Skepticism for New Chinese Promises on Human Rights

April 13, 2009 (CSN) — The State Council (cabinet) of China today released its National Human Rights Action Plan of China for 2009-2010. The Chinese government appears to be responding to the United Nations, which had challenged China to create a national human rights action plan. The China Support Network was reached for comment by a reporter for the People's Daily, and decided to release this, our public statement that encapsulates our response.

China's new report seems to be half humorous and half serious. It begins with self-congratulation for the Chinese Communist Party. Perhaps the CCP wants to fool the world into believing that it is “great, glorious, and correct” about human rights, while in fact the CCP has been the world's biggest human rights abuser. Can you imagine a man with a criminal record of 80 million burglaries, saying “Okay. I'm not going to burglarize any more.” The government of China deserves the same amount of credibility that we would ascribe to the recidivist burglar in this analogy.

In that light, the report's first three sentences are sheer comedy:

“The realization of human rights in the broadest sense has been a long-cherished ideal of mankind and also a long-pursued goal of the Chinese government and people. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese government, combining the universal principles of human rights and the concrete realities of China, has made unremitting efforts to promote and safeguard human rights. Hence, the fate of the Chinese people has changed fundamentally, and China has achieved historic development in its efforts to safeguard human rights.”

This is the sound of government propaganda. However, the report turns serious as its third paragraph concludes: “China still confronts many challenges and has a long road ahead in its efforts to improve its human rights situation.” Clearly, the report has more than one author, and at least one has his feet on the ground, and is doing his writing from the planet Earth.

Yes, in fact. China still has a long road ahead of it to emerge from its human rights hell-on-earth. The English version of the report is posted in 26 web pages by Xinhua, the state-run news agency.

What the report tells us is that Chinese authorities are learning to “talk the talk” of human rights. The bulk of the report is a review of the actual areas in which China has problems. Section 1 speaks of economic, social, and cultural rights. Section 2 speaks of civil and political rights. Section 3 mentions ethnic minorities, women, children, elderly people, and the disabled. Section 4 promises more education on human rights. Section 5 might be summarized, “We've done our homework.”

The actual title of Section 5 is “Performing International Human Rights Duties, and Conducting Exchanges and Cooperation in the Field of International Human Rights.” However, it reads like a student making a list of all of his school homework assignments completed. China has been submitting many reports to many international panels, and this section of the report makes China seem to be very fastidious, “crossing its t's and dotting its i's.”

In this report, the high minded words are laudable. But, the China Support Network finds this immediate problem: the report is words, not actions. As noted above, Chinese authorities have learned to “talk the talk” of human rights. This is not the same thing as “walking the walk.”

The Chinese government would not publish its “first working plan on human rights protection” unless leaders at the highest levels feel that it is imperative to do so. Economic conditions, social unrest, and Charter 08 (a renewed democratic movement) are the factors which make the high leaders feel “pushed into a corner.” In fact, if the government cannot guarantee a growing economy, then it needs new legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens.

The party line has been that “China is successful because of our growing economy.” The party leaders did not say, “China is successful because we are improving human rights.” Now, the new working plan may does a splendid job of moving rhetoric around, but rhetoric is rhetoric — words and not actions. The party leaders may have a new story: “We are improving human rights.”

Before reporting that story uncritically, I hope that Western news organizations will check the facts on the ground. The China Support Network wants China to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. The human rights community will rightly have skepticism, if not suspicion, of this report. That is because we know that three factors: the falling economy, social unrest, and Charter 08 — are eroding the last legitimacy of the CCP. The party leaders needed a new story line — an excuse to rule, and a way to placate the people.

First, they raised expectations about economic growth and now they cannot deliver on those promises. Now, they are raising expectations about human rights, but when the promises are not kept the people will be very angry. Accordingly, the China Support Network calls upon the leaders of China to take the following actions to match their words:

1.) Unblock internet access to overseas human rights web sites, including Tibetan and Falun Gong web sites.

2.) Abolish Laogai and Laojiao systems (reform through labor camps and administrative detention).

3.) Respect the rights of the Dalai Lama as a resident of Tibet. Allow him to return.

4.) Free Wang Bingzhang, Peng Ming, and Zhou Yongjun. They were exiles; now, allow them to live in China and welcome ALL of the exiles home.

5.) Free Gao Zhisheng, Liu Xiaobo, and founders of the China Democracy Party.

6.) Free all related prisoners of conscience from, and apologize to, the following groups: the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans, June 4 victims, Uighur Muslims, and Falun Gong.

If the six steps above are performed, then we can herald a breakthrough on human rights. The new report from China's State Council, if not accompanied by decisive action, is not a breakthrough on human rights.

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