U.S. Must Underscore Importance of Human Rights Issues at Strategic and Economic Dialogue

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, May 6, 2011) Officials from the U.S. and Chinese governments will meet to discuss a range of issues during the third U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), which will be held in Washington, D.C. on May 9 and 10. Following last week’s U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner stated that “the discussion of human rights will be part of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue,” adding that “most senior government officials of the United States are deeply concerned about the deterioration of human rights in China over the last several months,” which Mr. Posner referred to as “a serious backsliding.” At a press briefing on the S&ED yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell reinforced this point, stating, “it is our intention to raise issues of concern directly, honestly, and open[ly] with our Chinese interlocutors, including issues of concern associated with human rights.”

While CHRD welcomes these remarks, we urge not only State Department officials but also other members of the U.S. delegation from across the government to make strong and clear statements expressing concern about China’s deteriorating human rights situation and to raise specific cases in their meetings during the S&ED. During a press briefing on next week’s dialogue, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai (崔天凯) reportedly accused the U.S. of “being preoccupied with individual cases” and added that the Chinese government hoped the U.S. would “not devote too much energy to individual cases or cases that involve violations of Chinese law.”

“The Chinese government is anxious to maintain the status quo of past Strategic and Economic Dialogues, which is to sideline human rights issues,” said Renee Xia, International Director of CHRD. “The U.S. must stress that human rights issues are part and parcel of strategic and economic concerns. For example, full realization of such rights as freedom of expression and freedom of association are necessary preconditions for protecting the environment, improving food safety, and safeguarding workers’ rights.”

The involvement of Chinese civil society is essential to any hope of meaningful progress on labor, health, environmental, housing, and other issues. Yet the Chinese government maintains a harsh legal and regulatory framework that restricts citizens from communicating facts and expressing views the government wants silenced and from organizing to address these and other issues relating to social and economic rights. Moreover, the government frequently retaliates against civil society activists who speak out or try to take action. This trend has worsened notably in recent years, and the current crackdown on civil society following calls for “Jasmine Revolution” protests in February highlights the severity of the situation. In particular, restriction of civil and political liberties has directly undermined progress in the following areas:

  • Workers’ rights: The Chinese government continues to restrict the rights of workers to form independent unions and to strike; as a result, labor disputes remain among the leading causes of protests and demonstrations each year. Stories of unpaid wages, nonexistent benefits, and unsafe working conditions abound in both the state-run media and in online message boards and social media. China is a member of the International Labour Organization, yet by denying Chinese workers the right to freedom of association and “effective recognition’’ of the right to collective bargaining, among other concerns, it falls well short of satisfying its international obligations.
  • Health and food safety: Wide swaths of Chinese society are put at risk daily as the Chinese government chooses to persecute grassroots activists rather than encourage their work on issues such as food safety, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, discrimination against Hepatitis B carriers, and reproductive rights. In some cases the Chinese government is acting to prevent these individuals from filling a gap in public services. Other times, authorities pursue individuals who are working to expose government misconduct and to protect the health rights of fellow citizens.
  • Environmental protection: Given the scope of China’s steadily worsening environmental crisis, the government should actively encourage the assistance of civil society in addressing this critical issue. While the government appears to realize this, it is also clear that local officials continue to prize economic growth and “stability” over protecting the environment. As a result, when environmental NGOs or activists begin to challenge polluting businesses, corrupt local officials, or government policy, they often find themselves the victims of persecution, and the citizens whose rights they have worked to protect suffer as well.
  • Land and housing rights: Farmers living on the outskirts of cities are struggling as their land is increasingly being unlawfully expropriated by local governments and developers eager for quick, sizeable profits. In the cities themselves, officials continue to infringe upon the housing rights and other basic rights of countless Chinese citizens through abuses related to forced evictions and demolitions. Though the Chinese government, perhaps responding to public outrage over a string of highly-publicized suicides and violent clashes over forced evictions, passed new Regulations for Expropriation and Compensation of Residential Buildings on State-owned Land last year, it appears that these new administrative guidelines have done little to curb the worst of these abuses. Activists who organize farmers and rural residents to stand up for their land rights are routinely harassed or imprisoned.


During his press conference after the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, Assistant Secretary Posner suggested that the U.S. delegation had raised the cases of Chen Guangcheng, Chen’s wife Yuan Weijing, Teng Biao, Ai Weiwei, Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, and Liu’s wife Liu Xia, among others. He also indicated that at least some of the Chinese government responses were less than satisfactory. CHRD urges officials from all agencies and departments of the U.S. government participating in the S&ED to follow up on the specific cases raised during the Human Rights Dialogue to which the U.S. government did not receive satisfactory responses. In addition, CHRD urges members of the U.S. delegation to discuss with their Chinese counterparts the issues outlined above, and to raise additional cases of activists who have been imprisoned, disappeared, or otherwise unlawfully detained or intimidated for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association relating to their work on behalf of worker rights, health and food safety, environmental protection and land and housing rights. The following appendix includes a list of specific cases we recommend the members of the U.S. delegation raise:

Appendix: Individual Cases

(Illustrative individual cases of Chinese citizens persecuted for their efforts to promote and protect social and/or economic rights relating to labor, health and food safety, environmental protection and land and housing.)

Jiang Tianyong (江天勇), Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵), and Li Fangping (李方平) are three prominent human rights attorneys and legal advisors to a few Beijing-based NGOs that work on health rights. They have been targeted recently by officials during the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown; Jiang Tianyong was subjected to two months of enforced disappearance between February 19 and April 19, Li Fangping was subjected to five days of enforced disappearance between April 29 and May 4, and Li Xiongbing disappeared between May 4 and May 6. CHRD is concerned that these lawyers may have been subjected to torture or other mistreatment while they were illegally held incommunicado, and that they were intimidated into silence upon their release.

Karma Samdrup (噶玛桑珠) is a successful Tibetan businessman and founder of an environmental protection foundation. He was named philanthropist of the year in 2006 by CCTV. In June 2010, Karma was sentenced to 15 years in prison for “grave robbing” as retaliation for his activism and for speaking out on behalf of his brothers, who are also environmental activists, after they were detained for accusing local officials in Tibet of illegally hunting endangered animals.

Liu Zhengyou (刘正有), an activist and founder of a rights-defense group responsible for providing assistance to petitioners and documenting local rights abuses in his hometown of Zigong City, Sichuan Province, was sentenced to two years in prison in August 2010. Liu is particularly active on land rights issues and has been detained and harassed numerous times for his efforts to lead local villagers in defense of their land rights.

Lü Jiangbo (吕江波), a businessman-turned-village director of Keren Village in Fujian Province, was sentenced in November 2010 to a harsh 11-year prison term for a variety of charges. His conviction and sentence are believed to be in retaliation for his efforts to organize residents of Keren to defend their land rights.

Ni Yulan (倪玉兰) is a former lawyer and longtime housing rights activist who has been repeatedly detained and tortured over the past decade. She became involved with housing rights issues in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics, when she documented the forced evictions of Beijing citizens, and in 2008 her own home was demolished. She is currently under criminal detention along with her husband, Dong Jiqin (董继勤), for “creating a disturbance” as part of the “Jasmine Revolution” crackdown.

Tan Zuoren (谭作人) is a Sichuan-based activist and environmentalist. He was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” after he organized an investigation into the deaths of children during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and attempted to assist parents of these children in their fight for justice. Tan is currently serving a five-year prison term.

Tian Xi (田喜), a 23-year-old HIV/AIDS activist based in Beijing, was sentenced to one year in prison in February 2011 by a court in his hometown of Zhumadian City, Henan Province. Tian contracted AIDS as a child as the result of a tainted blood transfusion.

Xu Kun (许坤), an elected village director in Guangxi Province’s Baihutou Village, was sentenced to four years in prison in April 2011 for leading villagers in a protest against the seizure of their land.

Yuan Xianchen (袁显臣), a worker’ rights advocate and “barefoot lawyer,” is currently serving four years in prison for “inciting subversion of state power.” Yuan, who is best-known for his work as a legal advisor to workers at the Didao Mine in Jixi City, Heilongjiang Province, was detained in 2008 after helping collect signatures endorsing an open letter entitled “We Want Human Rights, Not the Olympics.”

Zhao Lianhai (赵连海) is a food safety advocate and founder of the online advocacy group “Kidney Stone Babies,” which he created in response to the 2008 tainted milk powder scandal. Zhao was convicted of “creating a disturbance” and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on November 10, 2010. He was released earlier this year on medical parole, but has been living at home under close surveillance.

For more information on individuals subjected to criminal detention or enforced disappearance in recent months, updated May 6, please see: https://www.nchrd.org/2011/04/15/jasmine_crackdown/

Media Contacts

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937, reneexia@chrdnet.com

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660, songlianwang@chrdnet.com

David Smalls, Researcher (English) +1 347 448 5285, davidsmalls@chrdnet.com

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