Posts tagged: United Nations

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.

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

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).

Analysis of China’s Draft Mental Health Law – An Interview

By , October 24, 2011

On Monday, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress began its review of China’s new, draft Mental Health Law.  The draft – originally issued on June 10, 2011 and opened for public comment – has received much criticism both at home and abroad, in particular, Article 27 of the draft which permits involuntary commitment where an individual exhibits behavior that “disturbs public order” (扰乱公共秩序).

Prof. Michael Perlin

Prof. Michael Perlin

The Chinese government appears intent on ratifying the new Mental Health Law by year’s end, but the question remains, how will the new law change the current landscape?

Below, Prof. Michael Perlin, professor at New York Law School, Director of the Mental Disability Law Project, and author of the recently published “International Human Rights and Mental Disability Law: When the Silenced are Heard,” analyzes China’s new draft Mental Health Law, paying particular attention to its interplay with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), a treaty China has ratified.

Click here to listen to the interview with Prof. Michael Perlin or read below for the entire transcript.
Length: 31 minutes (audio will open in another browser)

**********************************************************************
[01:31] EL: Thank you Prof. Perlin for joining us.

[01:33] MP: Happy to be here.

[01:34] EL:  Let’s begin by talking about your new book, specifically Chapter Four which discusses the use of mental disability law to suppress political dissent.  How long has China been using involuntary commitment to suppress dissent?

[01:47] MP:  We knew that it has been going on back at least 40 years, it may be before that, we don’t know.  This was written about first and most extensively by Robin Munro who brought most of this to the public attention and he gave some very, very serious examples of the misuse of state-sanctioned psychiatry in support of commitment of people who by any sort of standard, normative reason would not have needed commitment.

The use of involuntary commitment to squash dissent is not new in China and can be traced back to Cultural Revolution days.

[02:17] Sometimes it was done for political reasons, sometimes it was done for financial reasons.  There is this whole other set of cases where people wanted to get rid of a relative because they wanted to take over a business or something.  That was not unfamiliar to those who knew about this in the United States about the same time.  But clearly it was being used to suppress political dissent.

[02:40] When I wrote Chapter  Four of this new book, a lot of it flows from an article I’d done about four or five years before in the Israeli Law Review.  When I did that research, it was kind of interesting to me.  Most people know, or people who are interested in this whole general area, know that the former the Soviet Union, this was very common.  And there were exposes, the World Psychiatric Association sends a delegation in the late 80s, early 90s, there were quite a few books written about it and articles.  But China at that point nobody seemed to pay that much attention to, and it was pretty clear that the same kind of things were going on in China as were going on in the Soviet Union.  Fast forward, the Iron Curtain fell, some of the abuses – not all – in the former Soviet Union had been remediated to some extent. But again what was happening in China was pretty much under the radar.

[03:40] It became known, interestingly, with regard to what is seen as the persecution of the Falun Gong.  Is it a political group? Is it a kind of exercise? Is it meta-physical? I can’t answer that but it seemed very, very clear to me and to most neutral observers that practitioners and adherents were being singled out, and they were being marginalized as mentally ill.  One of the things, we’ll talk about it latter, is why do governments do this and I will discuss that in a few minutes but it seemed to me that China in many ways was paralleling[the experiences in the Soviet Union]

[04:25] What is interesting to me is that in this new draft act [China’s draft Mental Health Law], of which I am enormously ambivalent I should tell you, I think…and I have sent some comments to other people about it….I think there are some other things that are better than China has had before but an awful lot of it strikes me as very problematical.  [Much of it] would not only not meet constitutional standards in a Western country but also I think pretty clearly does not comport with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which China has ratified.

[04:58] It seems to me that  [in] this new law, Article 27  — about the disturbance of public order  — should be a red flag.  What does that mean?  We are sitting here on the corner of West Broadway and Leonard Street and how far are we from Wall Street where there is an occupation going on that seems to be spreading.  Is this disturbing the public order?   One could read the pages on Facebook and an awful lot of American citizens think it is.  Is something like this was being done in Beijing or Shanghai would, could everybody be dragged away to a psychiatric hospital?  Under the strict language of the Act, yeah, it probably could.

[05:36] EL:  Well, in terms of  that, and you sort of mentioned it in your answer.  The Chinese government itself has the power under even the criminal law, arguably; I mean maybe it is not directly stated in the criminal law but they use the power to detain people indefinitely.  Why do they choose to, for example Falun Gong and other dissidents, why do they choose to use a mental health analysis instead of using the criminal law when they are basically an authoritarian state.  Why did the Soviet Union do that, why does China continue to do that?

[06:13] MP:  It seems to me that there are at least three main reasons for that Elizabeth, and that truly is a great question.  First of all, there are always some, albeit minimal, procedural safeguards in the criminal process.  They

The criminal process in China has its limits

are not always adhered to.  … I spent some time working in China with criminal defense lawyers and I was teaching them how to, pedagogically, how to do certain things but I also spent much more time learning and I realized that it is not a lot those of us who have practiced criminal defense work in New York or New Jersey would go “oh my God”  [to much of what goes on in the criminal trial process in China] but at least there is a something there.  There is nothing there on the psychiatric commitment side.  So that’s number one.

[06:56] Number two, when there is a hearing, when there is an adjudication, there is usually a limit to the sentence.  It may be a draconian sentence, it may be for many more years than we would think make sense.  But at least there is a number there.  Psychiatric commitment is, in these jurisdictions indefinite.  And I should say, after the CRPD [the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities], the Convention is ratified, I don’t think indefinite commitment without clear judicial review passes muster under the international human rights law.

[07:31] But the third I think is the most important.  Because I think  [psychiatric commitment] stigmatizes.  We know that if we call somebody a mental patient, he will be discredited.  And if he has political motives, that will mean, well, we can ignore them.  I use this example, I think, in that book, about someone in Romania (when Romania was a completely authoritarian state) who was picked up, and his psychiatric charge was [that] he was carrying a sign saying that the prime minister of the country must go; the [rationale was], “Well if he thought he was serious that someone would listen to him, he must be crazy.”  It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It’s a loop.  But I think those three reasons together are really it.

[08:14] EL:  Right now, before…..I know they [China] have the draft [mental health] law published right now and it was opened for comments back in the summer, but before that.  Right now how does involuntary commitment work [in China]?  Are there laws in place?  Who makes the decision if an individual should be involuntarily committed?  How does it work?

[08:33] MP:  The decisions is made basically by the State.  Someone gets picked up; very, very often family will call and ask: take my relative and send him to the hospital.  And there is no independent assessment.  In 1985….I should say to your listeners, I have been a professor since the mid-1980s but I was a real lawyer before that.  I practiced 13 years both as a criminal defense lawyer and as an advocate for persons with mental disabilities.  I filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 in a case called  Ake v. Oklahoma in which the Supreme Court ruled that a person who is indigent had a right to a psychiatric evaluation at state expense if he was putting forth the insanity defense.  The idea being that this is something that can’t simply be done, can’t be decided on the say-so of the state doctor.

[09:32] In China it is always done on the say-so of the State doctor.  There is virtually no sense of independence.  There is also no lawyer appointed.  One of the issues that I think is really important; we know this, we know that both among the United States and in other nations, serious mental health reform only happens when there are lawyers assigned to represent patients.  I know that sounds very lawyer-centric.  Pardon me, I plead guilty to that.  But if you were to go to the United States and go state-by-state and see where has there been reform, where has there not, it’s an easy question.  Where have there been lawyers like in New York, the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, like in New Jersey, the Division of Mental Health Advocacy law office, like in DC, the Public Defenders Service/ Mental Health Division, that’s where it happens.  In other nations, where you have it: Israel is a nation that has a robust public defenders office doing these things and they are enormously successful.  Where there are no lawyers, reform doesn’t happen.

[10:29] There are no lawyers doing these cases on the ground in China.  I believe that after ratification of the CRPD, this needs to happen.  Commitment must be subject to the judicial process at every step.  That is demanded by the CRPD and it’s not in the draft [Mental Health Law] much less in the older law.

[10:49] EL:  So to clarify, the draft mental health law that has been proposed has no provisions for a lawyer to be appointed.

[10:57] MP: Correct.

[10:58] EL: And there is no independent review of a state’s decision.

[11:00] MP:  One can ask for a review but it is absolutely, utterly optional.  There is no sense that it is obligatory, it is not mandatory.

[11:09] EL:  Now, in terms of involuntary commitment, you say that the decision is made by the state.  Would that be – what division of the state?  Is that the Ministry of Public Security or is it not clear?

[11:21] MP:  It’s not clear.  You have sort of two different ways it could happen.  The Ministry of Public Security and

An Ankang Hospital in China

this whole Ankang hospitals that are really shrouded….I mean, I heard about them….oh my goodness…I’d been doing mental disability work my whole career.  I’ve been doing international human rights mental disability work for 11 years.  I’ve been going to Asia for nine years.  But it wasn’t until about four or five years ago that I even heard about these hospitals.  And they operate…there is virtually no way to find out what’s going on in them and that ministry is Public Security.  The others go through the Ministry of Health, I believe.

[12:00] EL:  So the Ankang hospitals are within the Ministry of….?

[12:05] MP: Of Public Security.  And those involve people who are seen as being criminally dangerous.  It’s a very, very murky line between criminality and other kind of dangerous behavior.  Very often, it’s what you choose to call it.  But there is very little, there is no review, and there is very little outsider involvement.  It’s like a world in and of itself.

[12:33] EL:  And in terms of that line between criminality and involuntary commitment….One of the things that is being heavily criticized both by foreign scholars and even Chinese legal scholars is this continued use of “disturbing public order.” And that’s included in the new draft mental health law.  My question is….just to get to the people who write this law.  Is there any sincerity in the use of this term?  Does the Chinese government believe that….I mean is there sincerity in the belief that perhaps the expression of a different opinion is evidence of mental illness?  And how do they get doctors on board with that?

[13:13] MP:  It’s very hard for me to tell what was in their minds.  There is no record of this.  And you can come

Occupy Wall Street - Political Protest or Endangering Public Saftey?

with multiple explanations Elizabeth. On one hand you can look at it just plain meaning.  Endanger public safety means somebody is standing in the middle of a main street screaming at cars, right?  That could cause an accident.  And that you and I would agree might endanger public safety.  And that’s one possibility.

[13:42]  [This is another:] … In this study that was done by the Equity and Justice Initiative of Psychiatry and Society Watch that was published recently which analyzes this commitment system in China, it is replete with example of people who were picked up and psychiatrically hospitalized because basically they were seen as dissident.  It’s an over-used word.  I am very concerned in any jurisdiction but especially, especially, in a jurisdiction that has this kind of track record of locking people up for disagreeing politically.  I am very concerned that this kind of language, like in Article 27, is far too overbroad and I see that as a really troubling issue.

[14:29] Why do state psychiatrists go along with it? This is something I have been trying to deal with for 20 years in terms of thinking about it and you don’t know.  I remember reading one study in which the researchers said – well you know if we went along for the ride we would get more vacation days or get a nice home at the beach – something like that.  Which sounds so depressingly banal, right, but it also in fact may be so.

[14:57] Some may also feel as if they[examining psychiatrists] are an arm of the state.  I have heard, I have been in meetings, just so your listeners know, I have been mainland China five or six times and have done quite a bit of work there and I have been at meetings with psychiatrists and I’ve tried to listen to what people say.  Very often….most recently I was in Beijing in June this summer, and I heard a psychiatrist say – “oh well, you know, I can kind of look at this guy in the eyes and I will know if he needs to be institutionalized.”  That kind of behavior was repudiated when I started practicing law, I heard doctors say that.  That’s been repudiated in the States for the last twenty or thirty years.

[15:42] Very, very much of what I heard on this last trip to Beijing – Yogi Bera said it is déjà vu all over again – very much of what I heard was very close to what I heard in the early 1970s when I started practicing law in New Jersey.

[15:55] EL:  Well in that regards, and this is a little maybe off topic because it’s not as much related to law, but has there been efforts….I know that there are a lot of rule of law projects from the US in China to help strengthen the legal profession.  Have there been efforts to maybe create….strengthen the professional mindedness of the psychiatry profession in China?  Has there been any attempts to do that and hopefully through that way, develop a grassroots feeling of independence?  Or is that something that might just be too difficult?

[16:26] MP: If this was a TV show rather than podcast, your listeners would be seeing my face at this moment.  Yeah, kind of, maybe, a little bit, not much.  I know the World Medical Association has taken seriously some of these issues.  There’s a psychiatrist in Mamaroneck, New York, Dr. Abraham Halpern, one of my heroes.  Abe has been working on some of these issues for the last 30, 40 years.  Mostly he is focusing on things like organ transplants now.  But he has been a gadfly to the World Medical Association encouraging it, as has  Dr. David Matos of Canada.  But generally not so much.  I don’t see this…..

[17:05] There is an interesting subtext issue here.  One of the things I write about, and I discuss it extensively in this book, is what I call “sanism.”  Sanism is the kind of irrational prejudice like racism, like sexism, like homophobia, in which we stereotype people with mental disabilities, we trivialize them, we typify them, we don’t take them very seriously.  We treat them as less than people.  Because of that, we generally – we meaning society – pay much less attention towards what psychiatrists do with purportedly “crazy people” than we do when there are other violations.  When people mistreat women, when people mistreat children, when people mistreat gays, there is a predictable and appropriate outrage on page one on all the blogs.  It doesn’t happen here.

[17:55] Internationally there is only one organization, a group called the Mental Disability Advocacy Center located mostly in Budapest, a couple of other sites in Europe, that is doing this work on a global level.  I am working with my friend and colleague Yoshi Ikehara who is head of the Tokyo Advocacy Law Office (as I said before we went on the air) to create a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific.  But there is very little else that is being done.

[18:19] This is a population that people, even people who see themselves as traditional liberals –  traditionally progressive, traditionally focusing on social justice – which just as well go away.  They think it is yucky.

[18:34] EL:  In terms of….focusing on the international efforts, you had mentioned the CRPD, what international law is out there that would push China forward in this regards?  Since China has ratified some of the treaties, what can be done on an international level besides just issuing reports that they are in violation of the treaty?

[19:01] MP:  That’s the hardest question Elizabeth; it’s the most important question.  This treaty which has been on the books for three years….

[19:10] EL: And this is the CRPD?

[19:12] MP: Yes.

[19:12] EL: Which stands for?

China has signed & ratified the CRPD but does it follow it?

[19:13] MP: Which stands for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is without any question the broadest document ever written on behalf of this population.  Importantly it repudiates the medical model and substitutes a social model of disability.  In other words, this is not simply “we have sick people”; this is, “society deals with this population a certain way, [and we need to] figure out what to do.”

[19:35] Irony, off to the side, what is so interesting to me is how the role of psychologists is so limited in this draft act [China’s draft Mental Health Law].  The CRPD moves away from the medical model, [and,] as such, psychologists – non-physicians – the use of them, the reliance on them should increase, not decrease.  One of the things that I am seeing between the lines with my magic decoder ring on is that there are struggles between the psychiatric trade associations and the psychological trade associations in China; the psychiatrists have much more political clout, much more legislative clout, so this is basically guild stuff.  That’s there.

[20:14] So, going back to what you said before.  It’s clear to me and I write about that extensively in the book, there are many articles that talk about due process basically, that talk about freedom from torture, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, ant-discrimination, access to justice, on and on – and again I would be happy to send you some more recent things that I have written about it since I’ve written the book – and it seems to me that China is failing at all those.

[20:45] But then comes the question, and so what?  What are you going to do?  What can you do?  One of the reasons why Yoshi and I are devoting so much time to the creation of what we call DRTAP, the Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific, is because in Africa there is a commission on human rights; in Europe there is a court on human rights; in Latin America there is a court on human rights, in each case, a court or a commission.  There is nothing in Asia.  There have been seminars, there have been meetings, there is this group called the ASEAN , to which seven nations belong; some [groupings of nations] belong to other [pan-Asian groups that deal with other issues], but there is no Asian-wide tribunal.  Why? Good question.  People talk about “Asian values,’ [but] I reject that [as the reason why there is no human rights body in Asia] and I could talk about that later if you want me to.

[21:31] But without that, a person can, ostensibly, theoretically, appeal any kind of a decision directly to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.  That’s pretty difficult for anybody to do.  It’s difficult for a person in a nation with a developed economy, what we call the first world, it is certainly, virtually impossible for someone in China to do without a lawyer, especially somebody is not in Beijing or Shanghai or one of the major cities.

[22:03] I went to Xi’an a couple of times to do some work and I talked to a lawyer who said: “Prof. Perlin, I’m not sure if you understand. In our province, we get to court by horseback”. This was in about 2007, 2008; this is not 20 years ago.  There basically, they have at this point in time, almost no legal recourse.  What you can do is [appeal to] the court of public opinion.  We’re trying to do that.  But again I am very saddened and disappointed that this issue has not sort of spread beyond the small circle of people who take this seriously, who care about it, who write about it, who foment about it.  I think some of the reason for that Elizabeth is sanism, that these people are just simply seen as not human, not as important.

[22:45] ELSo are you saying that this issue hasn’t spread beyond the small group that focuses on it, so a lot of maybe the US’ projects in China, do they….are there US rule of law project that are pushing this?  Is it also I guess in some way our fault?

[23:01] MP:  Yeah it is.  Oh clearly it is our fault.   … I am on the Chinalaw LISTSERV, as you are, and if you spend a month there you will see there are certain topics that get written about a lot.  Some very serious topics.  Certainly there are serious human rights issue dissidents, things of that sort, but most of it goes to business law.  And that that does not go to business law, a lot go to things that are extremely important like environmental law.  Anyone like you or I who have spent time in China know how serious these problems are.  But there is virtually no attention paid [to the issues we are discussing here].  You and I could sit down after this is over and count on one hand the people who have done substantive posts in the last three years about this issue on that LISTSERV, and we would  have a couple of digits left over.  So yeah, I think that I can fault those generally interested in the “rule of law”  or “just society” for not taking this seriously enough.  Well you know everyone has their priorities, we can’t do everything and that’s true.  But this is an area that virtually no one is taking seriously.

[24:05] EL:  Back to China, in terms of the new draft mental health law, you said that you are extremely ambivalent about it.  Could you talk more about your feelings about what is good, what’s not good.

[24:18] MP:  The fact that there is a law; the fact that it sort of talks about the fact that there has to be some kind of structure to this; and the fact that at least there will be something to assess, something to test.

[24:30] But let me laundry list some things that I think are problematic.  First of all, I don’t think whomever drafted it ever looked at the CRPD.  It does not appear to me that that was ever done, and that should have been.  Elizabeth, when I talk to people — I am very fortunate, I have gone and done human rights law on every continent (except for Antarctica,  the penguins still haven’t asked for me)  — I’ll say to people now, when you re-write your law – I was in Argentina two or three weeks ago and I spoke to the World Psychiatric Association and I spoke to people from several nations and I said exactly the same thing – if you are rewriting your law, on the left side of your desk, you need the CRPD and for every section you write, go and look at the cognate section [of your local law] and ask, “Are we in line with this or not?”.

[25:16] EL: Well let me just interrupt for a second about that, I know there has been a lot of talk about the criminal procedure law, who has assisted in drafting that, do you have any idea which agencies of the government have assisted in drafting the Mental Health Law, if there has been any famous academics…is there any transparency about that?

[25:36] MP: I don’t know.  It may have happened, but I simply don’t know or it is something that I am just not a part of those conversations.

[25:45] As I said before, again call me lawyer-centric, I think there needs to be appointment of counsel…period.  Article 29 through 32 talk about maybe commissioning a forensic mental disability evaluation agency for second opinions in some cases.  But without a counsel, I don’t think it’s really going to make very much difference.  I think any part, every aspect of commitment has to be subject to the judicial process every step of the way.

[26:16] There are lots of other things that I sort of saw going through it.  On Monday, in my class on survey of mental disability law, we talked about the topic of sexual autonomy, the rights of persons to have some kind of sexual freedom, and I have written about this in an article I wrote in the Washington Law Review a few years ago about sexuality issues in Asia and in China, you might find that of some interest.  Nothing about it there.

[26:43] Their criteria for commitment are not really clear.  There has to be a causal relationship between mental illness and risk and dangerousness.  That is never spelled out.

[26:52] There is nothing about the institutionalized patient’s right to refuse medication, a huge, huge issue.

[27:03] There is a whole thing in Article 24 about when relatives can send a “suspected mentally disabled person” to the hospital.  Without criteria that is really, really problematic and I think that is an issue that needs to be dealt with.  Very, very often, somebody will come to a psychiatrist and say “doctor, my brother, sister, whatever is crazy” and that becomes sort of the fact in evidence, even though there’s no  [actual] evidence before [the psychiatrist.”].  That’s where we start out and I think that’s really a serious, serious issue.

[27:34] As I said before the “endanger public safety language” in Articles 26 and 27 is  especially problematic, especially, Elizabeth, given China’s history.  Article 28 talks about “diagnosis” but “diagnosis” is not “risk assessment”.  A person can have what we would call in the States an Axis 1 diagnosis – schizophrenia, bi-polar depression, major depression – and that does not mean they are committable because [to be committable], you have to have with that, as a result of that, the likelihood of serious danger to self or others.  That is not spelled out at all.

[28:14] The possibility, everybody has ballyhooed in Article 29 about this sort of duplicative examination…I am not convinced at all that it is going to be really independent.

[28:27] Starting in Article 30 it talks about forensics but I am really puzzled because there is nothing else in here about the criminal process.  It is just not clear to me what that is.

[28:38] I think rights need to be enumerated.  If you go to Article 34 we also have to articulate the fact, and again this is constant both with the CRPD and all developments of the last forty-plus years that the right to treatment has to be in the least restrictive alternative.  We have to talk about community treatment.  We have to talk about de-institutionalization.  We have to talk about congregate care, halfway house, on and on.   That’s not here anywhere.

[29:03] Psycho-surgery is discussed in Article 39.  Absolutely not.  That should never be an acceptable treatment.

[29:09] I was puzzled again as I said to you by the lack of….how psychologists appear to me to be squeezed out.  Again, I see this as kind of guild-mentality; it troubles me a lot.

[29:25] What can be done about this, I’m not that smart.  I have sent my comments in to other people who hopefully have the ear of those who do listen.  Hopefully something will happen.  But I looked in file before you got here but I have not heard back, gotten anything substantive on this in the last two months.

[29:41] EL: Well that’s what I want to ask you in a close out question basically.  There has been actually some verbal criticism by Chinese scholars about the draft mental health law and highlighting a lot of the things you have mentioned including the endangering public safety, disturbing public order issue.  Do you think the Chinese government will listen to any of this criticism?  Do you anticipate that the draft will change before it is adopted?  Or are these things that the Chinese government hasn’t been able to get past yet?

[30:15] MP: I wish I knew, Elizabeth.  I say jokingly I’m smart, I’m not that smart.  There will be some changes.  I think if they made no changes at all that would be a public relations disaster because that would mean we are ignoring everybody, we are doing just what we want, and take a hike.  There will be some changes.  I’ll say some of it will be better.  How much of it?  Ten percent?  A quarter?  I don’t know.  I wish I could be more optimistic and say – oh they are going to listen to everything we say – no, get real, they’re not.  But I am hopefully that it will be incrementally better and the way that it is written will give us more and people who are on the ground more to work with.

[30:59] I’m very sensitive to the fact, I go to China once a year, at the very most twice a year, I live in New Jersey, I work in New York, I am a foreigner, I am an outsider and all I can do is listen and learn and share some ideas.  It has to be done by the people on the ground.  I certainly spend a good deal of time talking to them and I hope that as a result of that something happens.  I remain….I’ve been doing this work for a long, long time…I remain an unflaggingly optimistic guy so I hope it is going to happen.

[31:30] EL: Okay, well, I guess we will find out.  It is suppose to be passed by year end.  Thank you very much Prof. Perlin for your time and your knowledge.

[31:40] MP: Thank you, Elizabeth, it was a pleasure.

Steven Hill on a New Beijing Consensus in UN Peace Operations

By , September 27, 2011

Last week, Seton Hall University School of Law featured an interesting and timely panel discussion on the role of China in UN peace operations.  As China rises, what role does it envision in such operations?  With its new global capacity has China moved away from a policy of non-intervention?  China’s reaction to the humanitarian intervention in Libya is indeed instructive.  Below, Zachary Kelman and Desiree Sedehi, two third-year law students at Seton Hall, report on last week’s fascinating discussion.

Steven Hill on a New Beijing Consensus in UN Peace Operations

By Zachary Kelman and Desiree Sedehi*

Steven Hill on China's role in UN peace operations

Steven Hill, Visiting Professor from 2010-2011 at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center in Nanjing, China, visited Seton Hall Law School on September 22, 2011, and spoke in a personal capacity about the research he conducted there on the subject of Chinese participation in UN peace operations. At an event hosted by Professor Margaret K. Lewis, a Public Intellectuals Program Fellow with the National Committee on US-China Relations, and Professor Kristen E. Boon, Director of Seton Hall Law’s International Programs, he posed the following questions: How has China’s approach to international relations changed since assuming its role on the UN Security Council in the 1970s? And is China’s approach to the humanitarian intervention in Libya the harbinger of a new “Beijing Consensus”?

In his presentation, Mr. Hill discussed the evolution of China’s approach to foreign relations, from the “Molotov cocktail-throwing revolutionaries” of the early 70s to the top contributor to peacekeeping missions among the five permanent members of the Security Council. According to Mr. Hill, this movement signals a shift from “non-intervention” to “tolerance, maybe even some enthusiasm and engagement.”

Mr. Hill recounted for his audience how, from when the People’s Republic of China regained China’s seat in the UN in 1971 until the 1990s, China had been largely detached from UN peacemaking activities.

Mr. Hill noted that China’s “traditional approach” to UN peacekeeping privileges stressed the importance of non-intervention. While China’s position has evolved considerably as it applies to UN peace operations, shades of it can be seen, for example, in Ambassador Li Baodong’s 2011 statement that the international community should “respect the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity” of Libya.

Hill further noted, importantly, that in spite of this rhetorical deference to sovereignty, China abstained from voting on UNSCR 1973—an abstention which was instrumental in authorizing the largely European-led intervention in Libya. China’s rhetoric led many commentators to believe that it would vote against the resolution. However, China’s ultimate abstention has been seen by many to symbolize its larger shift from a non-aligned power to a global power that has a substantial stake in the international community.

According to Mr. Hill, that China felt it necessary to evacuate 36,000 workers from Libya due to this humanitarian crisis featured prominently in its decision on how to vote on the Libya resolutions. Moreover, China’s growing stake in the international community means increased interest in avoiding catastrophic scenarios, and hence likely a more active China on the global scene.

That being said, Mr. Hill cautioned against unbridled optimism with respect to China’s “new role.”  He noted that China made every effort to defer to traditional notions of national—and then regional—self-determination. This position was evidenced by China’s acknowledgment of Arab League and African Union positions.  In addition, China reserved abstention as a “special circumstance” and was careful not to set precedent. This cautiousness, said Mr. Hill, exemplifies China’s broader attitude toward UN peacekeeping—the possible emerging “Beijing Consensus”—to promote a limited “blue helmet” approach within the general understanding of military procedure, but to avoid “nation building” and other more interventionist forms of intervention. Whether this approach will change to a more progressive humanitarian attitude, as held by some of China’s Western counterparts on the Security Council, remains to be seen.

After Mr. Hill’s presentation, both Professors Lewis and Boon offered commentary to the audience. Professor Lewis,

Steven Hill & Margaret Lewis discuss the Beijing Consensus at Seton Hall Law School

who recently appeared before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China in a roundtable discussion on the “Current Conditions for Human Rights Defenders and Lawyers in China, and Implications for U.S. Policy,” raised China’s need for global stability for the safety of its investments as an impetus for its increased role in UN peace operations. Professor Lewis further emphasized that China’s increased participation in UN peacekeeping efforts may be improving its reputation in the eyes of the international community. Such positive reputational benefits could encourage China’s future involvement.

Professor Boon, who has written extensively on the UN and the Security Council, suggested it might be wise for the US to rethink its skepticism towards international institutions, given the growing influence of China.  The United Kingdom took the approach in the 20th century of placing greater emphasis on international institutions. As its national power waned relative to the rising US, it has maintained a far more powerful seat in global affairs than it would have if it had not actively engaged in international institutions. The US has an opportunity to solidify its interests in the current international legal and political order, which could serve it well in the future. Professor Boon also highlighted the importance of the new Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations, and suggested that these could affect the willingness of permanent Security Council members to engage in new endeavors as much as a new “Beijing Consensus.”

Following their commentary, both Professors Lewis and Boon invited the audience to ask questions and provide comments. Professor Michael Ambrosio of Seton Hall Law School asked Mr. Hill to comment on the success and efficiency of China’s participation in UN peacekeeping, and to rate China’s involvement. Mr. Hill responded that he would rate China’s increased participation quite high, and noted that China has provided crucial assistance in terms of medical and engineering troops, police units, and military observers to UN missions around the world. Mr. Hill emphasized the dire need for police units and explained that China’s assistance in this capacity was especially successful because it was so necessary.

* The authors are both third-year Juris Doctor students at Seton Hall University School of Law. Mr. Kelman is also a Deborah T. Poritz Fellow and Ms. Sedehi is the former president of Seton Hall’s International Law Society.

NYC Event – A New Beijing Consensus in UN Peacekeeping Operations

By , September 15, 2011

China's UN Peacekeepers - Expect to See More

As China emerges as a global power, the question arises: what role will it play in the UN, especially in peacekeeping operations?  Since first re-emerging on the world stage in 1978, China has maintained a philosophy of noninterference in other countries’ domestic affairs, making China’s involvement in peacekeeping operations limited.

But more recently, China has begun to step up to the plate in UN peacekeeping operations, sending non-combat PLA soldiers to assist with such effort.  In March 2011, Beijing issued a white paper on the matter, commending its troops for serving in UN peacekeeping operations and stating that such a role is important for a “responsible party.”

So why the change?  And how will China move forward?  Noted China law professor Margaret K. Lewis will examine these developments and discuss China’s future role with Steven Hill, Counselor for Legal Affairs at the United States Mission to the United Nations, at an event next Thursday at Seton Hall Law School.   All are welcomed to attend; RSVPs (to get a sense of numbers) are very much appreciated; for lawyers in the house, the event will provide 2.0 hr NJ/NY CLE.

***RSVP HERE: http://law.shu.edu/About/News_Events/new-beijing-rsvp.cfm ***

A New Beijing Consensus in UN Peacekeeping Operations
Featuring Steven Hill, Counselor for Legal Affairs at the United States Mission to the United Nations
with Comments by Prof. Margaret K. Lewis, Seton Hall Law School

Thursday, September 22, 2011
4 pm – 6pm
Seton Hall Law School, 5th Floor Faculty Library
1 Newark Center
Newark, NJ 07102
(2 minute walk from Newark Penn Station which has the Path & NJ Transit)

INVITATION TO BLOG – China Law & Policy’s staff will be out of town next week; anyone interested in blogging about the event please contact me at elynch@chinalawandpolicy.com This is an interesting event and should provide for a stimulating blog post.  Thank you in advance.

In the Aftermath of Haiti’s Earthquake: Where is China?

By , March 31, 2010

haiti_flagAlmost three months ago, the world witnessed an agonizing tragedy in Haiti: an earthquake killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions in one of the world’s poorest countries.  Other countries were quick to respond, offering aid and assistance.  But how did the world’s emerging superpower respond?  In this informative essay, Marcy Nicks Moody examines China’s response to the Haiti earthquake, arguably China’s first chance to show the world that it is a responsible global leader.

In the Aftermath of Haiti’s Earthquake: Where is China?

By Marcy Nicks Moody

Though Haiti’s plight no longer appears above the fold of our daily newspapers, it remains one of the world’s most dire. At least 230,000 lives were lost in the earthquake of January 12. More than 300,000 people were injured, and at least 1.3 million were left homeless. This would be a catastrophe anywhere, but for a country of some 10 million, the proportion is gargantuan. More than two months following the magnitude 7.0 quake, shelter, security, and sanitation remain inadequate, and people live in camps of tents and tarpaulins, unlikely to move to more permanent dwellings any time soon.

The international community has responded to the tragedy in Haiti with laudable humanitarian assistance as well as more extended commitments to help “build [Haiti] back better,” and just today, the United Nations and United States co-hosted an International Donors Conference to mobilize support as Haiti lays the foundation for its long-term reconstruction and development. The financial resources necessary for this undertaking are huge: $11.5 billion now, $34.4 billion over the next decade, or five years to Haiti’s current GDP.

Chinese Aid Workers in Haiti

Chinese Aid Workers in Haiti

For China watchers, this conference—and, more importantly, the commitments made at it—may provide further insight into the status of China’s global influence. There has been much ado about China’s arrival on the world stage since its apparent and early exit from the nadir of the economic crisis. And over the last several months, Beijing has increasingly comported itself in such a way as to suggest that it believes in the veracity and longevity of this arrival. Largely, this has taken the form of vitriolic verbiage on issues ranging from Copenhagen to Tibet to its exchange rate. But there are better metrics for global influence than causticity. One of these is a country’s response to other countries in times of need.

Haiti is a particularly interesting case in that it is one of fewer than twenty-five countries left in the world that maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan in lieu of the People’s Republic. Beijing’s traditional response to such countries—often poor ones in Africa and the Caribbean—has generally been a deep-pocketed charm offensive, with preferential loans and big investments. Cynical though it may sound, Haiti’s crisis could be seen as China’s opportunity to curry favor with—or extract a quid pro quo from—a country with which it would like to have diplomatic relations.

Indeed, China has already taken a number of steps to wean countries in the Caribbean and Latin America from Taiwan.

Sichuan Earthquake

Sichuan Earthquake

China is a non-borrowing member of both the Caribbean Development Bank as well as the much larger Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), meaning it provides capital but takes no money in return. Though in the latter case, IADB procurement contracts for Chinese firms was also an important motivation for joining, it was not the only one. Moreover, Chinese—in Beijing and elsewhere—understand the tragedy an earthquake can wreak better than many, or perhaps most. On May 12, 2008, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck Sichuan Province, killing almost 90,000, injuring 360,000, and leaving 5 million homeless. Like Haiti, poor building construction contributed to the scale of human loss. The outpouring of emotion and assistance was immense. With such a horrible tragedy in China’s recent past, one might think that China might sympathize with Haiti’s plight.

But China’s response to the Haitian earthquake has not been as generous as either of these arguments would suggest. Beijing has donated $1 million to the emergency aid efforts, and does not yet appear to have made longer term commitments. It is not among the ranks of the largest donors, which include the United States, Brazil, Canada, and the European Union. The United States, for example, immediately pledged $100 million for the relief effort, and Congress is considering an additional aid package of $2.8 billion. That said, a 125 member search-and-rescue team, medics, and aid supplies coming from China were the first to reach Haiti. The tragedy has not gone unnoticed in China.

So why has China done so little? To be sure, Beijing does not tend to view its assistance activities as ‘foreign aid,’ but rather frames them as offering help to brother or sister countries in times of need. With a quasi-colonial history of its own, China tends to avoid activities that may smack of imperialism or appear to encroach upon a country’s sovereignty. This may be why China avoids national-level coordination efforts and refrains from coordinating donor activities. However, avoiding international coordination now, which may be part of China’s reasons for remaining relatively inactive, will do Haiti no good.

Moreover, Haiti’s relatively small size and vast humanitarian tragedy, coupled with China’s phenomenal ability to execute construction and public works projects in minimal time, present an extraordinary opportunity to showcase China’s arrival and its ‘harmonious’ foreign policy, not just in Haiti or Latin America, but to the world. As Beijing continues to be roiled by the public relations disaster that is its dispute with Google, Haiti is a place in which China could do well. It might actually do some good, too.

Marcy writes about China. In 2007-08, she was a Fulbright Scholar in China, where she was also a Research Fellow with the U.S.-Asia Law Institute. She received an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and graduated from Brown University.

The U.S. & China on Climate Change at the U.N. General Assembly

By , September 24, 2009

un_symbolThis past week the U.N. General Assembly in New York was filled with wave after wave of speeches and meetings dedicated to limiting global climate change.  With the December Copenhagen conference less than three months away, the question remains – has there been any progress?

On Tuesday, September 22, both President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao (pronounced Who Jin-Dao) separately addressed the General Assembly, each discussing their country’s commitment to a global climate change agreement.   Their rhetoric was considerably more conciliatory, signaling that perhaps the two largest polluters of greenhouse gases are finding common ground.  The substance of their speeches though, indicated that there still remains a large division between these two critical countries.

Conciliatory Rhetoric

This past summer saw many important countries digging in their heels on climate change.  In July and August, both China and India adamantly stated that they would not agree to any type of defined targets that would limit their greenhouse gas emissions.  In June, the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill which received notable criticism from both sides of the aisle upon its passage, questioning the bill’s ability to pass the Senate.

But on Tuesday, President Barack Obama reinforced his Administration’s commitment to limit greenhouse gases, indicating his willingness to push his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to pass a climate change bill.  In response to the E.U.’s recent promise to assist developing nations both financially and technically in battling climate change, President Obama also committed the U.S. to help.

President Hu Jintao’s speech was heralded as a huge step forward for the Chinese.  President Hu affirmed his country’s

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

President Hu Jintao speaking to the U.N General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept 22, 2009

promise to tackle climate change and surprisingly mentioned China’s “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity and discharge of major pollutants…”

India also seems to be moving in the direction of targets.  In an interview with the Financial Times on Tuesday, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh discussed the possibility that India could adopt legislation increasing its energy efficiency and thus having “implicit targets.”

Divisions That Could Hamper an Agreement in Copenhagen

Target: What is in a Word?
The press has largely been positive to President Hu’s discussion of “mandatory national targets for reducing energy intensity,” heralding such a step as China’s “first commitment to climate change targets” and that China “pledges to lead effort to combat climate change.

While it is true that this is a step forward for the Chinese – never before have they used the word “target” in reference to climate change on the world stage – in no way is this a “carbon emissions target.”  In fact, China has been using “energy efficiency targets” domestically since 2005.  As John Romankiewicz explained on the Green Leap Forward, in China’s 11th Five Year Plan passed in 2005, the Chinese government established a 20% reduction target in energy intensity from 2006 to 2010.  While this is a laudable goal, it still allows China to increase its carbon emissions since there is no cap – the calculation is relative to the percentage growth of GDP.

China’s goal is to cut energy intensity as a percentage of its GDP.  If GDP rises, a rise in energy use, as long as it is lower than the previous year, can still show a reduction in energy efficiency.  For example, China’s National Development & Reform Commission (NDRC) noted that a 4% rise in energy consumption in 2008, matched with a 9% increase in GDP for that year, resulted in a 4.2% decrease in energy intensity from the previous year (see Green Leap Forward).

Additionally, a focus on energy intensity only marginally impacts carbon emissions, a fact not lost on President Hu in his speech on Tuesday.  After committing China to set targets to reduce its energy intensity, President Hu vaguely addressed carbon emissions by noting that China will “endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions [inaudible in original speech but likely “as a percentage of”] GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”

China has certainly taken a step forward on approaching some form of targets.  Furthermore, by even mentioning targets, China implicitly commits to making those targets measurable and verifiable as Julian L. Wong from the Center for American Progress noted, something that China in the past was not willing to do.  So there has been progress which China should be rightly commended for.  But at this stage, to limit global warming to the U.N. target of 2º Celsius, the world community needs to push China to agree to carbon emissions targets.

Obama Adverse to China Being Defined as a Developing Nation?
Central to the requirement of carbon targets is the definition of “developing nation” and this was perhaps the greatest divide between the U.S. and China, and could possibly stall progress in Copenhagen.

For purposes of climate change negotiations, China has repeatedly portrayed itself as a developing country.  In his speech on Tuesday, President Hu dedicated around two-thirds of it to discussing the special circumstances of developing countries, implying that China is one such nation.

Under the previous international climate change treaty, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, China was defined as a developing nation.  China is keen to keep this definition in Copenhagen for two reasons: (1) emission targets are not applicable to developing nations, and (2) developing nations can avail themselves of financial and technical aid provided by developed nations.

It is the second reason that appears to be more important to the Chinese.  In prior climate change negotiation simulations that global power participate in as practice for Copenhagen, the Chinese representatives do not budge unless there is an offer of technical or financial assistance from other countries like the U.S. or the E.U.  President Hu’s speech reiterated the importance of such assistance to the Chinese: “developed countries should take up their responsibility and provide new, additional, adequate and predictable financial support to developing countries…”

President Obama wholeheartedly agreed with President Hu’s sentiment to assist developing nations.  However, he

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

President Barack Obama before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

appeared to disagree with President Hu that China is such a country.  In his speech before the U.N., President Obama put China and the U.S. on the same level in assisting developing countries: “These [developing] nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do…” (emphasis added).

This division between the two countries regarding the developmental status of China could do one of two things: (a) completely derail any agreement in Copenhagen that includes both the U.S. and China, or (b) provide the compromise necessary to have the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases agree to a climate change agreement.  U.S. policy makers should look to the latter.  Agreeing to provide financial and technical assistance to China might just be the push necessary to get it to agree to carbon emission targets, a necessary goal to limit global climate change.

For a transcript of President Barack Obama’s address to the U.N., click here.

For a transcript of President Hu Jintao’s address to the U.N., click here.

Panorama Theme by Themocracy

%d bloggers like this: