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Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2017 Annual Report on Human Rights in China & Hong Kong

(Residents of Hong Kong host a vigil service outside the Chinese Liason Office of Hong Kong following the death of Human Right Activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo on July 13, 2017. Source: Geovien So / Barcroft Images)

Republished by: The Project 2049 Institute |

The following excerpt includes the “Executive Summary” and “Recommendations to Congress and the Administration” from the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) 2017 Annual Report on Human Rights in China & Hong Kong.



Seventeen years after the establishment of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Commission’s mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China remains wholly relevant and urgently necessary.

China has benefited immensely from the international rules-based order in driving its growth and lifting millions out of poverty, but the political reform many believed would accompany China’s economic transformation and accession to the World Trade Organization has failed to materialize. Chinese government claims of global leadership in areas such as trade, environmental protection, and the building of international institutions—as expressed by President and Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping at several high-profile international forums this past year—are belied by the reality of the Chinese government’s actions, which are not that of a responsible stakeholder.

While China stresses the need for global connectivity and openness, it continues to strengthen the world’s most sophisticated system of Internet control and press censorship and forges ahead with what it calls “Internet sovereignty,” the notion that nations should have total control over the Internet within their borders. The Chinese government’s expansive notion of sovereignty gives officials license to decry international criticism of their human rights record as one country interfering in the affairs of another. All the while, the Chinese government extends its own “long arm” to threaten and intimidate political and religious dissidents and critics living abroad; establishes Confucius Institutes at colleges and universities around the world, influencing these academic environments with its political agenda; and invests heavily in overseas media, exporting state propaganda and exercising soft power to shape movie production and other cultural media. Moreover, Chinese officials’ complaints of other nations’ “interference” into China’s affairs fail to take into account that the Chinese government is obligated to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens under its own constitution, and under international conventions it has willingly signed.

The Commission is mandated to document cases of political prisoners in China— individuals who were detained or imprisoned by the Chinese government for exercising their civil, religious, and political rights. Steadfast advocacy on behalf of individual political and religious prisoners, more than 1,400 of whom are active cases in the Commission’s far from exhaustive Political Prisoner Database, remains vital. These men and women, whose “crimes” intersect with nearly every issue area covered in the Commission’s Annual Report, represent the human toll exacted by China’s repressive and authoritarian one-party system. The death from liver cancer in July 2017 of Liu Xiaobo—a Chinese intellectual and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” in connection with his pro-democracy work—brought renewed attention to the government and Party’s shameful treatment of political prisoners. In his last days, authorities repeatedly denied Liu Xiaobo medical treatment abroad, counter to his wishes and those of his wife, Liu Xia.

During this reporting year, we were inspired by the outspoken bravery of several of the wives of Chinese lawyers and rights defenders detained during the sweeping July 2015 crackdown on human rights advocates. In case after case, these women took up the mantle of their husbands’ plight, often at great risk to themselves and their children. By their own telling, many of these women had not previously been involved in their husbands’ efforts to pursue justice and accountability from their own government. However, as Chinese authorities conspired against them and their families—as their spouses’ unjust detentions grew from days to weeks to months—they became advocates in their own right. Their personal accounts of intimidation, harassment, and social marginalization stemming from official pressure—landlords refusing them housing, their children being denied entry to local schools, their lives under constant surveillance and movement restricted—coupled with their compelling public defense of their husbands’ innocence, have, in the words of one scholar, opened up a “new line of struggle that we have not seen before in China.”

Chinese government repression may temporarily satisfy the Communist Party’s desire to control its citizenry and maintain its grip on power, but as these women have shown, such measures often have the unintended consequence of stoking resentment and prompting activism in individuals who may have otherwise chosen not to engage. Even as the Commission’s reporting documents a continued downward trajectory in human rights protections since Xi Jinping’s ascent to power, there are other stories that demand telling: As the Chinese government suppresses authentic religious expression, the number of religious adherents multiplies; as the government censors the Internet, circumvention tools proliferate; as they brutally represses rights lawyers, their loved ones open up a “new line of struggle.”

Change in China will ultimately arise from within. However, the United States and other like-minded nations have a responsibility and a legitimate national interest in pressing the Chinese government to uphold human rights norms, respect the rule of law, and comply with its international commitments. It is in this context that we, as Chairman and Cochairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, submit the Commission’s 2017 Annual Report.

Senator Marco Rubio                                              Congressman Christopher H. Smith
Chair                                                                        Cochair


Embed Human Rights Throughout Bilateral Relations. The Administration and Congress should develop an action plan to facilitate interagency coordination on human rights in China and develop a coordinated approach that prepares all agencies interacting with Chinese government counterparts to pursue measurable, results-oriented human rights and rule of law outcomes. All agencies should be prepared to better articulate the link between human rights improvements in China and U.S. economic, security, and diplomatic interests.

Make Reciprocity a Priority. The Administration should open high-level discussions to create a rules-of-the-road agreement that ensures reciprocal treatment for U.S. institutions, businesses, and nationals operating in China. The Administration should take appropriate and reciprocal actions to ensure that U.S.-based media outlets as well as academic and non-governmental organizations have the same freedoms afforded to a growing number of Chinese government-sponsored and funded think tanks, academic institutions, and media entities in the United States, while ensuring that independent Chinese media and organizations remain welcome. In addition, any bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with China should effectively facilitate and enable market access for U.S. media companies and education institutions.

Hold Officials Accountable for Abuses. The Administration should use existing laws to hold accountable Chinese government officials and others complicit in torture, severe religious freedom restrictions, repatriation of North Korean refugees, or those participating in forced abortions or sterilizations, including by using the sanctions available in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2000. Congress should consider allocating resources to identify and investigate Chinese government officials responsible for human rights violations.

Seek a Law Enforcement Agreement That Upholds Global Standards. Chinese government officials have sought repatriation of Chinese citizens overseas in connection with the government’s anticorruption investigations, offering the Administration an opportunity to press for a comprehensive law enforcement agreement that establishes diplomatic assurances guaranteeing verifiable prisoner due process protections and an end to torture in detention and forms of arbitrary detention, including “residential surveillance at a designated location.” The U.S. Government should not agree to any additional repatriations until the Chinese government can demonstrate that they are meeting the standards set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights instruments regarding the treatment of criminal suspects.

Respond to Digital Protectionism. The Administration should consider seeking a high-level trade agreement to address the Chinese government’s growing digital protectionism that would include commitments on the free flow of news and information and the non-discriminatory treatment of U.S. digital products. The Administration should consider initiating a World Trade Organization dispute to challenge continued discrimination against U.S. technology and media companies and prepare targeted trade sanctions if the Chinese government continues to impose onerous requirements, including data storage in China and the disclosure of source code and encryption keys. The Administration should provide Congress more detailed information about the effects of Internet censorship on U.S. businesses in China and use existing legal provisions to address intellectual property theft and the privacy concerns of U.S. citizens due to Chinese cyber espionage. The Administration and the committees of jurisdiction in Congress should work to find ways to use the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to respond to unfair industrial policies that threaten national security, including by expanding its mandate to look at foreign investment in media and technology sectors.

Promote a Free Internet. The Administration, in collaboration with Congress and the Chief Executive Officer of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, should develop a comprehensive, multi-year strategy that partners with civil society, businesses, key technology industries, religious leaders, and human rights defenders to counter efforts by the Chinese government to promote “Internet sovereignty”; develop effective technologies that provide or enhance access to the Internet; and conduct research on ways to counter threats to Internet freedom, including the Chinese government’s intent to block access to virtual private networks (VPNs) starting in early 2018. The Administration and Congress should consider expanding programs providing digital security training for civil society advocates and projects that track, preserve, and recirculate media and Internet content deleted by Chinese government censors.

Expand Mandate of FARA To Counter Propaganda. The Administration and Congress should work together to expand the mandate of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) to encompass individuals working for foreign state-owned media, government-backed think tanks, or other non-profit organizations operating in the United States. In addition, the Administration should develop a “whole-of-government” strategy to respond to Chinese government propaganda, including by fully equipping the Global Engagement Center at the State Department to research and counter disinformation and by considering an expansion of resources for Voice of America and Radio Free Asia programming in China.

Speak With a Unified Voice on Human Rights. The Administration should, where appropriate, lead efforts with allies to develop coordinated responses to human rights violations, including by working together at the United Nations, by creating a multilateral human rights dialogue or jointly funding technical assistance and capacity-building projects, or by engaging in joint advocacy and the sharing of prisoner lists. The Administration should also coordinate with businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to develop a unified message about unfair industrial policies, digital protectionism, and the harm to U.S. and global interests from the PRC Law on the Management of Overseas NGOs’ Activities.

Help Address China’s “Missing Girls” Problem. The Administration should integrate the provisions of the Girls Count Act (Public Law No. 114-24) into foreign assistance programs and consider appointing a Special Advisor at the U.S. State Department to oversee the creation and coordination of assistance programs to address the social and economic issues created by the Chinese government’s population control policies and sex ratio imbalances, particularly projects that strengthen property and inheritance rights for Chinese women and girls and those that protect women and their families from the most coercive aspects of the population control policies. The Administration should develop talking points so that officials and diplomats can discuss problems linked to China’s dramatic sex ratio imbalance as part of bilateral dialogues on security, legal, trafficking, human rights, medical, and public health. In addition, Congress should continue to link U.S. contributions to the UN Population Fund for use in China with the end of all birth limitation and coercive population control policies in China.

Seek Protections for North Korean Refugees. Congress should reauthorize the North Korean Human Rights Act and consider expanding efforts to channel uncensored news and information into North Korea and to asylum-seekers in China through all possible means, including through North Korean defector communities. In addition, using the tools provided by Congress, the Administration should be prepared to impose secondary sanctions on Chinese corporations, individuals, or banks that profit from North Korean forced labor and those assisting the North Korean government in avoiding international sanctions.

Make Religious Freedom Diplomacy a Priority. Given that countries that severely restrict religious freedom are likely to face domestic instability and may also threaten regional stability, it is in the U.S. interest for the Administration to implement fully the provisions of the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (Public Law No. 114-281) and strategically employ the sanctions and other tools associated with the U.S. State Department’s designation of China as a “Country of Particular Concern” for severe restrictions on religious freedom. The Administration should reestablish the Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group within the Department of State’s Federal Advisory Committee to bring together experts from government, universities, religious and other NGOs to develop an effective multi-year plan to promote and protect religious freedom in China.

Prioritize Efforts To Combat Human Trafficking, Forced Labor, and Child Labor. Congress and the Administration should ensure that the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs have sufficient resources and status within their Departments to effectively combat human trafficking and more accurately report on current conditions, including by reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Congress should again consider legislation that improves U.S. Government data collection and reporting on the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal, globally and in China.

Promote Dialogue Regarding Tibet. The Administration and Congress should work together to press for unrestricted access to Tibetan autonomous areas in China and to facilitate the full implementation of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, including establishing a diplomatic office in Lhasa, and urging renewed dialogue between Chinese government officials and the Dalai Lama’s representatives. Administration officials, including the President, should meet with the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a spiritual leader and with the leaders of the Central Tibetan Administration. Congress should consider passage of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (S. 821/H.R. 1872, 115th Cong., 1st Sess.).

Calibrate Counterterrorism Cooperation To Protect Ethnic Minorities. Due to the Chinese government’s practice of labeling peaceful rights advocates and members of religious and ethnic minority groups as extremists or terrorists, the Administration should consider carefully the nature and scope of its counterterrorism cooperation with the Chinese government and, through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, create guidelines for such cooperation to ensure that the United States does not condone Chinese authorities’ crackdown on domestic political dissent or restrictions on the freedoms of expression or religion. The Administration should develop interagency talking points to raise issues of human rights in China’s ethnic minority areas during bilateral and multilateral dialogues with Chinese military, public security, or other appropriate government officials.

Ensure American Nationals Are Protected. The Administration should consider seeking revisions to the U.S.-China Consular Convention to clarify that Americans detained in China may meet with a lawyer of their choice, contact their families regularly, privately discuss the details of their case with U.S. consular officials, and have U.S. Embassy officials attend all legal proceedings. The Administration should consider developing a formal strategy to secure the release of American nationals and the family members of American nationals who are extra-judicially detained in China and should work with Congress to ensure regular reports on the number of U.S. citizens detained or not permitted to leave China.

Reiterate U.S. Interest in Hong Kong’s Autonomy. The Administration should continue to issue annually the report outlined in Section 301 of the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, subject to Congressional directives. Congress should consider ways to express through public statements, official visits, and resolutions the important connection between a free press, a vibrant civil society, an independent judiciary, and expanded democratic governance in Hong Kong and the mutual interests shared by the United States and China in maintaining Hong Kong as a center of business and finance in Asia. The Administration and Congress should work together to determine whether legislation or other measures are needed to revise the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, including by passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (S. 417, 115th Cong., 1st Sess.).

Develop a Code-of-Conduct for Civil Society. The Administration should work with U.S. civil society and non-governmental organizations, including cultural-exchange and sister-city programs, and humanitarian assistance, academic, and religious organizations, to formulate a code of conduct for interacting with the Chinese government in order to protect the academic freedom and universally recognized human rights of staff, faculty, or students living in China and to equip institutions to respond effectively when Chinese authorities attempt to encourage censorship, threaten visa denials or access to China, or dictate who can participate or what can be discussed in various programs, projects, or institutions.

Consistently Advocate for Political Prisoners. In meetings with Chinese government officials, Administration officials and Members of Congress should raise cases, both publicly and in private, of individuals detained or imprisoned for the peaceful expression of political or religious beliefs and those promoting legal reforms and human rights. The Administration should also consider creating a Special Advisor for Political and Religious Prisoners to coordinate State Department and interagency advocacy on behalf of political prisoners. Experience demonstrates that raising individual cases can result in improved treatment, lighter sentences, or in some cases, release from custody, detention, or imprisonment. U.S. officials are encouraged to consult the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database for credible and up-to-date information on individual prisoners or groups of prisoners. Please see representative cases of concern on the following pages.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) was created by Congress in October 2000 with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and the Congress. The Commission consists of nine Senators, nine Members of the House of Representatives, and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President. 

Read the full CECC 2017 Report here.