On June 8th the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) published a white paper analyzing China’s progress on human rights in 2014. The authorship would have made the paper’s reliability inherently dubious, even if the intent had been to genuinely analyze China’s 2014 human rights record. The actual report however, made no such efforts, and instead can only be read as a painfully transparent attempt to use rhetoric to obscure the CCP’s continued blatant violation of the human rights law codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in its own Constitution. According to an article published in The Telegraph, William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, noted that in many areas, especially those “related to freedom of expression, civil society, and the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities – the white paper seems to have been written in an alternative reality." Nee cited "increasing restriction on the freedom of movement of Uighurs – a largely Muslim ethnic group from the far western region of Xinjiang – and Tibetans,” as examples of the actual reality in which the article takes place.
The first section of the white paper covers economic and social progress, with a heavy emphasis on economic indicators. The implication seems to be that economic and social progress are somehow linked. In actuality they are separate, though sometimes interrelated issues. For proof of this assertion one need only examine China, where tremendous economic progress has far outstripped the meager improvements made on social issues such as equal rights for minorities, protections of basic freedom, and rule of law. An excerpt from the official English translation of the white paper from the section discussing economic and social progress reads as follows:
“[A]mong all the 29…measurable indicators for economic and social development set forth in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), 12 had been over-fulfilled, three had been nearly fulfilled and 11 had made smooth progress, accounting for 90 percent of the total.”
Given that this is ostensibly a white paper on human rights progress, one would assume that the vaguely worded “social development” refers to progress in human rights. However, where economic development goes, reforms safeguarding basic human rights need not follow. Thus, the linkage of these two concepts only serves to cloud the issue because it then becomes impossible to know which of the 29 indicators refer to economic development and which to social development. If each indicator jointly refers to social and economic development, it is still invalid, since the rate of progress in these two areas has been very different. If some indicators refer to economic milestones, and other to social milestones, it is likely that the indicators that were over-fulfilled and nearly fulfilled were economic rather than social, or that the baseline for social progress was redefined. However the analysis was done, the most likely conclusion is still that the report has massaged the numbers in a way that allows China to appear in a more favorable light. The so-called progress is overwhelmingly illusory.
The white paper further maintains that “basic cultural rights” have been “better protected.” As evidence of this it states that:
“China has speeded up the building of a public cultural services system that covers the entire society, and enhanced the rule of law in the culture market. At the same time the state has increased its input in cultural programs, carried…and built libraries, art galleries, cultural centers and similar projects that are open to the public for free.”
The mention of so-called rule of law in the culture market appears to be a reference to censorship, which is of course a blatant violation of the basic right to free speech and expression guaranteed in both the UDHR (Article 19) and the Chinese Constitution (Article 35). Indeed, it may be intended as an oblique attempt at a justification for the recent crackdown on free speech and increased censorship of media. They are trying to tout this violation of human rights as progress. By proclaiming with confidence that is has made progress, China hopes to brand itself, at least in the eyes of some, as a country that genuinely wishes to improve its human rights situation and is slowly but surely making progress. However, basic facts fly in the face of this argument.
The white paper then devotes a lengthy paragraph to listing the number and types of films produced per year and per month in great detail. This evidence, including the number of cartoons produced, is supposed to demonstrate that human rights, specifically freedom of speech and expression is alive and well in China. Although certainly an impressive achievement, this has little to do with human rights. Cartoons are nice, but freedom from torture, freedom of speech, and right to due process are much more important issues. While dissidents are still being jailed for criticizing the Communist Party, while Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo continues to carry out his sentence in a labor camp, while the laws set forth in China’s own Constitution are only for show, the CCP deserves no praise for its supposed progress in human rights. Since in reality the great progress that the report claims is largely nonexistent, it must resort to covering seemingly unrelated topics like cartoons to fill up space to compensate for the lack of real gains.
Section II of the white paper deals with “Rights of the Person” and contains even more egregious lies and emissions than the previous section. According to the report:
“In 2014 China strengthened supervision over foodstuffs, improved laws and regulations on production safety, combated terrorism according to law, attached more importance to protecting the rights of the accused, detainees and criminals, and stepped up drug-control efforts to protect citizens' personal rights.”
Much of the rest of the section is devoted to a detailed discussion of the stricter regulations imposed to ensure food safety. Although food safety is an important issue, the UDHR only mentions food once, and then only in the context of affirming the universal right to have it – i.e. the right to freedom from starvation.
No one could argue that food safety is not important, however it is often a symptom of more fundamental human rights abuses. Many of the issues with food safety in China have stemmed from the rampant corruption among business leaders and high officials, including inspection officials. This corruption in turn spreads from the lack of accountability that these individuals have, given the fact that the people have no recourse for protection since they lack the basic rights of due process, rule of law, and democratic election of leaders. If these rights were in place, leaders would be held more accountable for their actions and would in turn be incentivized to hold wrongdoers in the private sector more accountable. The white paper once again tries to obfuscate and distract from China’s lack of progress towards rectifying its egregious human rights situation by focusing on minutiae instead of on the root cause of many of its problems – a severe lack of fundamental human rights. While this remains the case, all the supervision in the world can at the most only slightly mitigate the effects of corruption.
There follows a very interesting section on combating terrorism. It is important to understand that China used the global war on terror as an excuse to rebrand many political “criminals” as terrorists. For example, they often position their suppression of ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, as necessary action against so-called terrorists. The section in question maintains that another area of human rights progress was China’s actions to “combat terrorism in accordance with the law to ensure the safety of life and property of the people.” The section then goes on at great length about the titles of the various anti-terrorism laws enacted, perhaps trying to fill up space with the lengthy names.
The presence of this section once again demonstrates how little real progress China has made towards rectifying its grave human rights abuses. The CCP has such little real progress to show that it is trying to rebrand its human rights abuses as protections of human rights instead. For years the CCP has labeled many of its adversaries, including dissidents, protestors, and those outspoken in favor of ethnic minority rights as “terrorists.” The two examples the white paper gives are of actual, though fairly minor, terrorist incidents, but the bulk of the cases most likely involve protests for minority rights in locations such as Xinjiang and Tibet. The report devotes only a single paragraph to this vaguely worded yet supposedly serious terrorist threat, and then quickly moves on to other topics since it can give no more concrete examples without blatantly revealing the lies and abuses upon which it bases itself.
The white paper also attempts to assert that China has enacted significant protections for the rights of the accused. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, the paper can only point to very meager changes, despite the rampant issues with China’s justice system.
“The rights of the accused, detainees and criminals are protected. In 2014 the Ministry of Public Security formulated the Regulations on Making Audio-Video Recordings by the Public Security Organs When Interrogating Criminal Suspects and the Supreme People's Procuratorate amended the Provisions on Making Synchronous Audio-Video Recordings Throughout the Entire Process of Interrogation of Duty-Related Criminal Suspects, making sure audio-video recording is used in the entire process of interrogating criminal suspects, and giving detailed provisions on the principle, method and procedure of synchronous audio-video recordings, and management and use of such audio-video recordings.”
Wading through this morass of big words and long titles reveals little substantive change. These new laws are smalltime reform when it comes to China’s broken legal system where torture, lack of legitimate legal proceedings or due process, and detainment or imprisonment without trial is commonplace.
As the report progresses, its assertions become increasingly divergent from reality. For example, the white paper rather brazenly proclaims:
“In 2014 China officially designated December 4th as the national Constitution Day through legislation with a view to advancing the rule of law, enforcing the implementation of the Constitution, and promoting citizens' democratic rights to civic participation, democratic legislation, consultative democracy, community-level democracy, citizen supervision and freedom of speech.”
Despite what is written here, the CCP has failed to achieve any of these professed goals. They do not obey many of the provisions of their own Constitution and thus do not have rule of law. They only selectively enforce the implementation of the Constitution in situations where it enhances their own power, utterly ignoring the provisions that supposedly safeguard human rights. They have not implemented a genuine form of democracy that actually gives citizens substantial democratic rights. It is laughable to even consider the idea that China has improved or implemented freedom of speech at a time when the CCP is in the midst of the worst crackdown on free expression in over a decade.
Another section cites the fact that the “Standing Committee of the NPC deliberated 20 draft laws, revised 10 laws, enacted two laws, and provided eight legal interpretations,” as evidence of great progress. This has nothing to do with whether or not China is violating human rights. Lots of governments have both laws and human rights abuses. Legally enshrining a human rights violation does not make it any more acceptable or legitimate. However, dictatorships frequently enact legal norms enshrining their abuses, thus allowing them to carry out oppressive policies while claiming to uphold justice. Ultimately, the white paper is part of this process, an attempt to enshrine China’s abuses as actions taken to protect rather than restrict human rights. By publishing it the CCP hopes to conceal its systematic oppression of the Chinese populace under a layer of paperwork and rhetoric. However, the facts speak for themselves and mere printed words cannot alter reality.