Posts tagged: Jiang Tianyong

Slow Killing in Rural China

By , February 29, 2012

Human rigfhts activist and lawyer, Chen Guangcheng

One would think that a poor, illiterate, blind man, who eventually learned to read in his early 20s, taught himself the law, and used those legal skills to protect the rights of society’s most vulnerable, would be celebrated.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for Chen Guangcheng.  Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer in rural China who blazed the way for China’s nascent disability rights law is currently under unlawful house arrest with his wife and two small children, guarded 24 hours a day by local thugs, denied access to medical care as well as to all visitors and at times subject to physical abuse.

While this has been the status quo for Chen and his family since September 2010, the situation has just become more dire.  Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), a well-respected China human rights group, reported last week that a sympathetic guard informed CHRD that Chen has grown increasingly ill, collapsing after walking only a few steps in his yard.  Chen suffers from severe gastroenteritis, a condition left untreated while he served an unjust four-year-and three-month prison term and that still remains untreated even though he is “free.”

It is time that the United States’ government publicly expresses its concern for Chen’s health, question the legal basis of Chen’s current house imprisonment, highlight China’s violations of international law treatment in its treatment of Chen, and demand that China follow through with its invitation to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to visit its country. Recent developments reflect that international pressure may change the Chinese government’s behavior.

How Did Chen Guangcheng Go from Good Guy to Enemy of the Chinese State?

Chen’s short legal career centered on fighting for the rights of China’s most vulnerable: those with disabilities.  After winning a series of cases, including one requiring the Beijing subway system to waive fares for the disabled, Chen turned his attention to a new injustice that was occurring in his own hometown in Linyi county in Shandong Province.

In early 2005, Chen’s neighbors began to tell him stories of forced abortions, forced sterilizations, and even abduction and physical abuse of relatives by government officials so that the Linyi government could meet a significantly lower birth rate quota imposed by Linyi’s new mayor, Li Qun.

While China maintains a one-child policy, forced abortions and sterilizations are illegal under Chinese law.  Unfortunately, as an investigation by Chen and supportive lawyers from Bejing uncovered, because local officials’ promotions are tied with keeping birthrates low, the law criminalizing forced abortions and sterilizations is sometimes ignored, especially in rural areas.  By the summer of 2005, Chen filed multiple lawsuits in Linyi on behalf of many of the victims.

But as Chen was to find out, China’s legal reform only goes so far: fighting for the rights of the disabled are acceptable; but cases challenging China’s sacrosanct and politically sensitive one-child policy are decidedly not.  Even a well-respected, blind rights lawyer puts his safety on the line if he seeks to challenge the administration of the one-child policy.

In what amounted to kangaroo justice, in September 2005, Chen was placed under strict house arrest by the Linyi government, eventually charged with “gathering crowds to undermine traffic order,” found guilty in a trial where his lawyers were not allowed to attend, and in 2006, sentenced to four years-and-three-months in prison.

Chen Guangcheng’s Life Since September 2010 – An Absurd Version of Freedom

In September 2010, Chen completed his four-plus-year jail term only to learn that his home would become his prison.  Lacking any legal basis under Chinese law and in contravention to multiple international treaties, since his “release,” Chen and his wife have not been able to leave their home.  Chen’s six-year old daughter, Kesi, was initially denied access to school.  But, after much domestic and international pressure, Kesi is now permitted to go to school, walked to and from school by the thugs who surround her home, unable to play with any of her classmates.

Freedom House reportsthat Chen and his family are completely surrounded by thugs hired by the Linyi government to keep all visitors out and keep Chen in.  It is estimated that the

Christian Bale, accosted by Linyi "security guards" in his attempt to visit Chen Guangcheng in December 2011

local government has hired almost 100 men to maintain 24-7 surveillance of Chen and his family.  These thugs resort to force to keep all visitors out, physically attacking Chen’s friends, reporters, foreign government officials, and even Batman star Christian Bale who attempted to visit Chen last December.  Freedom House also reports that surveillance checkpoints points have been set up on various roads into the village, six cameras positioned throughout the village to record all activity and two cell phone jammers make it impossible for Chen and his family to communicate with the outside world.

In February 2011, a sympathetic government source smuggled to ChinaAid, a U.S.-based China human rights group,   a video recording that Chen made of his new life.  Soon after ChinaAid posted the video to its website, the Linyi thugs entered Chen’s home and beat him and his wife for close to two hours.  After the severe beating, Chen and his wife were denied medical treatment.

The continued denial of all medical treatment and Chen’s worsening gastroenteritis has appeared to raise Chen’s medical condition to emergency status, distressing his friends and supporters. Chen’s longstanding friend lawyer Jiang Tianyong, himself the victim of ‘forced disappearance,’ retweeted a recent comment from another that ‘everybody’s now just waiting for the news that Chen Guangcheng has died; so we can erect a memorial for him….’ Jiang’s immediate and emotional reaction to any thought that his friend could die: ‘you’re really sick.’

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen, a Chinese legal scholar with over 60 years of experience in China likely thought that China’s worst was behind it.  But the current situation with his friend Chen Guangcheng visibly alarms the old China hand.  “This cruel, slow killing seems to be the only way the Party can think of to rid itself of a courageous critic without having him appear to die in its custody” Cohen told China Law & Policy.

Will International Pressure Change the Chinese Government’s Treatment of Chen?

On one level, the internationally community doesn’t have a choice if it wants Chen Guangcheng to live.  But on another level, pressure in this case would be a smart strategic move.  Although the Chinese central government is fully aware of the abuse of Chen and his family, it isn’t directly perpetuating it.  The torture of Chen and his family is largely the result of Linyi’s officials’ vengeance.  In statements to foreign officials, Chinese officials have allegedly explained that “house arrest does not exist under Chinese law” and that Chen is free and leading a “normal life.”

If foreign and domestic pressure remains strong, the Chinese central government will have less of an incentive to acquiesce to the Linyi’s government blatant violations of Chinese law.  Other signs seem to indicate that not everyone in the Chinese government is on board with Linyi officials’ behavior.  Although Chen and his family are being held completely incommunicado, information is still able to get out.  ChinaAid receives information, including the smuggled video and letters from Chen’s wife, from a “reliable government source;” CHRD learned of Chen’s worsening medical condition from a sympathetic guard.

Chen & family

In October 2011, the Global Times, a state-run newspaper that is considered the voice of the Chinese Communist Party’s hardliners, published an editorial attempting to distance the central government from Linyi government’s actions.   As CHRD reported in “Let There Be Light, Let There Be Sincerity: Citizens Campaign to Free Chen Guangcheng,” there is a growing citizen campaign to free Chen, even with the censorship of most news regarding Chen.  In December 2011, several of Chen’s collegues and friends made a film about Chen – “Who is Chen Guangcheng” – publicly calling for his release (film is in Mandarin with no subtitles).

Foreign governments should hold the Chinese government to its statement that Chen is leading a “normal life” and specifically request that Chinese government officials accompany foreign officials to visit Chen Guangcheng.  Given his worsening condition, foreign governments should make this a priority.  Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington, DC offered the perfect opportunity to publicly raise the U.S. government’s concern for Chen’s health; unfortunately it didn’t.

The United Nations should bring public attention to China’s clear violations of the of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 25, the right to adequate health) as well as violations of treaties it has voluntarily ratified including: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 12 for denial of medical care); the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and the Convention on Rights of the Child (for denying Kesi the freedom of association (Article 15), for the mental anguish caused by her imprisonment (Article 19), for denying her the right to play (Article 31)).   In addition, the Human Rights Council should look to issue a new opinion concerning Chen’s arbitrary detention to update its 2006 opinion when Chen was first held under unlawful house arrest.

Finally, the international community should demand that China follow through with its invitation to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to visit its country.  In 2009, the Chinese government invited the High Commissioner to visit China and see first-hand China’s human rights situation, both good and bad.  That was two years ago and China still hasn’t allowed the current High Commissioner to visit.  But if China waits only a few more months, it won’t have to worry: the current High Commissioner’s term expires this fall.

The fact that China verbally commits to human rights reviews and ratifies certain conventions demonstrates that international status means something to it; not necessarily enough to always abide by human rights laws, but enough for international pressure in the case of Chen to make a difference.

What About the Forced Abortions, the Issue that Caused all of this?

In September 2005, soon after Chen was placed under his first house arrest, China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the government agency that oversees China’s one-child policy, conducted its own investigation and announced that government-enforced abortions and sterilizations occurred in Linyi in contravention of China’s law.  Although many officials were arrested and penalized for their behavior, Li Qun, the mayor who initialized Linyi’s campaign of forced abortions, was eventually promoted and today serves as Party Secretary of the major metropolis Qingdao.

Li’s promotion demonstrates the importance of people like Chen Guangcheng, those willing to put their lives on the line to protect citizens’ rights and dignity; rule of law might not be what local governments want but it is what the Chinese people are desperate for.

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Below are sources that can provide more information on Chen Guangcheng, his legal career and his current struggle:

  • Philip Pan, Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China, Chapter 7 – Blind Justice, (Simon & Schuster 2009) (describing Chen’s legal career, Linyi’s harsh one-child policy, and the 2006 arrest and trial of Chen);
  • Jerome A. Cohen has written and spoken extensively on Chen’s persecution since his release from prison.  Articles calling for change can be found here and here;
  • Peter Foster, Beijing correspondent for The Telegraph has a good piece here on the effectiveness of Chinese citizens’ “Free Chen Guangcheng” campaign and their efforts to enter his village.
  • Congressional-Executive Commission on China has brief background on Chen as well as a list of those who have attempted to visit him here (current through Dec. 11, 2011).

In Defense of Dylan in China: Come Writers and Critics Who Prophesize with Your Pen

By , April 10, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Bob Dylan performed in concert in Beijing on April 6 and Shanghai on April 8

Maureen Dowd’s op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times – Blowin’ in the Idiot Wind – lambasts singer-songwriter/protest-singer/civil-rights-activist/voice-of-a-generation/whatever-he-is-to-you Bob Dylan for his recent concert in Beijing, China.  For Dowd, Dylan’s acceptance of the Chinese government’s approval of his set list is anathema to everything he represents.  Dropping his famous protest songs of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are A’Changin’” from the set list during China’s most severe crackdown on its own citizens since 1989 and ignoring the recent detention of Chinese rights activists shows, for Dowd, that Dylan is nothing more than a sellout, willing to auction his morals to the highest bidder.

But Dowd’s virulent critique of Dylan makes one wonder, where has she been in all of this?  Dowd is an obvious Dylan fan, likely even a disciple, with her skilled use of Dylan quotes and understanding of the man’s extremely tangled and uncomfortable history with fame.  But China’s “harshest crackdown on artists, lawyers, writers and dissidents in a decade” and its “dispatching the secret police to arrest willy-nilly, including Ai Weiwei” as Dowd notes, didn’t just start this weekend and didn’t just start with the detention of Ai Weiwei.

Since the middle of February, the Chinese government has been illegally abducting Chinese rights activists, preventing them from contacting their family let alone a lawyer, and subjecting them to torture and abuse.  This siege on rights activists in China is done as a pre-emptive strike on the nascent civil society that has been developing and is an attempt for the Chinese Communist Party to avoid the fate of Mubarak and Ben Ali and maintain its one-party authoritarian rule, especially as a change of leadership comes in 2012.

Tang Jitian was abducted from his home on February 16, 2011, starting what has proved to be a wide-cast net of illegal abductions and abuse (abuse of both China’s own laws and the individuals that remain in custody).  Since then, Dowd has written 13 columns, not a single one dealing with the issue of the Chinese government’s harsh and violent crackdown on its citizens.  Today’s column barely touches upon the issue and instead focuses on Dylan’s “selling out.”

Let’s face it, Dylan is unable to sell out because he never bought in in the first place.  Dylan never fully engaged the civil rights movement.  While his songs did become a motivating force for many of the great civil rights activists and moments in U.S. history, by 1965, he was done with folk and had plugged in.  And since the 1980s, Dylan has been on a non-stop tour, selling the rights of his iconic protest songs to commercial entities (the rights to Times They Are A Changin’ was first sold to accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand and in 1996 to the Bank of Montreal), appearing in a Victoria’s Secret ad, producing an abysmally bad Christmas album, and almost never including Blowin’ in the Wind and the Times They Are A’Changin’ in any set list anywhere in the world (review his set lists here: http://www.bobdylan.com/tour/calendar/2010).

Dylan’s lack of mentioning China’s recent crackdown on dissent isn’t shocking.  In fact, the old guy likely knows nothing of what is happening in China – why should we rely on him to be our voice and do all the work?  This isn’t his issue; in fact, the man likely has no issues other than himself.

Which brings us back to Maureen Dowd.  Unlike most of the people concerned about human rights abuses in China, Dowd has a powerful platform for her voice – her twice-a-week column in the N.Y. Times.  With a large and influential readership that likely reaches the halls of the White House and Congress, discussion of China’s recent abuse of its own citizens and its subversion of a rule of law in her column could influence important policy makers as well as the world-at-large.

To their credit, some of the world’s major newspapers have been reporting on China’s recent crackdown, but these articles have been cursory at best and do not fully explain why China’s recent assault goes above and beyond what traditionally occurs in an authoritarian regime.  But most individuals knowledgeable on the issue have had extreme difficulty in getting their voice out in the mainstream press (kudos though to The International Herald Tribune and the N.Y. Times for publishing opinion pieces in its print editions and kudos to  The Guardian and the Wall Street Journal for having opinion pieces on the issue in their online papers).

Dowd has the opportunity to expose what is happening in China and call for the freeing of, or at the very least the end of the abuse of, not just Ai Weiwei, but also rights-defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Jiang Tianyong, Teng Biao, Liu Shihui, Tang Jingling, Li Tiantian, and Gao Zhisheng.  The whereabouts of these lawyers, unlawfully abducted by Chinese authorities (even under Chinese law), remain unknown.  Their only offense: asking the Chinese government to uphold its promise of a rule of law and using the legal system to protect society’s most vulnerable.

Dowd’s disappointment in Dylan’s snub of China’s crackdown on dissent leads me to believe that this is an issue Dowd is concerned about.  But instead of asking Dylan to be the spokesperson for the issue, Dowd should practice what she herself appears to preach.  My challenge to Dowd is to use her sharp-witted pen and find a way to raise the plights of China’s rights-defenders in the American consciousness instead of relegating it to two sentences in a column that is otherwise a critique of Dylan.  If Dowd doesn’t, then I am left to think “you could have done better but I don’t mind, you just kinda wasted my precious time….”

Rights Lawyer Gao Zhisheng’s Wife on His Abduction

By , March 28, 2011

Gao Zhisheng is perhaps the most well-known of China’s rights-defending lawyers.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gao began successfully representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers denied just compensation for their land.  In fact, in 2001, Gao was named by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of China’s most influential lawyers.  Spurred by his success and what appeared to be a Chinese government welcoming a stronger public interest law bar, Gao expanded his work to included practitioners of Falun Gong, a religious organization which the Chinese government has long feared as a threat to its one-party rule and has declared a cult.  Gao’s representation of Falun Gong practitioners did not just highlight the baseless accusations of “using superstitious sects [cults] to undermine the implementation of the law” (China’s Criminal Law, art. 300), but also the torture of Falun Gong practitioners while in police custody (for a seminal article on Gao’s work, see Eva Pils, Asking the Tiger for His Skin: Rights Activism in China, Fordham International Law Journal 2007. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1563706).

Gao’s zealous advocacy of Falun Gong practitioners did not go unnoticed by the Chinese government, and his status as a lawyer to be celebrated for representing society’s most vulnerable, quickly changed.  Gao was now viewed as a piranha of the state. In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

Gao’s whereabouts, like recently abducted rights defending lawyers Tang Jitian, Teng Biao, and Jiang Tianyong, remain unknown.  In a plea for the world to pay attention to these random and lawless detentions, Gao’s wife, Geng He, who was able to flee to the United States with their two children in January 2009, published an op-ed in today’s New York Times.  Below is an excerpt with a link to the full article.  Geng begs that if her husband has been killed, that the Chinese government have the dignity to return his body so that his family can lay him to rest.

The Dissident’s Wife

By Geng He

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

Gao Zhisheng with his wife, Geng He, and their two children

San Francisco – WITH the world’s attention on the uprisings in the Middle East, repressive regimes elsewhere are taking the opportunity to tighten their grip on power. In China, human rights activists have been disappearing since a call went out last month for a Tunisian-style “Jasmine Revolution.” I know what their families are going through. Almost a year ago, the Chinese government seized my husband and since then, we have had no news of him. I don’t know where he is, or even if he is alive.

Click here for full article

Reality or Myth: China’s Rule of Law & Its Recent Assault on Lawyers

By , February 21, 2011

Originally posted on The Huffington Post

Rights-Defending Lawyer, Tang Jitian

The Chinese government has tried to break Tang Jitian’s spirit.  Failing, it now seeks to break his body.  Tang, a Chinese human rights lawyer, was forcibly abducted from his home on Wednesday, February 16 by the Beijing police.  Five days later, in contravention of Chinese law, Tang’s whereabouts remain unknown to his family, friends, and other human rights lawyers who desperately await some news of him.  Tang’s wife, after waiting at the police station for over four hours, was not permitted to see her husband and not informed of his whereabouts.  Tang’s “crime” in all of this: seeking to uphold individual’s legally-guaranteed rights and hold the State to its promise of a rule of law.

When Tang Jitian (pronounced Tang Gee Tea-ann) emerges from this unlawful and forced seclusion, he may be badly beaten, tortured and abused.  Soon after his abduction on Wednesday, Tang was transferred to the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB), an outfit that has been assigned the task of suppressing China’s nascent human rights movement.  Violence is a necessary part of the PSB’s mandate: it provides a very physical signal to other human rights lawyers what awaits them if they become too vocal, organized, or, ironically, too successful in bringing cases to protect citizen’s rights.  But this State-sanctioned violence is outside the limits of the law, and makes one wonder that if, by attacking these rights-defending lawyers (in Chinese, weiquan lawyers), the Chinese government is really committed to a “rule of law” society or if the use of such language by Chinese officials is a mere mirage.

The Breaking of a Body: Tang Jitian’s Potential Fate While in PSB Custody

Human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (pronounced Gao Zhi-sheng) likely serves as the most potent reminder of the

Human Rights Attorney, Gao Zhisheng

lawlessness of the PSB.  In 2001, Gao was listed by China’s Ministry of Justice as one of the country’s top-ten lawyers for his work representing victims of medical malpractice and farmers who were denied just compensation for their land.  But as Gao took on more controversial cases – particularly defending Falun Gong practitioners, a quasi-religious organization that the Chinese government perceives as a real threat to its power – government respect for his work quickly faded.   In December 2006, Gao was convicted of subversion and was given five years probation to be served from his home.  However, in February 2009, Gao was abducted from his home by the police.  This was the second time he was abducted, the first in 2007 where he was tortured for over 50 days.  But this time, Gao’s abduction would be for much longer.  For over fourteen months, he was not heard from and no one knew where he was.  In April 2010, Gao emerged from seclusion only to be abducted again only two weeks later.  During the time he was free, he was able to report to the Associated Press the torture he underwent while in police custody.

What awaits Tang may be similar – 48 hours of continuous beatings, various forms of physiological torture, wet towels over one’s face to give the feeling of suffocation – or even worse.  Unlike Gao Zhisheng, who is well known in the international community, or Teng Biao, a famous Chinese law professor and human rights activist who, because of his status, experienced a less violent beating when he was taken into custody for a few hours by police last December, Tang does not have such connections to protect him.  Without such an international cache like Teng Biao, Tang is an easy target for the Chinese security apparatus and will likely be used to violently symbolize the PSB’s power over the human rights lawyers.

Trying to Break a Spirit: Tang Jitian’s Disbarment

Wednesday’s abduction was not the first time that Tang has been on the Chinese government’s radar.  In May 2010, because of his defense of a Falun Gong practitioner in Sichuan province, the Beijing Bureau of Justice – the government body that manages the legal profession in Beijing – disbarred Tang from the practice of law.  Ostensibly arguing that Tang violated courtroom rules, the Beijing Bureau of Justice’s decision was largely seen as political.  Similar to the United States, disbarment in China is reserved for those lawyers who commit a crime.  Tang was the first lawyer to be disbarred for what merely appeared to be zealous advocacy.

Since his disbarment, Tang has had no way to economically support himself, relying solely on the kindness of other human rights lawyers.  Such a blow has had its impact and more recently, Tang had become depressed about his situation, although still very active in the human rights movement.  One would have thought that this would have been sufficient for the Chinese government – that by taking away Tang’s livelihood, it would not seek to detain him.  One would also think that such action would be unnecessary: Tang’s disbarment was a clear signal to other human rights lawyers that the State could use vague provisions of the law to disbar them and deny them their raison d’etre.  But it appears that disbarment was not punishment enough for the PSB.

Why Abduct Tang Jitian Now? China’s Rule of Law Regression

The immediate cause of Tang’s abduction relates to the recent house arrest and abuse of another human rights lawyer,

Human rights lawyer, Jiang Tianyong

Chen Guangcheng (pronounced Chen Gwang-chung).  Chen, a blind, self-taught lawyer who represented women forced into abortions by their village government, has been under house arrest since he was freed from prison in September 2010.  Last week, Chen and his wife were reportedly beaten after they leaked an hour-long video of their daily surveillance to the U.S.-based human rights and religious group, China Aid (for the video, click here).  On Wednesday afternoon, Tang Jitian had lunch with a group of Beijing human rights lawyers to discuss what the group could do to support Chen.  Soon after this brain-storming session, Tang was abducted.  Additionally, another participant of the Wednesday lunch group has also been abducted.  On Saturday, February 20, 2011, human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounced Gee-ong Tea-ann young) was taken away in an unmarked van, only days after he was roughed up while in police custody.

But Tang and Jiang’s belief that the law should be followed and individuals’ rights should not be trampled on by the State is the real reason for his abduction and likely abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Over the past few years, China’s human rights attorneys have become more organized, using modern technology to quickly communicate with each other, and increasingly vocal, demanding that  the government abide by its own laws when it comes to the people’s civil rights and civil liberties.  Instead of responding positively to these developments – developments that largely symbolize a growing rule of law society and an emerging civil society  – the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has further entrenched its authoritarian rule and has used increasingly sever measures to break these human rights lawyers. While Chinese human rights lawyers’ cases would be everyday affairs for public interest lawyers elsewhere in the world, the CCP views these lawyers as a threat to their one-party rule and the PSB views them as a threat to its all-inclusive, and many times illegal, policing methods.  Based upon the recent abduction of Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong, the PSB and the CCP will do whatever it takes to suppress these human rights lawyers.

On Saturday, while rumors were circulating on the internet that China itself was to have a “Jasmine Revolution” following the events in the Middle East, a Chinese rights activist tweeted that the Chinese government detained twenty-one other human rights attorneys: Zhu Yufu, Liao Shuangyuan, Huang Yanming, Teng Biao, Ran Yunfei, Li Tiantian, Liu Guohui, Ding Mao, Lu Yongxiang, Xiao Yong, Zhang Jianping, Shi Yulin, She Wanbao, Li Yu, Lou Baosheng, Wei Shuishan, Zhang Shanguang, Li Xiongbing, Xu Zhiyong, Huang Yaling, and Li Bo.  Many may suffer physical abuse at the hands of the PSB.  Some already have.

Why Should Anyone Care?

I met Tang Jitian when I was last in China and was impressed, not just with his bravery, but also with understanding of his role in pushing the Chinese government to truly commit to a rule of law.  If human rights lawyers are suppressed now he told me, there will be no one to take over the movement.  Tang is right and breaking the movement appears to be one of the goals of the Chinese government.  By openly subjecting human rights attorneys to constant surveillance, disbarment, psychological threats, and physical abuse, the Chinese government hopes that once this generation of human right lawyers pass, no younger lawyers will dare to take up the mantle; the repercussions are too severe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a hard line on human rights

But the question remains, will the rest of the world allow this?  Last month, the Obama Administration impressed many by repeatedly raising the issue of human rights with Chinese President Hu Jintao.  Just days before Hu’s arrival in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bluntly discussed the plight of China’s human rights lawyers, stating that the United States will expect China to fulfill its own promise of rule of law: “America will continue to speak out and to press China…when lawyers and legal advocates are sent to prison simply for representing clients who challenge the government’s positions….”  The time has come for the United States to back-up that statement.

The Obama Administration has already expressed its concern with the treatment of Chen Guangcheng.  But it cannot forget the less known advocates like Tang Jitian and Jiang Tianyong – without some form of international recognition of his situation the PSB will believe it has the cover to do with Tang and Jiang what it wants.  Furthermore, the Obama Administration needs to see the Chinese government’s recent reaction as an affront to a “rule of law” and also needs to comment on the importance of not just a “rule of law” in China but on the existence of a vibrant public interest law bar.  Human rights lawyers directly challenge the State in order to protect individual’s legally-guaranteed rights; only when these lawyers are able to more freely function in society will China have any meaningful rule of law.

A meaningful rule of law in China is not just an abstract principle for Americans.  As more Americans do business in China and as the U.S. government seeks to increase the number of students studying in China to over 100,000, rule of law in China will become an everyday concern.  Last year’s arrest and prosecution of Australian citizen and Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu and the recent conviction of U.S. citizen and geologist Xue Feng embody the importance of China’s rule of law development for Americans.  The Obama Administration needs to publicly condemn the Chinese government’s recent suppression of human rights lawyers, call for the release of Tang Jitian, and frankly question the Chinese government’s commitment to a rule of law.  Tang and Jiang’s safety depends on it.

The Obama Visit to China – What the U.S. Press Missed

By , November 23, 2009
DSC04715Originally Posted on the Huffington Post.
 

 

 Beijing, China – The U.S. press has not been kind to President Barack Obama and his recent visit to China.  Claiming that the U.S.’ tone has become conciliatory toward China, that the trip “yielded precious little” and even oddly comparing the Obama Administration’s behavior on the visit to a one-party, authoritarian regime, the U.S. press has all but designated the trip a failure.

But the trip was most certainly not a failure and in many ways fulfilled the U.S. press’ predictions – an event filled with a huge agenda covering a multitude of global issues, likely offering few deliverables, and probably playing down, at least publically, human rights.

So if the trip confirmed the press’ earlier predictions, then what’s got their panties all in a bunch?  Perhaps the one thing that upsets the press more than anything is a lack of access, and on this trip, the press certainly played second fiddle.  Questions were not taken from the press during last Tuesday’s press conference and very little other access was offered to the President.  But with only a day and a half in Beijing, this trip was not really about the press.

But in measuring President Obama’s trip based solely on their access, or lack of, the U.S. press has failed to report on some pretty substantial results of President Obama’s trip to China.  In what you likely will not find in other media outlets that are still licking their wounds from an alleged snub, below are some of the surprising deliverables from the visit.    

1.  Increased Military-to-Military Contact and High Level Military Exchanges

If the lack of communication between the U.S. and Chinese militaries does not keep you up at night, well it should.  The U.S. has a better relationship with Russia’s military than it does with China’s, but has more potential to cross paths with China’s because of the U.S.’ military presence in Asia.  Without proper channels of communication between the two militaries, a small skirmish can easily become a major crisis, as President Obama knows from his first months in office when Chinese navy ships circled and threatened a U.S. navy vessel in the South China Sea. 

Adding to the lack of communication is China’s broad interpretation of its “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ). A chinese-fleet-review-a-ch-008country’s EEZ extends 200 miles from the coast and gives the country sovereign rights over economic activities in those waters (usually the country uses its economic zone to search for natural resources).  By China’s broad definition, its sovereign rights in the EEZ expand outside of the economic realm, permitting it to interfere with other countries’ ships that enter its EEZ.  The U.S., as well as most other countries, perceives the EEZ as providing solely economic sovereignty for the coastal state, allowing other countries’ ships free access.  For the U.S., this also includes ships that are conducting military surveillance on the coastal state (for an excellent assessment of these different interpretations, see Margaret K. Lewis’ “An Analysis of State Responsibility for the Chinese-American Airplane Collision Incident”).  Needless to say, these different interpretations only add to the tensions between the two militaries. 

In the U.S.-China Joint Statement issued last week, much needed progress was made on the military front, especially in terms of communication.  High level exchanges between the U.S. and Chinese militaries will continue, with the Chief of the General Staff of the China’s People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visiting the U.S. and both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen making a trip to China.

In regards to differing definitions of the EEZ, the Joint Statement alludes to this issue, showing that the two sides likely discussed and acknowledged the problem (From the Joint Statement: “The United States and China agreed to handle through existing channels…maritime issues in keeping with norms of international law and on the basis of respecting each other’s jurisdictions and interests”).  Granted they failed to reach a compromise, but this is not an issue that will be easily solved.  Just discussing this sensitive topic is progress. 

2.  Both Public and Private Discussion of Human Rights

Interestingly, a press that largely ignored this issue prior to President Obama’s trip is making a big deal of his “silence” on human rights violations in China.  Last I checked though, freedom of speech is usually regarded as one such right and President Obama discussed this issue rather bluntly and passionately at the Shanghai town hall.  While it is debatable as to whether focusing on freedom of expression on the internet is sufficient to assist China with a development of a civil society and a rule of law, it is difficult to argue that President Obama did not publically bring up the subject of human rights. 

Furthermore, in his letter written to China’s Southern Weekend newspaper, President Obama stressed the importance of a free press.  True, this letter was not permitted to be circulated to a wider audience, but it portrays the President’s continued emphasis, both publically and privately on human rights.

The Joint Statement also discusses human rights in general and calls for the next official human rights dialogue between the U.S. and China to be held by the end of February 2010 in Washington, D.C.  The Joint Statement also stressed the importance of rule of law in China and agreed to reconvene the U.S.-China Legal Experts Dialogue (see the Dui Hua Foundation website for further background).  With the increasing push back by the Chinese government in the area of rule of law, especially as it pertains to civil rights and civil liberties, deepening cooperation is an important deliverable.

It is true that the Obama Administration has opted more for a strategy of quiet engagement on this issue.  Whether the approach is effective remains to be seen.  This past summer, the Administration was able to secure the release of public interest attorney Xu Zhiyong through behind the scenes pressure on the Chinese government.  However, almost immediately after President Obama left China, the Beijing police apprehended and beat public interest lawyer Jiang Tianyong (pronounce Geeang Tian-young) as he was walking his 7 year old daughter to school.  While Mr. Jiang has since been released, he is under very tight surveillance.  Perhaps if President Obama had mentioned the plight and importance of public interest attorneys in China, the arrest of Mr. Jiang might not have happened.  Or maybe it would have.

Either way, the U.S. press’ conclusion that President Obama “soft-peddled” human rights on his trip does not appear to ring true.  Human rights was certainly discussed, both publically and privately, it just appears that perhaps China was not listening. 

3.  Clean Energy and Climate Change

As expected, the U.S. and China entered into a series of cooperative agreements pertaining to clean energy and climate change technology.  While neither side agreed to emission targets, the level of detail provided for in the issued agreements was more than anticipated.  Most interestingly, the U.S.’ Environmental Protection Agency and China’s National Development Reform Commission signed a memorandum of cooperation to help China develop its capacity to measure its greenhouse gas inventories.  This is no small feat.  China’s does not currently have the capacity to accurately measure its greenhouse gas emissions and thus, if it was to agree to emission targets, would be unable to provide verifiable data.  China’s lack of capacity on this front has rightly been a sticking point for many in the U.S. Congress, preventing the passage of domestic climate change legislation that would be used to bind the U.S. internationally.

This memorandum of cooperation is the first step to enable China to agree to emission targets and for the rest of the world to believe them. 

President Obama’s visit to China was certainly not overly exciting but it was far from the failure that the U.S. press has made it out to be.  It also does not signify the U.S.’ decline as some alarmist media outlets have claimed.  Instead, the visit was a series of tough negotiations between two global powers.  Both had winning issues and losing ones.  And in the end, President Obama likely walked out with a little more than expected.  For me, that’s an accomplishment.

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