Although economic reforms have been the focus of China’s Central Committee conferences this past week, significant strides were made in social policy as well. In addition to changes of the country’s One Child Policy, China has also promised reform of its re-education through labor system. Despite China’s progressive rhetoric, human rights activists should not retract their condemnation of China’s elevation to a UN Human Rights Council seat. After all, the re-education through labor system is not China’s only tool to arbitrarily repress dissent. And with China’s recent history of retracting policy statements, who is to know if this time change is genuine?
To start, let us examine China’s vast network of jails. China is notorious for using black jails and arbitrary detention facilities under the guise of “drug rehabilitation centers” to suppress political dissent. Both of these forms of detention are unchanged by China’s recent statements, and, in all likelihood, figure to balloon in size given the closure of the re-education through labor system. Moreover, China’s largest and official prison labor camp system remains unchanged in light of recent Central Committee statements. This system, although requiring trials and formal sentencing for convicts, is also notorious for housing political dissidents.
Given the existence of the other administrative detention systems mentioned above, closure of the re-education through labor system can only be seen as a token victory for human rights in China. The Chinese criminal justice system will continue to “legally” incarcerate dissidents without according them genuine due process under the vague and ludicrous crime of “inciting subversion of the state.” The Chinese prison system will also continue to illegally detain dissidents in black jails.