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Reports of repression

Two new reports detail China’s worsening human rights situations

Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director, speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 1, 2018. Lee Jin-man/AP Photo

Reports of repression
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Hong Kong authorities barred Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), from entering the territory last week. He had come to Hong Kong to launch the group’s latest annual report on human rights around the world with a special focus on China.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Kenneth Roth said in a statement. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Immigration officials did not give a reason as to why Roth, a U.S. citizen, could not enter after landing at Hong Kong International Airport. Yet the move comes after a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official threatened “sanctions” against HRW and other U.S. human rights organizations in December after Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The report highlighted how China has created a surveillance state to monitor its people domestically while internationally refusing to accept accountability for its repression. With more countries and companies dependent on Chinese money, China has been able to keep them quiet even as it commits human rights abuses such as detaining more than 1 million Uighurs in reeducation camps.

World Report 2020 calls on foreign governments to band together to keep China accountable and stop the Communist country from spreading its authoritarianism: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation could speak out against China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. Governments and international financial institutions can offer alternatives to China’s loans. Companies and universities can create explicit codes of conduct for dealing with China.

“Unless we want to return to an era in which people are pawns to be manipulated or discarded according to the whims of their overlords, we must resist Beijing’s assault on our rights,” Roth said. “Decades of progress on rights, and our future, are at stake.”

The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China released its own report with similar findings. Established by the U.S.-China Relations Act in 2000 as China prepared to join the World Trade Organization, the group was tasked with tracking China’s human rights and rule of law. In 2019, the group found the situation in China continued to deteriorate, focusing on the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, which they said may constitute crimes against humanity. It also examines Beijing’s encroachment of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests are now in their seventh month.

The report recommends the U.S. government link all of its interactions with the Chinese government—including trade negotiations—to the issues of human rights, rule of law, and democratic governance.

“The Commission’s report shines a bright light on Beijing’s dangerous and ever-expanding repression and efforts to crack down on freedom of expression, religion, assembly, and speech,” said U.S. Rep. James McGovern, Chair of the CECC. “The United States must be a strong and unwavering voice for universal human rights in China.”

CECC’s commissioners also sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to raise the cases of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been arbitrarily detained or barred from leaving China. The letter mentions John Sanqiang Cao, a missionary who authorities sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly “organizing illegal border crossings.” Cao, who is a permanent resident of the United States, was building schools for impoverished children in the mountains of Burma.

It also mentioned Jacob Harlan and Alyssa Petersen, two Americans who ran an English-language teaching company in China and were detained in September on the same charge as Cao. They have been released on bail, but are unable to leave the city of Zhenjiang for at least 12 months. Their arrest is believed to be retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese official in New York on visa fraud charges.

The Chinese government has prevented two other U.S. citizens, Victor and Cynthia Liu, from leaving China since the summer of 2018. Their mother has been detained on criminal charges in China, and China is using the siblings as human collateral to convince their father, Liu Changing, to return to China to face fraud charges.

Comparing exit bans to “de facto hostage-taking,” the letter calls on Trump to raise these cases as he meets with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials.

Roth, the director of HRW, noted the consequences if the world stays silent: “If not challenged, Beijing’s actions portend a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression.”

Running on tradition: Nike’s first Chinese New Year ad is a hit in China. It portrays a young girl politely refusing her aunt’s red envelope of money—as is custom in China. The years pass, and she starts running away (in her Nike shoes) as her aunt gives chase. Finally as the girl has her own family, she tries to give her aunt a red envelope, continuing the chase with the roles reversed. Check it out here:

June Cheng

June is a reporter for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and covers East Asia, including China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.



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