attended every East Asia Summit except the 2013 Summit, when the U.S. government was shut down.

Someone who knows a little bit about being undermined. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to attend the 2017 East Asia Summit

This year’s East Asia Summit is scheduled for November 13 and 14 in the Philippines, the country Trump will be in on November 12, making it easy for Trump to stay for the meeting. And thus making his absence even more obvious.  Any positive outcomes from the prior days’ meetings will be undermined by Trump’s failure to essentially stay in the Philippines for an extra day and engage these other world leaders and help shape the future of the region.  If Asia was questioning Trump’s commitment to Asia with his withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership or his unilateral war of words with North Korea, it now has an answer with Trump’s absence at the East Asia Summit: the U.S. is withdrawing from the Asia.  But the region is one of the most economically dynamic in the world and China is looking to take the lead in the area.  Are we ready to just walk away?

Just For Fun – Art Review: FOLD at the Museum of Chinese in America

By , October 29, 2017

Ai Weiwei’s public art installation, Good Fences Make Good  Neighbors, may be the talk of New York right now, but it is the recently-opened exhibit at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) that, if you want to see a subversive take on the current Administration’s immigration policy, is not to be missed.

MOCA’s exhibit, FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures, focuses on an event that ushered in a radical change in the United States’ immigration policy: the 1993 shipwreck of the Golden Venture in the Rockaways, Queens and the 281 Chinese undocumented immigrants, mostly men, who emerged from that cargo ship.  While 10 drowned trying to get to shore and another 190 were deported back to China and other countries, approximately 80 sought asylum and thus could stay in the United States pending a decision on their applications.

But unlike previous asylum-seeking immigrants, the Golden Venture men were not permitted to remain free.  Instead, for almost four years, while their cases were pending, they were held behind bars, mostly in a detention center in York, Pennsylvania.  With nothing to do, the prisoners began making shapes out of paper in the traditional Chinese folk art of papermaking, known in Chinese as zhezhi and popularized in Japan as origami.  But these artists took their papermaking to another level.  By tightly folding thousands of pieces of papers, the men were able to make large, beautiful paper sculptures. Some were of things that they knew – the ship that brought them to America, the Statute of Liberty, eight-story pagodas. And some reflect more their emotions – birds trapped in cages.  Or their playful side with cats fishing for fish and cartoon characters playing with each other.

One of the paper sculptures in MOCA’s FOLD

With over 40 of these sculptures, FOLD showcases these artists at the forefront of a folk art revolution, with a creation of a new type of art – qianzhi, now known in English as “Golden Venture folding.”  But more importantly, this section of FOLD reflects these immigrants’ humanity, something that has been too easily lost in the past year as rhetoric surrounding immigration takes on an increasingly cruel and callous tone.

And it is the second half of FOLD that brings us back to the unpleasant reality of the United States’ severe immigration policy over the past 20 years, culminating with the current Administration.  In a 20-minute documentary that runs in a continuous loop in another room, FOLD places the Golden Venture in its historical context.  Even under a Democratic President – in 1993, Bill Clinton – the idea of an immigrant as a person, as a family, as an artist began to be replaced with the fear of an immigrant as a security issue or worse, a negative political poll.

MOCA’s FOLD Exhibition

With discussions about the “bed quota” – a Congressional mandate that requires 34,000 immigrants to fill beds in immigration detention facilities not because there is a need but because the contracts with private prison companies require it – and the recent reversal on the Deferred Childhood Arrivals Action (DACA) program, where many of these DACA recipients now face the very real possibility of deportation solely because they trusted the government, FOLD sadly makes clear that the United States’ immigration policy is no longer a policy.  Instead it is a program that is used to feed corporate interests and nativist political whims.  Immigration has always been a difficult issue in America since essentially our founding.  But FOLD reminds us that there was a time before the Golden Venture when it wasn’t always like what it is today and our laws and regulations were shaped by policy, a policy that reflected our immigrant roots and sought to balance the interests of America with the humanity of the individual.

Rating: ★★★★★

FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures
Through March 25, 2018
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Open Tuesday through Sunday: 11 AM – 6 PM
Open Late on Thursdays to 9 PM
Free the first Thursday of every month
Otherwise $10 Adult; $5 Senior, Student, Children (includes permanent exhibits on history of NYC Chinatown)

Rule of Law at China’s 19th Party Congress – Oh No Xi Didn’t!*

By , October 16, 2017

Every five years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) holds a Party Congress, a week-long, rather formulaic meeting of Party members that is more about palace intrigue — who in the Party advances, who is left behind — than it is about anything substantive.  At most, broad policies for the direction of the Party, and hence direction of the country in this one-party state, are announced.  The world media usually looks on with feigned interest.

But, as the CCP opens its 19th Party Congress this Wednesday, this year will be different.  For the first time, the Party Congress comes as China’s global star is truly on the rise, with the United States pretty much on retreat in the region, at least as a reliable, predictable partner. As a result, the future of China’s leadership has become more important to the world, especially as the current leader, Xi Jinping, seeks to consolidate his power.

Since taking over leadership of both the Party and the State in 2012 and 2013 respectively, Xi has moved China’s governing model away from the collective Party approach of his immediate predecessors, an approach where he would merely be the first among equals; an approach that was largely put in place in response to the excesses of the one-man leadership of the Cultural Revolution. Instead, with Xi, all power increasingly resides with him and he has sought to fill the inner rankings of the Party with his supporters.

Party Man Wang Qishan (Photo Courtesy of the Epoch Times)

In that regards, this week’s 19th Party Congress will largely be watched to see who will replace five members of the seven-member Standing Committee of the CCP’s Politburo, each of whom will hit the retirement age of 68.  Who takes over the reins, and whether they are considered Xi’s people, will foretell the depths of Xi’s power over the Party, and thus the state. But it is the future of one person on the Politburo Standing Committee that will be most revealing: Wang Qishan, the current Secretary of the Party’s Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, the committee responsible for policing Party members.  Wang, who is already 69, should be replaced during this Party Congress under the Party’s unwritten rule of forced retirement at the age of 68.  But there is speculation that this rule will be broken so that Xi can keep his right-hand man on his anti-corruption campaign, a campaign that for sure has exposed corruption at the highest levels but has also allowed Xi to easily purge his rivals. If Xi is willing to break this unspoken rule for Wang, then there is good chance that in five years, he will break the rule for himself and continue on for an unprecedented third term as Party head and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, the two posts that hold real power in China.[1]

But the other thing to watch for at the 19th Party Congress is Xi Jinping’s doubling down on his anti-corruption campaign.  And not just because Xi has used the campaign to purge high-level officials who he considers a threat to his one-man rule — think Bo Xilai, Zhou Yongkang,and now, Sun Zhengcai, a man slated to be Xi’s successor until he was expelled from the Party. Instead, the anti-corruption campaign has been an affront to the rule of law in China.  Expect the 19th Party Congress to signal the codification of the abuses of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.

Currently, the anti-corruption campaign is largely conducted through the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), a commission ostensibly responsible for investigating Party members’ violation of Party rules and of which Xi’s right hand man, Wang Qishan is still the head.  Theoretically, the police and procuratorate are responsible for investigating and prosecuting any corruption or bribery that rises to the level of a crime.  But in practice, the police, prosecutor and courts are a mere after thought to the CCDI.  That is largely because, outside of the confines of the law, the CCDI is able to secretly detain Party members, deny them access to a lawyer and interrogate them in secret locations.  According to Human Rights Watch, torture and ill-treatment during these secret Party detentions, known colloquially in China as shuanggui, are prevalent.  Instead of there being two separate systems, the Party and the State, the two are intertwined according to HRW: the prosecutor is a part of the shuanggui process, using the confession obtained through that investigation in the prosecution of the case.  In the Bo Xilai case, Bo attempted to retract his confession at his trial, stating that it was made under duress.  In the end, the court ruled against him and he received a life sentence on charges of corruption and bribery.

Bo Xilai on trial in 2013

But having the shuanggui system in place, a system that exists in the shadows of the law, has not been enough for Xi.  Last November, the Party announced a new pilot program for Beijing, Shanxi and Zhejiang provinces where the Party would create a new government body, a Supervision Commission.  As the Party doesn’t really have the full authority to create new governmental bodies, a month later, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), adopted the Supervision Commission pilot project.  That Supervision Commission would be the sole entity responsible for corruption and bribery by Party members, state officials, the legislature, the courts and state employees, taking away that responsibility from the Procuratorate and the Anti-Corruption Bureau.  The Supervision Commission will also have the power to interrogate and detain individuals as well as freeze their assets; it is unclear what role the courts will play – if any – in oversight of the Supervision Commission’s broad powers.  According to Prof. Zhiqiong June Wang, while much is still unknown about these Supervision Commission, what is known is that they will share personnel with the Party’s CCDI.  Prof. Wang anticipates that the NPC will seek to adopt the pilot project nationwide in March 2018.

Corruption is a serious problem in China  and there might be an argument that bringing the anti-corruption campaign into a strong, unified government body will be good for transparency and legal protections for the suspects, something that is currently ignored by the CCDI.  But the question remains – will codifying this campaign bring it out of the shadows of the CCDI or will it just bring more shadows to the law?  It seems like the latter is the more likely outcome.  First, even if the Supervision Commission were to follow the law, China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) still allows the Commission to legally hold suspects incommunicado under “residential surveillance at a designated location” for six months without access to a lawyer.  This is because the provisions of  the CPL that the police currently use to do this to political activists under the guise of national security – Articles 37, 73 and 77 – apply where there are suspicions of “especially serious bribery.”  In a way, the CCDI’s methods have already been codified – and are actively being used with little reprimand – in the current CPL.

And with Xi only consolidating his power further at the 19th Party Congress, don’t expect there to be any divergent voices – anyone who cares about the Party and the government being subject to the law – in the Supervision Commission. The Party-State being subject to the law is not really Xi’s thing.  As if to demonstrate this further, this past weekend, the current head of the Ministry of Justice, Wu Aiying, was expelled from the Party.  Who replaced her as Justice Minister?  Zhang Jun, a former deputy chief of the CCDI.

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

[1] China’s Constitution limits the President, a state position, not a Party one, to two terms.  But it is the two Party positions where real power lies.  Deng continued on as China’s paramount leader as a force within the Party.

* Hattip to Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate for the title pun.

How Many Times Can the World Turn its Head…..The Case for Wang Quanzhang

By , August 30, 2017

To call China’s human rights lawyers “battered” is an understatement.  These lawyers are victims of the Chinese government’s deliberate and brutal pursuit to render them extinct.  And that is why the nomination of Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang for the Dutch government’s Human Rights Tulip award is so significant and why readers should vote for him (public voting is open here until September 6, 2017).

Wang is perhaps the quintessential human rights lawyer.  Even before graduating from Shandong University Law School in 2000, he was already representing some of Chinese society’s most vulnerable: members of the banned spiritual sect of Falun Gong.  From there, he extended his practice to assist farmers whose land was being confiscated, criminal defendants and other civil rights activist.  Throughout, he received constant pressure from the Chinese government to discontinue his practice and in 2013 was taken into custody by Chinese police merely for defending his client in court.  But instead of ending his advocacy, the Chinese government’s pressure only emboldened him. Wang criticized the Chinese government in a series of blog posts under the pen name Gao Feng and in 2014, traveled to Heilongjiang to protest the illegal detention of other human rights lawyers.  But for Wang, practicing law was not enough.  He also sought to elevate the legal profession in China and joined forces with a small foreign NGO in Beijing – Chinese Urgent Action Working Group (“China Action”) – to teach and support other human rights lawyers throughout China on how to effectively advocate in a one-party dictatorship.

Photo courtesy of China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, July 4, 2016

While the rest of the world might celebrate Wang’s commitment to justice, in China, Wang is considered a villain – at least according to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  It is his work that the CCP fears as a threat to its one-party rule and is intent on destroying.  On July 9, 2015, the Chinese government launched a national offensive against its human rights lawyers, simultaneously detaining over 300 lawyers and activist across the country (known colloquially as the “709 Crackdown”).  Wang was caught up in the persecution and on August 4, 2015 was detained for suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” and “inciting subversion of state power.”  Since then – for over two years – he has been held incommunicado, with his lawyers and his wife denied any access to him.  Ironically, the rights that Wang has long sought for his own clients – the right to meet with an attorney, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial in accordance with Chinese law – is being denied to him as he remains isolated in prison.

For sure, China’s human rights lawyers have been under assault for close to a decade now.  But as Professor Eva Pils notes in a recent article, the 709 Crackdown is much more severe, with new and frightening measures taken by the Chinese government.  From the inception of the Crackdown, the Chinese government has vilified these lawyers by name in the press (including naming Wang as a ringleader) and refer to them as a “criminal syndicate.” It has also changed its rhetoric – no longer are human rights lawyers a threat to social stability; instead, because of the influence of “foreign forces,” specifically the use of foreign NGO funds, the Chinese government presents these lawyers as a national security risk. And more recently, Pils notes that there appears to be at least six detained human rights lawyers who have been forced to take medication while in detention.  But not for any current medical condition.  Instead, it appears to Pils that the Chinese government’s use of forced medication has had a physiological impact on the detainees and is being used more to alter the personalities of the human rights defenders with the hope that they do not continue to practice once they are released.

Wang Quanzhang’s wife and son. Neither has seen Wang for the last two years,. Photo courtesy of RFA

And this is another reason why Wang Quanzhuang should be awarded the Human Rights Tulip.  China – the world’s second largest economy – offers another way by which to order society.  A world where human rights take a back seat to economics and alleged national security issues.  Unfortunately, the rest of the world appears to be largely playing along.  As Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo laid unnecessarily dying in a Chinese prison hospital, imprisoned for his speech, not a single world leader made a public peep about it at the G20 Summit that was happening at the same time.  As Beijing dismantles Hong Kong’s democracy, Western democracies largely remain quiet.  In May 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignorantly stated that promoting human rights “really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”   In June 2017, Greece – which has been able to economically recover largely through the support of China – vetoed the European Union’s condemnation of China’s human rights record.  And this has only been the last four months.  With the nomination of Wang Quanzhuang for the Human Rights Tulip, the question arises – how many times can the world turn its head and pretend that it just doesn’t see?   Is this who we really are?  If the answer is no, then please vote for Wang Quanzhuang here.  From the top three, the Minster of Foreign Affairs of the Dutch Government will choose a winner.

Without A Tomb To Sweep: The Death of Liu Xiaobo

By , July 16, 2017

2010 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Liu Xiaobo

This past Saturday, China Law & Policy marked the 8th anniversary of its founding.  But a commemorative birthday piece seemed inappropriate with the news that a few days earlier China’s only Noble Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, died in police custody.

Since the founding of this blog, Liu Xiaobo has been in jail. His crime?  His speech.  And in examining the Chinese government’s cruel response to Liu’s death, it is this speech that this aspiring superpower continues to fear.  Liu Xiaobo was not a murderer, a terrorist, and or even a revolutionary.  He was merely a Chinese activist, academic and public intellectual that for close to 30 years, used his pen to call upon the Chinese government to live up to its commitment to human rights; a commitment that China has agreed to by signing on to certain international treaties; a commitment that was written into the amended Chinese Constitution in 2004.

Liu’s most recent prison sentence wasn’t his first.  In 1989, Liu, who came back to China from a prestigious fellowship at Columbia University to support the students in Tiananmen Square, was sentenced to almost two years in jail for partaking in the movement.  When he was released, Liu lost his university position and his writings were

Liu Xiaobo (with megaphone) at the 1989 protests on Tiananmen Square. Later, Liu would be credited with brokering a peace with the troops to allow the couple of hundred of students left on the Square on June 4 to leave without bloodshed.

banned in China.  In 1996 Liu was  imprisoned for three years, this time in a Re-Education Through Labor camp, for a series of essays criticizing the Chinese government and calling for greater democracy for the Chinese people.  Then, in late 2008, Liu co-drafted a document known as “Charter 08.”  Modeled after Charter 77, the document that sparked the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, Charter 08, called for greater human rights in China, the end of one-party rule and an independent legal system.  Nothing terribly revolutionary. But for that, Liu was arrested, tried for inciting subversion of state power and, on Christmas Day 2009, sentenced to a harsh term of 11 years.  When he died last Thursday, Liu had only had about two years left on his sentence.  He hadn’t been heard from since his 2009 conviction.

But the silencing of Liu Xiaobo for the past eight years was not enough for the current regime.  When he was awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2010, the Chinese government vehemently criticized the choice and placed his wife, Liu Xia, under unlawful house arrest, house arrest that continues to today.  The Chinese internet was censored for any mention of Liu and the state-controlled media was not allowed to report on his prize.

Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia in happier times.

And even though, according to his wife, Liu was diagnosed by prison doctors with hepatitis B as early as 2010, his hepatitis was allowed to fester into liver cancer.  It appears that that Liu was only given proper medical treatment when it was too late – when the antiviral drugs that slows down hepatitis B from becoming liver cancer would no longer work, when embolization of the tumor would no longer be effective and when surgery could no longer be used to save a life.  It was only when the cancer became truly incurable that the Chinese government permitted Liu Xiaobo to go to a hospital – under constant guard – and die with his wife by his side. But even in his dying days, he was still denied dignity; the state-controlled media released pictures of Liu in the hospital, maintaining that the state had only given him the best care.  They would not let him go abroad as he requested, likely fearing that he would use his final breaths to criticize the Chinese government.

The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony and the empty chair where Liu Xiaobo was to sit.

With his death on Thursday, the Chinese regime rushed to hold a funeral so that Liu’s friends and admirers could not make it.  By Saturday morning, Liu Xiaobo’s wife buried his ashes at sea, likely at the demand of the Chinese government so that it could ensure that a tombstone would not be erected and potentially serve as a pilgrimage site. Liu’s brother was paraded on state-run TV stating that the quick sea burial was the family’s wishes. Even in his death, Liu was used as a propaganda tool, with pictures of his shell-shocked wife standing by the coffin and mechanically lowering his ashes into the ocean.  Since Thursday, 1.4 billion Chinese people have experienced a news blackout on anything related to Liu Xiaobo. International news channels were pulled from the air, the state-run media has been ordered not to report on Liu’s passing and Chinese censors have been in overdrive, taking down posts with RIP and candle emojis as the Chinese people attempt to publicly show their respect to their countryman.

Thousands of mourners in Hong Kong hold a march in honor of Liu Xiaobo. (Photo courtesy of the Guardian)

China is the second largest economy in the world and most believe that it will soon supplant the United States as the Asia regional superpower.  But yet this is how it responds to the death of one critique in its midst.  A man whose only weapons were words and thoughts.  If China still wonders why it can’t successfully project soft power internationally, this is it.  While the Chinese government protests that it treated Liu with utmost care in prison, provided as much medical care as possible at the end, and permitted his family to hold a funeral, it still can’t ignore the fact that it imprisoned – and essentially killed – a man for his thoughts.  The last Noble Peace Prize winner to die in state custody was Carl von Ossietky, the 1935 winner who, in 1938, died in a Nazi concentration camp.  It’s never a good thing to be compared to the Nazi regime.

But even more troubling is that the Chinese regime’s suppression of Liu Xiaobo’s speech – both in life and in death – reflects a government that does not trust its own people.  Is Liu’s words going to cause revolution in the streets?  Probably not.  But yet they cannot be heard.  And in recent years, that distrust has only worsened.  Two years ago, the Chinese government conducted a nationwide crackdown on China’s civil rights lawyers, lawyers who use the legal system to protect people’s legal rights; nothing particularly revolutionary about that tactic.  And any civil society organization that becomes too successful, is shut down.  The Chinese people are left with no outlet to shape their own society and demand that their government live up to its ideals. Instead, the Chinese government distrusts anyone who it believes dissents.  But as Liu Xiaobo noted in the speech that was read at his Noble Prize ceremony, that enemy mentality will be a setback to progress:

Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. . . . Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

Impromptu memorial for Liu Xiaobo in Flushing, Queens, NYC (Courtesy of Facebook)

And Liu’s words and thoughts are not just ripe for the Chinese government right now but for all of us.  Especially as the current United States Administration focuses less on human rights.  On Thursday, President Trump issued a pathetic statement on Liu’s death through his press secretary. And only after he gushed about the greatness of China’s president Xi Jinping a mere hours after Liu’s passing.  It wasn’t just China who lost a hero on Thursday, but the world.  And the world needs the ideals of Liu Xiaobo now more than ever.  May you rest in peace Liu Xiaobo and may we find the courage to continue your struggle both in China and in the world at large.

China’s First Gay Conversion Therapy Case – Is it Really a Victory?

Courtesy of Asian Journal

Last week, a local court in Henan, China held that the involuntary commitment of a gay man in a state-run mental hospital was a violation of China’s Mental Health Law.[1]  The court required the hospital to make a public apology and to compensate the man 5,000 yuan (approximately $735)  for his mental anguish.  Across China, and in much of the West, civil rights groups have hailed this decision as historic; a victory against forced gay conversion therapy; a step forward for LGBT rights in China.

But is it?  The very fact that the court decided to hear the case – let alone find in the victim’s favor – is significant.  In China, to get to a trial date, you have to first make it past the Case Filing Division (立案庭), a department within the court system, staffed by judges, that examines, behind closed doors, the papers to see if the case should move forward. More politically-charged cases are often rejected by the Case Filing Division and thus, never make it to court.  But here, this case – a politically-charged case where the plaintiff claimed that he was involuntarily committed because of a diagnosis of “sexual orientation disorder” –  was accepted by the local Case Filing Division and thus, was considered important enough to be heard.  And the fact that a court held against a government-run hospital is a pretty big deal.

Courtesy of LGBTQ Nation

But the Court’s decision is not the sweeping condemnation of forced gay conversion therapy that the headlines make it out to be.  If anything, it shows the weakness of China’s Mental Health Law and the fact that involuntary commitment is still too easy a task with little to no immediate safe guards.

The Court’s Decision Does Not Mention Gay Conversion Therapy

Although the plaintiff raised the issue that he was being involuntarily committed for what he claimed the hospital diagnosis as a “sexual orientation disorder”, those are not the facts as the Court saw it.  Instead, the Court noted that the plaintiff was involuntarily committed for an anxiety disorder, never mentioning the plaintiff’s sexuality.  Further, its decision in favor of the plaintiff had nothing to do with the efficacy, morality or legality of gay conversion therapy.

Instead, the Court focused on Article 30 of China’s Mental Health Law, the provision that limits involuntary commitment to cases where the patient is in danger of harming himself or harming others.  Here, the Court noted the hospital’s written diagnosis which stated that while the plaintiff had suicidal thoughts, he was not going to act on those thoughts.  It was this act – the commitment of the plaintiff when he was not a threat to himself or others and in clear violation of Article 30 – that the Court admonished, not that the plaintiff was forced to undergo a mental health treatment to “cure” his homosexuality.

Under the Mental Health Law, Involuntary Commitment is Still Too Easy & Will Continue to Unlawfully Occur

If anything, this case lays bare the weaknesses of China’s Mental Health Law.  Enacted five years ago, the Law was seen as stopping the involuntary commitment of individuals who did not have a mental disorder, or if they did, not one that needed commitment.  In China, involuntary commitment was all too easy of a way for the police to deal with and silence political dissidents or anyone they considered to be “trouble.”  And initial drafts of the Law continued to permit involuntary commitment  if the individual’s behavior was deemed to be “disturbing public order” or “endangering public safety.”  But, in a victory for mental health advocates, the final version did not  include that basis.  Instead, involuntary commitment was limited to where there is a real possibility of harm to self or others.

But what the Mental Health Law did not change is the deference that the law gives to family members.  Article 28 of the Mental Health Law still permits family members to involuntarily commit an individual that the family member suspects has a mental illness.

Here, after the plaintiff attempted to divorce his wife, she and the plaintiff’s brother brought him to the mental hospital and recommended commitment, as they unfortunately have a right to do under Article 28. As family members, they were immediately declared the plaintiff’s guardians and thus were able to sign the involuntary commitment documents.

And that is the other problem with the current Mental Health Law, the ease by which a guardian is appointed. While the Mental Health Law gives a tremendous amount of power to an individual’s guardian, it provides no method for how that guardian should be appointed.  Instead, it is necessary to look to the General Principles of Civil Law which discusses guardianship for individuals with mental illness.

Unfortunately, the General Principles does little to flesh out the appointment process.  Instead, it makes clear the level of abuse that can occur.   Article 13 of the General Principles requires the appointment of an agent ad litem (a guardian) for mentally ill individuals who are “unable to account for his own conduct.”  But the law does not flesh out what “account for his own conduct means.”  Some individuals with mental illness may still be able to lead a relatively normal life and just need help in certain aspects.  But the General Principles is much more black and white; much more all-or-nothing and do not allow for that gray area that provides for some independence for an individual with slight assistance from a guardian.

Additionally, the General Principles provides no formal or independent process by which a guardian is appointed.  Basically, if a person wants to be a family member’s guardian, she can just declare herself as such (Article 17 of the General Principles pretty much limits guardians to family members although there is a provision for a work unit member).  Based on the General Principles and what happened in the case here, the process for guardianship in China is not an appointment process but rather a declaration one.  And there is no court oversight of this declaration of guardianship. Hence the ability of a soon-to-be ex-wife to declare herself guardian and commitment her gay husband to mental institution in a society that isn’t always the friendliest to LGBT lifestyles.

Finally, although the Mental Health Law does permit the patient to contest his diagnosis and demand a second opinion (see Article 32), that evidently did not happen here.  The Court did note that the commitment was over plaintiff’s objections, but there is not mention if there was a second opinion of his diagnosis as should have happened when the patient contests.  And again, without immediate judicial oversight of the commitment process, an increasingly massive failure of the Mental Health Law, abuse of involuntary commitment will continue.  Here, the plaintiff was only able to escape  after he was able to call a friend who called the police and then the police intervened and freed the plaintiff.  But if he wasn’t able to make that phone call, it is unclear when he would have been released.

What this case shows more than anything is that involuntarily committing – especially a family member – is still too easy and, five years after the passage of the Mental Health Law, is still being to readily abused.

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[1] China Law & Policy was fortunate to review a copy of the four-page decision.  This post is based upon our review of that decision.

As the Sun Rises on Tiananmen

Bird’s eye view of Tiananmen Square

On Sunday, the sun will rise once again on Tiananmen Square, much like it did on the same Sunday 28 years ago.  But unlike that Sunday – June 4, 1989 – Beijing will not awaken to its city occupied by the Chinese military nor the streets surrounding Tiananmen Square littered with the dead bodies of unarmed civilians.

Instead, life will go on in China with no official acknowledgement of the anniversary of that fateful day 28 years ago when the Chinese government ordered its military to open fire on its own people. The exact number of people killed the night of June 3, 1989 into the early morning hours of June 4 is only known to the perpetrators of the massacre: the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”). But whether it was a few hundred or a few thousand does not diminish the fact that peaceful protests were squashed with such a violent – and unnecessary – crackdown.

Hundreds of thousands gather on Tiananmen Square, June 2, 1989 (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

Contrary to the CCP’s interpretation of events, the protests in Beijing were not counter-revolutionary attempts to undermine the CCP. And contrary to the Western media’s perceptions at the time, it was not an effort to bring Western democracy to China.  Instead, the protests were deeply rooted in China’s own history and tradition, a tradition of students conducting patriotic demonstrations in an effort to strengthen their country.

In 1989, those efforts were directed at the nepotism and corruption that was beginning to plague the CCP, the economic turmoil brought on by inflation, the lack of personal freedoms and government censorship.  While students started the protests, eventually, much of the populace joined in, with workers going on strike to support the movement.  By mid-May, the protests would draw over a million people on a daily basis. Neither the May 19 declaration of martial law nor the pleading by sympathetic leaders for protesters to clear the square stopped the protests.  And on June 3, 1989, Deng Xiaoping gave the order for the army to fire on the civilians.

Tanks roll onto Tiananmen Square, June 4, 1989

For a brief time after the crackdown, the CCP did acknowledge the event. Not to celebrate the brave men and women who gave their lives to better their country, but to condemn them. Slowly, however, the CCP’s policy changed and instead of trying to change the narrative of that night, the CCP chose to forget it.  Today, the Tiananmen massacre is largely scrubbed from the Chinese internet, it is not allowed to be discussed openly and many of the children born after 1989 do not know of the truth of that night.

But every year, there are still those in China willing to risk their freedom to commemorate the violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square.  A few years ago it was Chinese netizens reposting the image of the Tank Man – the Chinese citizen stopping a line of tanks, a banned picture on the Chinese internet – standing in front of a line of large, yellow rubber ducks.  The picture spread on the Chinese internet until the Chinese authorities got wind, and censored “yellow rubber duck.”  This year, it is four men who produced a Chinese rice wine with a label that references “6*4”, a shorthand for the June 4 crackdown, and calls on people to “never forget.”  While the bottle has been smuggled out of China by a sympathetic Chinese official, those four men are currently facing charges of inciting subversion of state power.

As much as the CCP may try, China will not forget the brave men and women who lost their lives on June 4, 1989.  For there are still enough Chinese people who are willing to put their safety on the line to ensure that that does not happen.

One Belt One Road – A Lot More Than Just A Weird Name

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers opening remarks at the One Belt, One Road Summit on May 14, 2017 in Beijing (Photo courtesy of New York Times)

For those in the United States who woke up this morning not realizing that China just opened one of the largest trade summits in Asia, you are not alone.  For the American press has barely mentioned China’s “One Belt, One Road” policy, let alone this inaugural, two-day summit of the initiative, with over 1,500 participants and 28 heads of state in attendance.

But One Belt, One Road is not something to be ignored. Although launched only four years ago, it reflects Beijing’s very real ambition to exert its economic influence – if not be the dominating economic force – in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa.  It also reflects the historical legacy of China’s Silk Road – a trade route between Europe and China that emerged as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 B.C.) and flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.).  It was the Silk Road that resulted in China becoming the economic and cosmopolitan superpower that it was during those time periods.  China’s current One Belt, One Road initiative seeks to replicate that route, creating a modern day trade route over land from Beijing to Europe.  But it also calls for creating a maritime trade route around South Asia to the east coast of Africa and the Middle East.

However, unlike the ancient Silk Road – where trade flowed in and out of China – with One Belt, One Road, China’s intention is predominately for trade to go out. As Peter Cai of the Lowry Institute argues in his report Understanding China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in many ways, China’s geostrategic interests – that it seeks to be the new global superpower over the United States, with control of key trade routes – are secondary to its domestic economic motivations for One Belt, One Road.

Lanzhou’s Airport, Terminal 2 (Photo courtesy of China.org.cn)

First, Cai highlights that the economic inequality between rich, east coast cities (think Shanghai, Guangdong, Xiamen) and China’s hinterland are at almost crisis levels.  But One Belt, One Road – with its reorientation on trade moving West – would focus on these land-locked, poorer cities and provinces like Gansu, Xinjiang, and even some of the less rich provinces of China’s northeast.  According to Cai, these areas are all competing to borrow money at low rates under the One Belt, One Road to build its infrastructure in anticipation of these new trade routes.  There is a reason why Lanzhou, in what feels like the middle of nowhere China, has one of the fanciest airports in the country.

Economic slowdown in China? (Photo courtesy of the Economist)

China’s second domestic economic motivation for One Belt, One Road is the fact that with economic slowdown recently, key industries such as steel, coal and construction, have excess capacity.  These are the same industries that took a lot of loans from the central government to get through the global financial crisis of 2008, loans that may not be re-payed if China’s economy stays where it is.  One Belt, One Road however, is a way to escape this conundrum.  But not just by selling steel or coal or cement abroad.  Instead, as Cai points out, China intends to actually move the production facilities to these other countries.  This would allow China to rid itself of a supply glut while providing less developed countries with manufacturing facilities that can help with their own economic development (although they will likely still be Chinese-owned).  In some ways, a win-win for China and these other One Belt, One Road countries.

China has already moved some factories abroad, such as this garment factory which was moved from China to Ethiopia where labor is cheaper. (Photo courtesy of Daily Mail/Getty Images)

And at the same time, by moving factories abroad, China will be able to refocus its economy from a low-end manufacturing country to one that can promote innovation and technological development.  With China as the key innovative country in the region, it can then use One Belt, One Road, to promote its new technologies – like the high-speed railways it is building in various African countries and Southeast Asian countries.  With all these countries being on the same railway system only deepens the trade partnership and economic integration with China.

While the United States turns inward and gets bogged down with needless political crises, One Belt, One Road is in many ways a genius strategy for China.  It gets itself out of its own economic straights, it ensures global integration in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa with China at the center, and enables China to exert greater and greater global influence.

The Silk Road of the past – when camels roamed

But, while China has pledged $1 trillion to One Belt, One Road, much of that money has yet to be spent.  There is also the gamble of the Chinese government’s very deliberate and planned approach to developing this trade route: it does not enable Chinese companies themselves –companies who are best able to determine the risk in their industries and in the countries where China wants them to invest – to make their own decisions.  But as Elizabeth Economy, the Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) noted at a CFR event the other week, if fully realized, the One Belt, One Road initiative will fundamentally restructure the political landscape for over a third of the world.

But if all you do is read the U.S. press, that fact could just pass you by.

The Trump-Xi Summit – Making Plans to Make Plans

By , April 11, 2017

Presidents Trump and Xi Jingping at Mar-a-Lago, April 6, 2017 (Photo courtesy of JIM WATSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

To say that the U.S. air strike on Syria overshadowed the Trump-Xi summit last week would be an understatement.  The event basically eclipsed the two day conference, pushing the meeting between the leaders of the world’s two largest economies to second page news.

But even without the Syrian air strike, the summit would not have created much news.  In fact, in the way Trump and Xi each described the outcome of the meeting – deepening their friendship  and making progress in their relationship – it seemed more reminiscent of a marriage proposal in Elizabethan England than a discussion between two powerful countries that have been having a difficult relationship.

But did anything substantive come out of the summit?  The South China Morning Post has a great review of the issues discussed – and not discussed – at last week’s summit.  But here are some highlights:

Trade

At Mar-a-Lago last week (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump did raise the issue of trade and, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump “underscored the need for China to take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.”  But it is unclear if the statement resonated with the Chinese delegation.  And, contrary to some pundits’ expectations, Xi did not come to Mar-a-Lago with a peace offering, namely proposing job-creating investments in the United States.

Instead, the two sides announced the 100-Day Plan, a policy to completely overhaul their trade relationship within 100 days.  While most countries take years to rebalance a trade relationship, Trump and Xi are going to do it in a mere 100 days.  Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross correctly noted that this approach would be a “very big sea change” but offered no explanation exactly how all of this can occur in a matter of three-and-a-half months or even why it should; why such a rush to recalibrate the most important trade relationship in the world is a good idea.

North Korea

While both countries acknowledged North Korea as a growing nuclear threat, no middle ground was met.  It appears that Trump continued to warn China that if it did not do more, the U.S. would follow its own course of action, and with the Syrian attack in the backdrop, one can only imagine what Xi was thinking in all this.  China’s foreign minister however noted that if North Korea ceases its nuclear program, then military action in the region should also cease.  Interestingly, this was the suggestion that Beijing made last month: to halt the joint U.S.-South Korea military drills to induce North Korea to coming back to the negotiating table.  The U.S. did not listen and instead continued with the drills.

Human Rights

Just say no to human rights

Neither side mentioned whether human rights was raised during the summit and, given the agendas of these two men, it likely was not.  But in a White House-approved statement after the summit, Tillerson again used the vocabulary of the Chinese Communist Party (“CCP”) to describe the U.S.-China relationship: one of “mutual interest.”  For the Chinese, this is not rhetoric but words that come with baggage.  Mutual interest is often used by China to scold other countries when those countries question China’s domestic policies.  Usually used in relation to China’s interest in Tibet and Taiwan, it can also be used in defense of foreign criticism of policies that seek to viciously stamp out civil society. So expect human rights to play a low role in Trump’s policy toward China.

State Visit & U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue

Trump – already big in China

Xi invited Trump to a state visit in China this year and Trump said yes.  But more importantly, the U.S. and China established a framework by which to hold high-level talks, the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue.  Make no mistake, this is not a new idea.  Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. and China would periodically host the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Human Rights Dialogue and on occasion, the Legal Experts Dialogue.  It appears that Trump and Xi are going to replace these dialogues with the U.S.-China Comprehensive Dialogue (date yet to be announced) which will have four tracks: a diplomatic and security dialogue; a comprehensive economic dialogue; a law enforcement and cybersecurity dialogue; and a social and cultures issues dialogue.  Again, human rights was not named as a specific issue and if it is unclear if this issue will merely be squished into the social and cultural issue dialogue.

So in the end, not many outcomes from the Trump-Xi summit.  Perhaps what is more telling though is what was not said at the summit.  No mention of Taiwan, no mention of human rights and no mention of increased Chinese investment in the U.S. to create jobs.  But check back in 100 days.

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