Shedding light on human rights in China

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 16th of October, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Last week, a special commission released the latest annual report on human rights and the rule of law in China. Senator Marco Rubio chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Here’s an excerpt from his opening remarks at the press conference.

RUBIO: We see an ascendant and increasingly aggressive China seeking to not just supplant the United States on the world stage, but reshape global norms on development, trade, the internet, and even human rights….Human rights conditions have deteriorated again this year. And that has adversely affected both U.S.-China relations and the people of China’s ability to exercise their fundamental human freedoms…We must also remember the brave Chinese citizens who are voicing dissent in the face of expanding domestic oppression.

EICHER: The Commission consists of several senators, congressmen, and senior administration officials  appointed by the president.

REICHARD: June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent and is on the line to discuss highlights from the 2018 report—including persecution of an ethnic group, the Uighurs.

June, what does the CECC’s report reveal about the state of China today?

JUNE CHENG, REPORTER: So, when the commission was created in 2000, American lawmakers thought that as China opened up economically, it would also open up politically. But, clearly, that hasn’t been the case. This year’s report—quote—“highlights the dire human rights situation inside China and the continued downward trajectory by virtually every measure.” For instance, it mentions how President Xi Jinping has ended term limits and is consolidating power within the Communist party. It also touches upon the increased surveillance of Chinese citizens, the persecution towards religious groups such as house church Christians, and especially how the Chinese government has sent one million ethnic Uighur to reeducation camps in Xinjiang.

REICHARD: And how have things regressed under the Xi administration?

CHENG: After China started opening up in the 1980s, things seemed to be getting better for Chinese citizens. There was more press freedom for journalists and house churches were no longer being persecuted as severely as before. And President Dun Xiao Ping also set term limits on the country’s leader so that there wouldn’t be a repeat of Chairman Mao Zedong. And now things seem to be going backwards. So, human rights lawyers who had once been commended for their work are now being thrown into black prisons and tortured. And while there used to be newspapers that could do investigative pieces, today, newspapers need to follow the party line. And unregistered churches which were able to grow unchecked are now being banned and closed. Also, another instance of this is that in the past, minors under the age of 18 were able to attend officially registered churches. There were children’s Sunday schools and even though at the time the Chinese law stated that there could not be the evangelism of minors, they didn’t enforce that law. But now they’re really cracking down on children attending Sunday services. And so it can all seem very depressing and hopeless, but many Christians have prepared for this type of persecution and as they look back at history, they find that if the Communist party couldn’t wipe out Christianity during the difficult times of the cultural revolution, they really can’t do it now.

REICHARD: You mentioned black prisons. What are those?

CHENG: So, black prisons are where the government will send political dissidents or political prisoners and that’s an area that’s completely unchecked and so often there’s torture, there’s interrogation, there are a lot of unlawful practices that go on there.

REICHARD: After reviewing this report, how do you think all of this affects the U.S.?

CHENG: The report notes that—quote—“China’s authoritarianism at home directly threatens our freedoms as well as our most deeply held values and national interests.” And you see this in the business world with intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, and multinational companies being pressured into aligning with Beijing on topics like Taiwan. Also, academics and publishers also feel the pressure to either tow the party line or lose the large China market. Western journalists reporting in China are also being harassed or kicked out of the country for reporting on sensitive issues like the reeducation camps in Xinjiang. China also tries to silence Uighur reporters who now reside in the U.S. by detaining their families who are still in China and throwing them in camps. So for these people, they really aren’t safe anywhere.

REICHARD: And what can you tell us about initiatives announced in the report?

CHENG: Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Chris Smith introduced the Xinjiang Uighur Human Rights Act of 2018 which would focus State Department resources on the mass interment of Uighurs. They also announced their intention to nominate Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Tohti is currently serving a life sentence on charges of separatism for creating a website called Uighur Online, which sought to promote dialogue between Uighurs and the majority Hahn Chinese. He’s also been critical of China’s policies towards Uighurs. So if Tohti actually wins the Nobel Peace Prize, this would be a huge slap in the face to China. The last time a Chinese citizen received a Nobel Peace Prize was Liu Xiaobo, a democracy activist who died in prison in 2017.

June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent. June, thank you.

CHENG: Thank you, Mary.

(Photo/Ng Han Guan, Associated Press) FILE—Residents of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang province pass through a security checkpoint. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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