US congressional report documents 'dire human rights situation' in China

The United States capitol building. Credit: vgm8383 via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).
The United States capitol building. Credit: vgm8383 via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

.- A new congressional report slams China’s Communist Party for increasing its repressive control over many aspects of Chinese society, and for its numerous extreme and unprecedented human rights violations that may constitute crimes against humanity.

The report states that it “highlights the dire human rights situation inside China and the continued downward trajectory by virtually every measure, since Xi Jinping” came to power, first as the Communist Party’s general secretary and now as its president.

Published Oct. 10, the report was prepared and released by the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which is chaired by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and co-chaired by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). The commission was created in 2000 to monitor human rights and rule of law developments in China.  

In a press conference at the report’s release, Rubio said that that mandate “remains pressing and urgently necessary” in the face of the Communist Party’s current human rights violations.

Key themes found in the report were the “unprecedented repression of ethnic minorities...which may constitute crimes against humanity, a dramatic increase of Communist party control over government, society and business, and the third is the increasing use of technology as a tool of oppression,” Rubio said.

Rubio emphasized that the report was not criticizing the Chinese people nor its culture, but rather the Chinese Communist Party, which rules China’s government.

Of particular concern, the report notes, is the “mass, arbitrary, internment of as many as 1 million or more Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities in ‘political reeducation’ camps in western China.”

Local Chinese officials in these areas have been found using “alarming” rhetoric in reference to these minorities, calling them “tumors” or “weeds” that must be eradicated or killed, the commission found.

“Reports indicate that this may be the largest incarceration of an ethnic minority population since World War II, and that it may constitute crimes against humanity,” the commission stated in its report.

Human rights activists have harshly criticized the camps for their goals of “thought transformation” which aim to extend control over the religious and social practices of the minority populations held there, including banning beards, veils, and “unusual” names.

In regards to religious freedom in China, the commission noted that it “continued to observe widespread and systematic violation of the principles of religious freedom during the 2018 reporting year, as Chinese authorities exercised broad discretion over religious practice,” despite guarantees of religious freedom in Chinese and international law.  
 
One of the most concerning trends regarding Chinese religious freedom is the Communist party’s policy of “sinicization”, which means that government officials “develop and promote policies aimed at shaping religious practice in China to promote and assimilate to a Chinese cultural (and Party) identity.”

The Catholic Church in China remains divided, with about 6 million of the country’s 10.5 million Catholics belonging to Party-approved Catholic congregations.

The other 4.5 million Catholics comprise what is often referred to as the “underground” Catholic Church in China, who are dubious of Party-sanctioned and elected bishops and their teachings “because they believe legitimate ecclesiastical authority can be conferred only by the Pope’s mandate, and they also object to affiliation with the patriotic religious association for Chinese Catholics, the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA).”

In a controversial effort aimed at unifying the Church in China, the Vatican announced in September that Pope Francis had recognized seven illicitly ordained bishops after the signing of a provisional deal with the Chinese government over the nomination of bishops. Under the deal, the Chinese government can propose candidates as part of the nomination process, but the Pope must give final approval.

Many Chinese Catholics and religious freedom experts have expressed doubts about whether the deal will actually bring unity, or whether it will further encourage the Party’s control over the Church in China and further divide Chinese Catholics. Leading up to the deal in June through August of this year, officials dismantled a popular Catholic pilgrimage site and destroyed two Catholic churches, and issued instructions to dioceses to report on local plans for implementation of a five-year plan to “sinicize” Catholicism in China, the commission found.

The commission also slammed China’s ongoing family planning restrictions for continuing to coerce women and families despite having the recent expansion to a two-child policy.

“The amended PRC Population and Family Planning Law and provincial-level regulations continued to limit couples’ freedom to build their families as they see fit, and include provisions that require couples to be married to have children and limit them to bearing two children,” the report states.

“Officials reportedly continued to enforce compliance with family planning policies using methods including heavy fines, job termination, detention, and abortion,” the commission noted. “Coercive controls imposed on Chinese women and their families, and additional abuses engendered by China’s population and family planning system, violate standards set forth in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 1994 Programme of Action of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.”

China was a state participant in the negotiation and adoption of both programs.

Furthermore, studies have found that the two-child policy in China did not have the intended effect of spurring population growth in the country, and population experts have recommended that the Chinese government expand to a three-child policy, or end “all birth restrictions, abolish ‘social compensation fees,’ and offer incentives or supporting policies, such as tax breaks and subsidies, to encourage couples to have more children.”

Other areas of concern addressed in the report included the status of women, public health, political prisoners, freedom of expression and workers rights, among other things.

“The ever-expanding scope of domestic repression documented in the pages that follow directly affects an increasing number of Chinese citizens, stirring resentment, dissent, and even activism in unlikely places,” Rubio and Smith noted in the report’s summary.

“As American policymakers revisit the assumptions that previously informed U.S.-China relations, and seek to chart a new path forward, it is vital that our foreign policy prioritizes the promotion of universal human rights and the protection of basic human dignity, principles the Chinese Communist Party is actively trying to redefine,” they said.

These efforts “have merit on their own accord, and they are also inextricably linked to vital U.S. national interests, including regional stability in the Indo-Pacific, the future of young and emerging democracies in our hemisphere, and the strength of our own civic institutions domestically.”

Tags: Religious freedom, Marco Rubio, Chris Smith, Congressional-Executive Commission on China