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China Change, August 1, 2018
On July 24, Unirule (天则), the liberal, beleaguered economic think tank in Beijing, published a 10,000-character essay by the Tsinghua University legal scholar Xu Zhangrun (许章润) which has lit up the Chinese internet at a time when the voice of Chinese intellectuals has been dying out.
The text, deploying all the rhetorical potency of literary Chinese — even in its length, the ‘Ten Thousand Word Petition’ having a specific valence in Chinese political history — has captured the zeitgeist of revolt against the China that Party leader Xi Jinping is busy constructing. Since being republished on the website of the Hong Kong-based Initium Media, the article has been widely shared and reflected upon by intellectuals and scholars inside and outside the country.
Initium wrote in a tweet that “this text carries out a systematic critique of the retrograde tendencies in Chinese social and political life, in particular since the end of 2017. It explicitly points out and warns against the danger of the return to totalitarianism, and calls for a stop to the cult of personality and the resumption of term limits on the post of the state chairman. The piece has become one of the few direct criticisms of contemporary ills in China among the intellectual class.”
Below we offer an outline, followed by a small selection of picant excerpts from the essay, aimed at giving readers a flavor of the whole. China Change understands that Geremie Barmé will be publishing a full translation of the essay on the website of The Wairarapa Academy of New Sinology (http://chinaheritage.net/) in due course.
Xu Zhangrun’s essay, titled ‘Our Dread Now, and Our Hopes’ (我们当下的恐惧与期待), is composed of four parts: ‘Four Bottom Lines,’ ‘Eight Forms of Anxiety,’ ‘Eight Hopes,’ and ‘The Interim.’
The four ‘bottom lines’ — i.e. the fundamental assumptions on which CCP rule has been based for the last 40 years — that Xu identifies as having been breached are:
- The maintenance of basic social order and a clear direction for the country
“The cessation of successive ‘political movements,’ the end to ‘no protection from law or heaven,’ as well as the constant ‘strike hard’ coercive rectification campaigns, the prevention of social anomie, the safeguarding of social order, and attempt to realize social harmony, have all significantly contributed to the basic living conditions of regular people, and has for 40 years been the bottom line for the legitimacy of the current political system…”
- Allowing limited private property rights and tolerance of citizens’ pursuit of wealth
Xu writes that economic reform allowed unprecedented growth, and that this has been a key element in the citizenry’s tolerance of continued Party rule.
- Limited tolerance of personal freedoms
Xu writes that for more than the last decade, mere sprouts of civil society have been crushed through political campaigns, thus severely stunting the development of civic consciousness and a real understanding of politics among the public. Chinese people are encouraged to “amuse themselves to death” while getting rich without scruples, Xu says.
- Political term limits
Here Xu is directly targeting Xi Jinping’s abolition of term limits for the post of state chairman, effected at the most recent meeting of the National People’s Congress in March.
Xu writes: “For thirty years, the essence of the matter is that — despite salient increases in social pluralization and political tolerance — the entire political system has seen no substantial or meaningful progress or change. In its bones it’s that same set of banal and brutal ideas about political struggle and dictatorship, topped off with the disgraceful avarice of kleptocrats who consume the country’s patrimony.”
In light of this, he says, the Chinese people had some minimal comfort that the constitution contained basic rules limiting the tenure of Party leader to two terms, and the system observed some adherence to constitutional norms.
The abolition of term limits “is like scrapping 30 years of political reform with one flick of the pen.”
Xu’s then enumerates the eight fears of the Chinese everyman:
- Fear for the safety of personal assets
- The rise of ‘politics in command’ and the abandonment of economic development as the basis of national policy
- The reemergence of class struggle
- Shutting China off from the world once more, getting into a stalemate with the United States (and the West more generally), yet warmer ties with North Korea and other ‘evil regimes’
- Excessive foreign aid, leading Chinese to have to tighten their own belts
- Increased repression and thought reform of intellectuals
- Becoming trapped in a new armed race, war, and new cold war
- The end of opening up and reform and the comprehensive return of totalitarian politics
A sample translation by China Change of some of these fears follows.
- Asset Dread. Can the wealth accumulated over decades, no matter how much it is, be guaranteed safe? Can one’s current livelihood be maintained? Will the property rights proclaimed in the law be guaranteed? Or will it be that because you wrong some individual who really holds power (including the director of the Village Committee), your company is driven to bankruptcy and your family is out on the street? This and so many other questions have, in the last few years, with the passage of time become far more indeterminate, and people up and down the line are in a state of constant panic. The first ones under attack are those who already gathered their treasure during the tidal wave of reform and opening up; and the response of the rich is mass emigration…
- Class Struggle Once More. The official media and managers of ideology once again raising class struggle in recent years has everyone panicked. The direction of the current administration over these years has led people to doubt as to whether we’re going to see yet another round of Stalin-Maoist class struggle campaigns… In the first place, writing protections of private property and human rights into the constitution, accompanied with the custom of abdication of Party rulership after two terms, created hopes that China was slowly and gradually heading in the direction of a normal country, meaning that we no longer need to deploy the ‘struggle’ rhetoric — but the actions of the last few years seem to be going in completely the opposite direction, and everyone is naturally scared witless.
- The Totalitarian Revival. Though this phrase ‘reform’ has already been besmirched to some degree, and in the end tyrannical governance continues while hiding under its name, in the discourse of contemporary China, locating ourselves in the midst of a yet-to-be-completed grand transformation, with just one final push needed, is still better and more stable than a regression into volatile revolution and extremist leftist politics. Reform spinning its wheels, and perhaps even going backwards rather than forward, has already been going on longer than just these last few years, extending far beyond one term of office. Given this tendency, whether or not ‘reform and opening up’ has reached its end and totalitarianism will return is yet unknown; but at this very moment the entire Chinese people have no greater fear…
The remainder of the essay is dedicated to Xu’s eight hopes — all of them going to the heart of the CCP’s system of rule and control:
- Stop wasting money abroad
- Stop wasting money on ‘sportsground diplomacy’
- Abolish the privilege system for retired high-ranking cadres
- Abolish the system of Special Needs Provisioning (the enclosed system of food and other supplies for Party officials)
- Legislation forcing disclosure of official assets
- Immediately put a stop to the cult of personality around Xi Jinping
- A return to term limits on the post of state chairman
- Overturn the political verdict on June 4
Geremie Barmé provided translations of items three, four, and six on China Heritage, which are reproduced below.
- The Party Nobility: Elite privileges for retired high-level cadres should be eliminated. The system of the present ‘dynasty’ 國朝 allows for the state to provide inclusive retirement-to-grave care for high-level cadres according to a standard that is far and away above that allowed to the average citizen. These cadres retain the privileges they enjoyed during their careers, including health care and access to luxury resorts for rest and holidays. Everyone is aware of the extraordinary burden and financial cost this places on the people; the details are never released for fear of sparking public outrage. This system continues the kinds of prerogative given to the Imperial Zhu Family Lineage during the Ming dynasty [founded by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368CE] and the emoluments permitted to the families of the Eight Banners [exclusive Manchu military and administrative groups that contributed to the founding and rule of the Qing dynasty in 1644; the privileges continued until the end of the dynasty in January 1912]. This is not merely a betrayal of the self-advertised ‘revolutionary spirit’ [of the Communist Party], it is also in breach of modern standards of civic life. What’s all that talk of ‘the remnants of feudalism’? This is a perfect example of it! People are outraged but powerless to do anything about it; it is one of the main reasons people hold the system itself in utter contempt. On one side of the hospital, Commoners face the challenge of gaining admission for treatment, while everyone knows grand suites are reserved on the other side for the care of high-level cadres. People despise you for it. Every iota of this bottled up anger may, at some unexpected moment, explode with thunderous fury.
- Special Needs Provisioning: Eliminate the system of Special Needs Provisioning. Starting in Yan’an some seventy years ago, this system continued unimpeded even during times of mass famine and deprivation. It continues even now as the Countless Masses are ever increasingly concerned about [the quality of and access to] dairy products for their babies and the hygiene and safety of their everyday foodstuffs. The Special Needs Provisioning system allows the high-level Party nobility access to a vast range of speciality products beyond the dreams of the average person. Apart from a few totalitarian polities, there is no other country that does this like China. The luxury afforded these people is only outdone by the shamelessness of their indulgence. Of course, inequalities exist in all societies and disparities in ability and wealth are natural, but they are a result not due to the fact that the ideal playing field imagined by our citizens does not include a level starting point; that doesn’t even take into account the outrage of allowing a small group of Party grandees to be continuously supplied from the coffers of the state. As long as this system and ‘No 34’ [originally ‘Number 34 Provisions Store’ in Beijing, a restricted-access shop established as deprivations created by the socialist planned economy became more acute and Party privileges more jealously guarded; the term later came to indicate regulations covering special access to necessities and luxury goods for the nomenklatura] remain unchecked, real food safety in China will never be realised; no side will really be assured of its long-term security.
- The New Personality Cult: An emergency brake must be applied to the Personality Cult. Who would have thought that, after four decades of the Open Door and Reform, our Sacred Land would once more witness a Personality Cult? The Party media is going to great lengths to create a new Idol, and in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as Modern Totalitarianism. Portraits of the Leader are hoisted on high throughout the Land, as though possessed of some Spiritual Mana. This only adds to all the absurdity. And then, on top of that, the speeches of That Official, formerly things that were merely to be recorded by secretaries in a pro forma bureaucratic manner, are now carefully collected in finely bound editions, printed in vast quantities and handed out free throughout the world. The profligate waste of paper alone is enough to make you shake your head in disbelief. All of this reflects the low IQ of the Concerned Official and his craving for fame. More importantly, we need to ask how a vast country like China, one that was previously so ruinously served by a Personality Cult, simply has no resistance to this new cult, and this includes those droves of ‘Theoreticians’ and ‘Researchers’. In fact, they are outdoing themselves with their sickeningly slavish behaviour. It’s as though hundreds of millions of Chinese are oblivious; people tolerate the New Cult and allow it unfettered freedom; they are powerless in the face of all those arse-kissing bureaucrats [literally “those who would lick carbuncles and suck abscesses” as rendered by Donald Clarke]. It goes to show that China’s Enlightenment is far from over. Every generation must champion rationalism in public affairs painstakingly making a way to the future. Moreover, the New Cult is evidence that China faces a long struggle before it can claim to be a modern, secular and rational nation-state.
It’s clear that Xu has little faith in Xi Jinping. “You are touted for being a can-do man,” he wrote. “We’d be very happy if you could do one of the eight. If you could do three or four, we’d be convinced of your ability. If you do all of them, well then, the whole world will rejoice.”
Speech is dangerous, and Professor Xu Zhangrun knows it. But he seems to be at a point where if he doesn’t let out his thoughts, they’ll turn into kidney stones and kill him. He ended the essay with great relief: “I’m done talking; I leave my own life and death to destiny, the rise and fall of the nation to Heaven.”
That’s how disproportionately significant a matter it is for a Chinese intellectual to speak his mind in 2018 — a circumstance we find breathtaking.
Xu is currently on an academic tour in Japan, according to a news source. There is no word yet on what awaits him when he returns to China.
As China’s Woes Mount, Xi Jinping Faces Rare Rebuke at Home, the New York Times, July 31, 2018.
China Change, July 27, 2018
Xu Lin (徐琳), who described himself as “a dissident, poet, singer-songwriter and senior construction engineer in mainland China,” was put on trial in the Nansha District Court in Guangzhou on July 27, where he faced charges of ‘picking quarrels and stirring up trouble’ (寻衅滋事) for a series of songs about sensitive political topics that he composed, sung, and posted online.
Xu pleaded not guilty to the charges. The court did not deliver a sentence at the end of the trial.
Xu Lin was arrested and criminally detained in September 2017 while visiting his sick father in Hunan. Among the list of his supposed crimes were the songs he composed supporting human rights lawyers targeted in the July 9, 2015 crackdown, as well as articles he wrote.
The authorities initially said they would reserve two seats in the court for Xu’s family members to witness the trial, but this was denied on the actual day, according to a Ms. Wang, Xu Lin’s wife, who was interviewed by RFA immediately after the trial.
“The trial has just finished, and there were definitely major issues with it. It was completely unfair to Xu Lin. Right now, whatever they say goes. You can’t say anything. And even if you do, they won’t listen,” she said in the interview. Ms. Wang was in the end able to observe the proceedings through a closed video feed in the court house.
Two defense lawyers, Lin Qilei (蔺其磊) and Liu Hao (刘浩), pointed out the procedural irregularities of the case, and stated that citizens had the right to express themselves, to criticize the government, and to produce creative work that commentates on current affairs. The lawyers argued that Mr. Xu’s case is a case of persecution.
Mr. Xu himself was anything but repentant. He said in his court statement that he was merely exercising his constitutional rights. “If I am found guilty, shame on you, not me.”
Public security authorities had made extensive preparations for Xu’s trial, staging paramilitary and uniformed police in the streets within a two or three kilometer radius of the court, according to Xu Kun (徐昆), an activist who managed to get into the court house. He was quickly apprehended by seven or eight officers and dropped off at the train station, he said in an interview with RFA.
“The police seemed to know that people would be coming [to watch the trial].”
Liu Sifang (劉四仿), another activist composer who worked with Xu and was also arrested late last year, says that Xu may have been able to avoid prosecution if he expressed his penitence, declared guilt, asked for the favor of the authorities, and promised not to re-offend. It’s a course of action Xu declined to embark upon.
Xu’s commitment to his ideas are clear from his blog posts and lyrics.
On April 9, 2016 — his 52nd birthday — Xu reflected on the meaning of his activism and the significance of imprisonment, and even death, in the service of his commitments. He wrote:
“What can I do outside of jail? I don’t organize, and even less join violent movements. I also don’t have the ability to call everyone to rise up and oppose the authorities at key moments. The greatest skill I have is song composition. Though many people rate my songs very highly, if they’re not heard by 10 million people, then no matter how many I write, it won’t have much of an impact. If my imprisonment leads to my songs being spread much more widely, and wakes up more people, who rise up and resist, well then I’m ready to go to jail. I’m even content to die.”
Xu also wrote in 2016, “Popular songs are one of the most powerful weapons for mobilizing people… everyone’s brave resistance to this dictatorship is an endless fountain of inspiration for my works.”
Xu’s songs include “The Secretly Detained Human Rights Lawyers,” with the lyrics: “Mother, father, forgive your son’s filial failure. I couldn’t be with in your older years, because my comrades have disappeared for two years.”
Trained as a construction engineer, where he worked as a senior manager, Xu has pursued his activism through writing and song for nearly two decades. He has composed works about the June 4 massacre, the political persecution of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the plight of petitioners in China, and other topics. He was part of the 2013 Southern Street Movement in Guangdong, and has composed poems about the persecution of dissidents since 2010.
His August 2015 energetic, rock-tinged composition “Song of the Righteous Lawyers,” appeared to infuriate the authorities, leading to a month-long detention.
“We are brave rights defense lawyers. We bear the mission of safeguarding fairness and justice,” the chorus says.
Xu Lin had previously been threatened by Guangdong authorities, in a particular thug-like manner as he recounts in a December 2015 video on YouTube. “One of the police officers said that the station was really sick of me, and that someone in the public security division threatened to find someone to break my legs. Every time I made a post, they’d come and get me, until I was dead. They said the same thing to my wife.”
If the goal of the intimidation was to stop Xu Lin from posting his songs and poems online, it didn’t work. “They don’t frighten me,” he said in the same video. “This simply demonstrates all the more that this evil system has to be abolished.”
China Fails in its Gambit to Use the UN NGO Committee to Silence the Society for Threatened Peoples and Uyghur Activist Dolkun Isa
Andrea Worden, July 10, 2018
During the most recent session of the UN’s Committee on NGOs, China attempted unsuccessfully to have the Committee withdraw the NGO consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) in connection with its support of Dolkun Isa, a human rights activist, German citizen, and president of the World Uyghur Congress. Mr. Isa, a member of STP, received accreditation through the NGO to attend this year’s session of the annual UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York from April 16-27. Despite having received prior approval to attend, Mr. Isa was blocked from entering UN headquarters on April 17 by diplomatic security because of unspecified “security concerns.” Following a subsequent unsuccessful attempt to gain entry into the UN, it took intervention at the highest levels, from at least the U.S. and German Permanent Missions, to finally get Mr. Isa into the building so that he could participate in the UNPFII, but by that time–– April 25–– there were only a few days left in the session.
The Chinese government has for many years accused Mr. Isa of being a “terrorist” but has failed to produce any substantiated evidence to support its accusations. Last year, China requested that UN diplomatic security remove Mr. Isa from UN premises while he was participating in the 2017 meeting of UNPFII, citing, as it did in 2018, “security reasons.” The UN Secretary-General’s 2017 report on reprisals against civil society actors included the incident of Dolkun Isa’s removal from UN headquarters at the behest of China in April 2017 (A/HRC/36/31, para. 29). In February 2018, Interpol removed a longstanding China-initiated red notice (i.e., an international alert) against Mr. Isa.
Having achieved only limited success in preventing Mr. Isa’s participation in the 2018 Permanent Forum –– although China caused a substantial delay, Mr. Isa eventually did gain access to the UN–– China adopted a new tactic, which, had it been successful, would have had long-term consequences for both STP and Mr. Isa. Late in the day on Friday, May 17–– the last working day before the opening meeting of the 2018 second (“resumed”) session of the NGO Committee, the Chinese Permanent Mission circulated a note verbale (i.e., an unsigned diplomatic correspondence) to the Members of the Committee, setting forth its reasons for seeking the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status. Besides a groundless procedural point regarding the accreditation of Mr. Isa, China’s objections to STP’s consultative status can be summed up by this sweeping unsubstantiated accusation in its letter: “Dolkun Isa has been participating, inciting and funding separatism and terrorism for years.”
The May 21 Meeting
At the opening meeting on May 21, China referred (@ 36:30) to its note verbale and requested that the consultative status of the Society for Threatened Peoples be withdrawn. Repeating many of the accusations contained in China’s letter, the Chinese delegate said that China had designated Mr. Isa as a “terrorist” in 2003, and that he was “a terrorist in every manifestation,” and therefore should not have been accredited by the STP to participate in activities at the UN. The Chinese diplomat acknowledged that under the Committee’s procedures, the STP should be given an opportunity to respond (although Mr. Isa himself was not given such an opportunity). A heated discussion followed, consuming a substantial portion of the morning meeting (and thus further delaying the work of the overloaded and backlogged Committee), with the U.S. leading a counter-attack against China for its attempt to make the NGO Committee “an accomplice” to its reprisals against STP and Mr. Isa. Committee Members that are aligned with China, including Russia, Pakistan, Cuba and Iran, predictably expressed concern about the nature of China’s allegations against STP, which they said warranted serious consideration by the Committee. The delegations praised China for following the procedures of the Committee in asking for a response from STP before the Committee decided the matter.
Representatives from the U.S. and Germany (as an observer of the Committee) said that despite repeated requests by their governments to China to provide substantiated evidence for its accusations of “terrorism” against Dolkun Isa, China had failed to produce any credible evidence or actionable intelligence to support its claims. The German representative said that German security authorities “possess no information that [Mr. Isa] might pose a security risk.” Both delegations stressed that the UN would not have issued Mr. Isa a badge enabling him to gain access to the UN if they believed he was a security risk, nor would the U.S. have granted him a visa (Mr. Isa has a 10-year multiple entry visa to the U.S.). The U.S. and Germany said that the allegations against Mr. Isa were unfounded and unsubstantiated and requested that China withdraw its proposal to have STP’s consultative status revoked, and also urged the Committee to not let itself be used as a vehicle for reprisals against NGOs. The EU also opposed removing STP’s accreditation; and the observer from the U.K. cautioned the Committee against “moving at the speed of lightning when attempting to revoke an accreditation,” particularly when it moves “so very slowly” in considering new accreditations, particularly for human rights NGOs.
The German representative also took China to task for the very short notice of its proposal, which was distributed just several working hours before the opening of the session. With respect to STP, he said it was an independent human rights organization registered in Germany that focuses on the rights of religious and ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and that it was granted ECOSOC status in 1993. He further stated that Mr. Isa was “correctly registered as a representative for STP.” The German representative also added that “after serious deliberations,” in February 2018 Interpol deleted the red notice against Mr. Isa.
Regarding Interpol’s decision to remove the red notice against Mr. Isa, the Chinese representative said that to China’s knowledge, “this act of cancellation was totally initiated by the Secretary General, who is German, and the director of the legal department of Interpol, who is an American.” He said they “didn’t really consult with the member States, let alone China,” and claimed that it was done out of “political motivations,” and that it was “underhanded,” a “total dark box operation.”
China and the United States exchanged several volleys. In addition to stressing that Mr. Isa posed no security threat, Ambassador Currie of the U.S. said that it was clear what was really going on: China was attempting to silence a human rights defender from a silenced community in China for speaking up for the rights of that group at the U.N. She referenced several accounts about the plight of the Uyghurs in China, including recent reports documenting that hundreds of thousands and possibly up to one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities were being detained in “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. China responded that the Western media was biased against China, and that “the Chinese government has always paid attention to and protected the rights of all the ethnic minorities, including the Uyghur people” and that Uyghurs in Xinjiang have seen “the best protection of their human rights in history.”
The Chinese delegate also suggested that Ambassador Currie was personally biased, and accused her of getting “emotional” about the issue because of prior work she had done relating to Xinjiang. He added, “I suspect she has close contact with those people.” The U.S. delegation raised a point of order, stating said the Committee had hit a “new low” and that the Chinese representative’s comments were “completely inappropriate.” The Chair of the Committee, Mr. Jorge Dotta of Uruguay, took the point of order and advised the Chinese delegate to “confine himself to concrete aspects of his information about the NGO” and to not go into other unrelated matters, and cautioned, “we mustn’t get into a political discussion.”
STP was given until May 25 to submit its written response to the question from China. China thus not only consumed a significant portion of the NGO Committee’s time and attention at its opening meeting with its vexatious ploy, it also imposed an unwarranted burden on STP, distracting the NGO from its advocacy work at the UN.
Lastly, when the Chair attempted to give the floor to a representative of civil society, China and Russia raised a point of order. They said there wasn’t enough time to hear from civil society, and that the Committee should adhere to its work agenda. China of course was responsible for the delay in the first place with its unfounded proposal against STP, and then invoked “time constraints” to silence the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) from making a statement on behalf of 100 NGOs. Many delegations came to the defense of civil society and ISHR’s right to speak and be heard, particularly given the mandate of the NGO Committee to enable greater civil society involvement with the UN. Fifteen minutes after China raised its point of order, the Chair stated that due to a lack of consensus on the issue, ISHR would not take the floor. China thus consumed more of the Committee’s meeting time with its objection to a civil society statement, which likely would have taken only several minutes to deliver.
The May 30 Meeting
China’s proposal regarding STP’s status was not discussed during the May 25th meeting, but was addressed at the 29th meeting of the Committee held on May 30. The Chinese government (@ 2:05) noted the written response from STP to the NGO Committee’s question, and said that although China’s position–– reflected in the May 17 note verbale and its statements during the Committee meeting on May 21–– “remains unchanged,” it would no longer seek the withdrawal of STP’s consultative status during the current session. The representative of China strongly urged STP to “earnestly fulfill” the commitments it made in its written response, which included respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China and not appointing terrorists as its representative, and to “avoid past mistakes.” He said that China would be “closely following” the organization’s activities in the UN, including the Human Rights Council, and would “take necessary measures in the NGO Committee as appropriate.”
The June 11 Meeting
On Monday, June 11, the Committee gathered for its final meeting of the 2018 second session in order to adopt its report for the session. The meeting opened with an unexpected announcement from the Chair, Mr. Jorge Dotta (@ 00:45). He said he had received a note from the Secretary General of Interpol (Mr. Jürgen Stock) on the preceding Friday. Mr. Stock requested that Mr. Dotta mention to the Committee Members that he had addressed a communication to the PRC delegation “in reference to a statement made by [the PRC] delegation on the 21st of May 2018.” Mr. Dotta told the Committee “he was complying with that request with the understanding that that matter is a bilateral issue to be considered between the delegation of China and the Secretary General of lnterpol.” He said he was “expecting it to be resolved in the best possible manner” and that since the issue was not part of the Committee’s agenda and beyond his mandate, the Committee should proceed with its work.
This incident involving Interpol is an example of the important role played by webcasting the Committee’s open meetings, a new practice mandated by an April 2017 ECOSOC resolution. The webcast enabled Interpol officials to watch for themselves the accusations made by the Chinese delegate, who claimed that the cancellation of the red notice against Mr. Isa was politically motivated. This point of contention between the Secretary General and the PRC delegation would not have been known to the public but for the webcasts of the May 21 and June 11 meetings. The public documents issued relating to the session, including the unofficial written coverage of the meetings
(May 21, June 11) and the Committee’s adopted report, did not mention China’s remarks about the cancellation of the red notice, nor the communication from the Interpol Secretary General to the Committee Chair. Mr. Stock apparently wanted the Committee Members to know that he took issue with China’s statement on the matter. The fact that the current Interpol President, Mr. Meng Hongwei, is Chinese had not deterred the Secretary General from démarching the Chinese delegation. China, however, has yet to retract the baseless accusations it made against Mr. Isa on May 21. This is the shadow side of webcasting: it provides a public platform at the UN for governments to broadcast unfounded accusations against organizations and individuals, without a commensurate opportunity for those attacked to defend themselves.
Although its gambit to have STP disaccredited during the May session was unsuccessful, China has signaled that it is capable of using its position on the NGO Committee to aggressively target currently accredited NGOs. The United States led a forceful defense of Mr. Isa and STP, and civil society more broadly. This was both an inspiring example of what the U.S. and its allies can do for the cause of human rights at the UN, and a sobering reminder of a possible “pushback gap” that may emerge at the Human Rights Council with the absence of the U.S., which had been at the forefront of efforts at the Council to counter China’s increasingly aggressive anti-human rights tactics.
The Geneva-based UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) will review China’s implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination on August 10 and 13. CERD is the main UN treaty body that focuses on the rights of ethnic minorities per the provisions of the treaty. The current arbitrary detention (and disappearances) of hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, and the Chinese government’s relentless drive to wipe out their religious and cultural identity, must be addressed at the Committee’s upcoming review, and civil society voices must be heard. The CERD review and China’s Universal Periodic Review in November might also explain China’s attempt to seek a quick revocation of the Society for Threatened Peoples’ consultative status. Fortunately, China failed, this time.
Andrea Worden is a human rights activist, lawyer, and writer. She has worked on human rights and rule of law issues involving China throughout much of her career, and previously held positions as the Acting Executive Director of Asia Catalyst, Advocacy Director with the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), and Senior Counsel at the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC). Her essays and articles on human rights issues in China have appeared in such publications as the The Pro-Democracy Protests in China: Reports from the Provinces, Yale-China Review, Georgetown Journal of International Law, South China Morning Post, and China Rights Forum, among others.
Follow her on Twitter @tingdc
Background on China and the NGO Committee
The UN’s Committee on NGOs is a standing committee of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and is supported in its work by the NGO Branch of the Office of Intergovernmental Support and Coordination for Sustainable Development, a division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). China has occupied the top spot at DESA for more than 10 years; the current Under-Secretary-General is Liu Zhenmin, a veteran diplomat and official in the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs. DESA is reportedly widely known as China’s turf.
The NGO Committee is comprised of 19 Member States, which are elected for a four-year term based on the principle of equitable geographic representation. The mandate of the NGO Committee is to consider applications from NGOs seeking consultative status with the UN ––a status that enables NGOs to participate more substantially in the work of the UN than NGOs without such status. The Committee meets twice a year in New York, usually in January (regular session) and May (the resumed session). It makes recommendations on the NGO applications to the ECOSOC, which then votes in July. With a growing emphasis on civil society involvement with the UN, most recently, in connection with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the number of NGO applications has risen significantly over the past several years, leading to an expanding backlog of applications awaiting consideration and other delays in the Committee’s work. Since 2014, the NGO Branch has seen a 75% increase in the number of applications for consultative status received. (Draft Report of the Committee on NGOs on its 2018 resumed session, E/C.2/2018/CRP.59/Rev.1, para.33).
The NGO Committee has long been under attack by some governments, UN officials, and civil society, for behaving more like an “anti-NGO” committee. As noted above, China, along with several other countries on the Committee, actively obstructs the review of applications of certain NGOs, particularly NGOs whose work focuses on human rights. These governments often ask repetitive and inappropriate questions of the NGOs. All that’s needed is just one question from a Member State seeking clarification or additional information to delay consideration of the NGO’s application until the Committee’s next session. Sometimes the questioning, and the deferrals, can go on for years.
In its September 2017 report on China’s interference with the UN human rights mechanisms, Human Rights Watch noted that China’s obstructionism on the NGO Committee is most apparent with respect to “NGOs whose mission focuses on holding governments accountable, acting as watchdogs, or promoting human rights.” HRW included as one example relentless questioning of certain NGOs, including the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), on China-related information in their quadrennial reports–– a report required of all NGOs with consultative status. STP faced five rounds of questioning, starting in September 2012. In June 2016, STP was asked by the NGO Committee “to elaborate on its position on Tibet.” China further enforces its positions on Tibet and Taiwan in the Committee by holding NGOs’ applications for consultative status hostage until they have scrubbed their websites and reports of any references to Taiwan as a country or Tibet as (historical) Tibet, rather than the PRC-created Tibet Autonomous Region.
Also by Andrea Worden:
China Pushes ‘Human Rights With Chinese Characteristics’ at the UN, Andrea Worden, October 9, 2017.
As the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders Turns 20, China Wages a Multi-Pronged Attack on Rights Defenders, Andrea Worden, March 14, 2018.
With Its Latest Human Rights Council Resolution, China Continues Its Assault on the UN Human Rights Framework, Andrea Worden, April 9, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: Keynote Address on the Second China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day, July 8, 2018, New York City
Terence Halliday, July 9, 2018
Again and again, across history and across regions, lawyers stand in the vanguard of change. In Britain in the 1600s, in France in the 1700s, in Germany in the 1800s, in India and Brazil in the 1970s, in Egypt and Pakistan in the 1990s, in Zambia and Kenya, and, not least in South Korea and Taiwan over the last generation, and in many other places.
In the last days of June 2015 I spent many hours in coffee shops and hotels and restaurants and offices with many of China’s notable rights lawyers.
Wang Yu (王宇) and I discussed the extraordinary nationwide attack on her reputation.
Yu Wensheng (余文生) described his unbearable torture in the hands of the security apparatus.
Jiang Tianyong (江天勇) talked about the emotional pain of being separated from his family and having no permanent place to live.
Li Heping (李和平) imagined a society where compassion and justice and religious freedom were embraced by all leaders and citizens.
In those last days of June, 3 years ago, what was their state of mind?
They all knew that clouds were gathering.
They all had suffered in the past and they knew they might suffer in the future.
They all had hope that signs of deepening repression in the near future would be temporary. They all looked in the far future to a new New China which respected human rights, protected basic legal freedoms, allowed for an open political society and the rule of law.
Yet, none expected how quickly a great storm was about to break over their heads.
On 9 July, 2015, exactly three years ago, a massive storm swept them all away. It began with Wang Yu’s disappearance in the middle of the night. It spread rapidly over hours and days and weeks and swept away more than 300 rights lawyers and activists across all of mainland China.
Today we remember the 709 crackdown. But we do more than remember. This is not an historical incident that is fading in our memories.
It is not a monument to the past, only to be recorded in history books.
This Second Day for China Human Rights Lawyers’ shows that the 709 Crackdown is present in this moment. It reveals to China’s citizens, to lawyers across the world, to rights activists and the defenders of minorities, to international organizations, to states that still champion global standards of liberal constitutional orders, that a mighty struggle continues.
The end is not near. Indeed, the struggle deepens inside China and across the world.
And so today, we must ask: What does the 709 Crackdown and its shockwaves tell the world about China and its rulers? What have we learned about China’s rights lawyers and the struggle for freedoms? What of the future?
I. What Does the 709 Crackdown Tell Us About China and Its Rulers?
What does it tell the world about the real China, not the propaganda China, not the mythical China, not the face of China that the Party likes to show the world, but the actual China, the empirical China, the China that free scholars and free media and free international observers report without censorship?
The world is waking up.
The world is waking up to the dark side, the cruelty, the brutality of China’s rulers, and we can see these in the way it treats rights lawyers.
A China where a single person, such as Wang Yu, is humiliated nation-wide in the state-controlled media
A China where brutalized lawyers are forced to make public confessions and mouth wooden words far removed from the values they expressed in my research on China’s defense lawyers
A China where authorities arbitrarily replace a lawyer’s chosen counsel with a government-friendly substitute.
A China that has expanded its repertoire of torture, intensifying and reinforcing the ways it seeks to break the ideals, the minds, even the bodies of rights lawyers
A China where lawyers are disappeared for weeks, months, years in so-called “designated residential surveillance” sites so they are completely removed from families, lawyers, observers, and exposed to extreme psychological and physical pressure, some of it medieval in its primitive methods.
A China where lawyers are subjected to new tortures, not least being forcibly injected with excruciatingly painful disorienting drugs to alter their minds and leave scars for the short-term or long-term or the rest of their lives.
A China where brothers are compelled to pressure brothers, or children are used against their parents, or parents are pressed to change the minds of their children, or where wives are refused access, even knowledge, about their husbands.
A China that has ratcheted up the charges and sentences for detained lawyers.
A China where secret trials have become a new norm for lawyers who most implausibly have betrayed “state secrets.”
The world is waking up to the recognition that China is a country that runs on the fuel of fear.
China’s leaders fear their own people.
When we view China through the eyes of its criminal defense and rights lawyers, we see a fragile China. Across China enormous grievances accumulate for hundreds of millions of Chinese. Pollution, property-takings, religious persecution, suppression of minorities, forced abortions, magnifying inequality, exploited labor, rampant corruption, unjust treatment by police, tainted food.
China’s leaders are afraid:
— civil society
— of Uyghurs
— of Muslims
— of workers
— of Tibetan Buddhists
— of unofficial Christian Protestant churches
— of women
— of unofficial Roman Catholic churches
— of Hong Kong’s fight to preserve its legal freedoms and open civil society
— and of Taiwan – a country which shows that ethnic Chinese, that inheritors of the Confucian tradition, that non-Han indigenous peoples together can build an open political society that adheres to global norms crafted in part by a pre-revolutionary China,
— of foreigners who care about the dignity and freedom of China’s people
The 709 crackdown has cast a long shadow. The world now sees it is one notable move against lawyers as part of many other “againsts.”
The world is waking up to the recognition that China is a deviant state.
It deviates from global standards on arbitrary arrest and detention, on torture, on disappearances, on fair trials, on an independent judiciary, on access to lawyers, on freedom of speech and association and religion.
The world has woken up to an awareness that this mighty nation, a nuclear power, a state flexing its military muscle, and an economic and geopolitical giant, nevertheless is afraid of these few lawyers and the 1000s of other lawyers who share their values.
II. What Does 709 Tell Us Today About These Rights Lawyers?
We’ve learned that activist lawyers are now spread across the country. Once they were largely concentrated in Beijing. Today they are everywhere.
We’ve learned that the struggle for basic freedoms is now nationwide.
In every region ordinary people cried out for justice, for dignity, for their children, for safe food and clear water and pure air, for their property, for their religious beliefs. And rights lawyers responded.
We’ve learned that rights lawyers fight for a core of ideals fundamental to all peoples in our 21st century world. They fight for basic legal freedoms.
- They demand procedural protections for their clients, such as freedom to choose or meet with a lawyer, protection of clients from coerced confessions
- They insist on standards of fairness in court such as seeing and cross-examining evidence.
- They want fair trials and neutral judges.
They fight for an open civil society where there is freedom of speech and association, including the ability of lawyers to form bar associations independent of state control.
They struggle for freedom of religion and protections for all believers, including the savagely repressed adherents of Falun Gong. They want open exchanges of views and beliefs where citizens are freed from stifling censorship.
They fight against the tyranny of a one-party state where all power is concentrated in the hands of supreme rulers. They insist that political power be divided. That the tyrannies of absolute state power be checked by law and other centers of power inside the state and outside of it.
We’ve learned that lawyers’ ideals are so strong they will suffer terribly to maintain their ideals. We’ve seen that wives and daughters and sons – including those joining us today – have stood up to cry out for the most basic standards of justice and human decency.
And, most important, China’s activist lawyers have shown the world that inside China’s beating heart there is an impulse for justice, for freedoms, for a normal society. It is a society where rulers are not afraid of their own people but welcome their views, where leaders do not fear lawyers but welcome their peaceful respect for a just legality.
Inside China’s beating heart there is a tiny minority that gives voice to wrongs and gives vision for the future.
III. What of the Future?
I submit to you that we already know the end of this struggle but we do not know when or how.
For 25 years social scientists, legal scholars and historians have investigated the role of lawyers in the creation of open political societies. These are societies where rights are embedded in constitutions and constitutions are implemented in practice.
Again and again, across history and across regions, lawyers stand in the vanguard of change. In Britain in the 1600s, in France in the 1700s, in Germany in the 1800s, in India and Brazil in the 1970s, in Egypt and Pakistan in the 1990s, in Zambia and Kenya, and, not least in South Korea and Taiwan over the last generation, and in many other places.
Lawyers have fought against absolute monarchs, Big Man regimes, military dictatorships, communist parties, fascist regimes. Lawyers wave the flag of legal rights, civil rights, political rights.
Time and again lawyers and their allies – workers, women’s groups, religious believers, the media – have been defeated, and time and again they have fought back from defeat. The struggle is never over, even in countries where lawyers’ ideals have been instituted for decades or centuries.
Hope is still alive among China’s activists. Now is a dark hour, a moment when defeat seems possible. The darkness may last a long time, years, decades, longer, but the end is never in doubt. Victories and defeats have already been the experience of China’s lawyer activists. And defeats and victories will continue.
Today, the Second Day for China Human Rights Lawyers’ keeps hope alive.
This event expresses a solidarity that crosses nationalities, that goes beyond citizenship that binds together persons of every ethnicity and believers from different religions, that crosses continents and knits together peoples and organizations and states in every place.
It is not only China’s hope but a universal hope – a hope in human dignity, in human flourishing, in legal freedoms, in an open political society, in a future where all may worship as they choose, where every person may speak the language of her or his childhood, where all may honor the cultural traditions in which they are embedded.
This hope is maintained by China’s lawyer activists and sustained by those that stand with them. Today we honor them by standing with them for China and for all peoples who long for freedom and justice.
Terence Halliday is a research professor at the American Bar Foundation, and co-author of Criminal Defense in China: The Politics of Lawyers at Work (Cambridge U Press, 2016).
Yaxue Cao, on the second China Human Rights Lawyers’ Day, July 8, 2018, New York
As of today, lawyer Wang Quanzhang has been held incommunicado for 1,095 days. Over the 1,095 days, his toddler has grown into a boy who vows to fight the “Monster” that took his father; his wife has metamorphosed from a timid housewife to one of the most recognizable faces of the 709 resistance. With each day, we worry about Wang Quanzhang’s fate: Is he still alive? Has he been so severely debilitated by torture that they can’t even show him? These dreadful thoughts eat at our hearts when we think about Wang Quanzhang, and we don’t know how not to think about him.
Wang Quanzhang is 42 years old. Like most human rights lawyers in China, he was born and raised in the countryside, and came of age with a deep-rooted sense that Chinese society was unjust and unfair.
He graduated from Shandong University in 2000 with a law degree. While still in college in 1999, the brutal, nationwide suppression against Falun Gong began, and he provided legal assistance to Falun Gong practitioners. That makes him one of the earliest defenders of Falun Gong. As a result, he was threatened and his home was raided by police.
After college, Wang Quanzhang took up volunteer work to teach villagers about Chinese law near Jinan, the provincial capital of Shandong. He debated with villagers about whether it was power, or the law, that was supreme in China. The villagers believed that in China, power rules — not the law.
They were right then, and they’re right now.
In 2008 Wang Quanzhang moved to Beijing and worked at a string of NGOs. In 2009 he and friends co-founded the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group NGO (中国维权紧急援助组), to expand access to legal assistance for victims, organize trainings for fellow lawyers, and teach victims to become citizen lawyers using China’s civil and administrative laws.
After 2013, he focused on his legal practice and defended persecuted individuals in court, especially Falun Gong practitioners.
Wang Quanzhang was a lawyer with the Beijing Fengrui Law Firm when he was swept up along with scores of other lawyers and activists in July 2015. Among the rights lawyers, he was known for being beaten up a lot, inside and outside the court.
Oh yes, court bailiffs do beat lawyers sometimes, though China has yet to apply for World Cultural Heritage status for this practice.
In February, 2017, Wang Quanzhang was indicted for “subversion of state power.” No one has yet seen a copy of the indictment. We don’t know how the Communist Party built its case against him, but we do know that they have been eager to have him admit guilt, without success.
Foreseeing what was to come, Wang Quanzhang left a letter for his parents in July 2015:
No matter how despicable and ridiculous we appear to be in the portrayal by the manipulated media, Mother, Father, please believe your son, and please believe your son’s friends.
My taking up the work—and walking down the path—of defending human rights wasn’t just a sudden impulse. Instead, it came from a hidden part of my nature, a calling that has intensified over the years—and has always been slowly reaching up like ivy.
This path is doomed to be thorny, tortuous, and rocky.
Dear Father and Mother, please feel proud of me. Also, no matter how horrible the situation is, you must hang on and live, and wait for the day when the clouds disperse and the sun shines through.
I’m immensely grateful for this note of hope, a note of hope from someone who seems to have the least reason to embrace hope.
So what choice do we have but to remain strong, and forge ahead? We have a monster to slay, or our dignity, our freedoms, and indeed, our humanity, will be in peril.
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @YaxueCao
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, a 8-minute video, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, a 7-minute video, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’, a 9-minute video, Xie Yang, July 6, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘The Most Painful Part of It all Was the Squandering of Life’, Xie Yanyi, July 8, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘We Don’t Accept the Communist Party’s Attempt to Instill Terror in Us’
Xie Yang, July 6, 2018
My name is Xie Yang. I’m a lawyer at the Gangwei Law Firm, in Changsha, Hunan.
On July 9, 2015, I immediately got word of the arrest of Wang Yu, Bao Longjun, and their son.
On the morning of July 10, when I was interviewed by an overseas media outlet. They asked me: What do you think of Wang Yu’s whole family getting taken away? I frankly told them my opinion: I said that this is the beginning of the Chinese authorities’ purge of human rights lawyers. I said that a tempest would soon be upon us.
The following afternoon, on July 10 — it was a Friday — I went to Huaihua City in Hunan to take care of a case related to internal migration, a result of a large reservoir construction. This was a big class action case. Around 40,000 people had been harmed.
At about 5:00 a.m. on July 11, before the sun had come up, I heard an urgent knocking on the door.
The door was quickly kicked open. They flashed their ID badges, though they didn’t produce any legal documents.
They escorted me downstairs and packed me into a vehicle — it wasn’t a police car.
What they first asked about was the China Human Rights Lawyers Group; they asked me when I joined. I said that as far as I see it, that’s just the name of a WeChat group, called the ‘China Human Rights Lawyers Group.’
Then they said to me: Party Central has designated this Human Rights Lawyers Group an illegal organization.
By around 6:00 a.m. on July 12 the door opened and seven or eight police stormed into my room and presented me with the formal notice of arrest. The crime I was being charged with had been changed; it was no longer ‘disturbing social order,’ but was two charges: the first was ‘inciting subversion of state power,’ while the other was ‘disrupting order in the court.’ Then they grabbed me and put me in their car and drove me back to Changsha.
Actually, there were a few things that happened while I was detained under residential surveillance [in a guesthouse] and later in the Detention Center. But as for those happenings… Later, myself and the authorities made a deal. Given that a deal was made, I will abide by the terms of it. So, as for that aspect, I won’t say anymore just now.
What was this deal? It was that they would return my lawyer’s license to me, and I would forfeit a number of reasonable demands I had. After that, my case proceeded through the court fairly smoothly.
My trial was held on May 8, 2017, and the next day, May 9, was my 80-year-old mother’s birthday. They brought me back to my parents’ home.
Due to the terror of the environment at the time, my wife and two daughters decided to flee China. On March 22, 2017, they arrived in the United States.
On May 10 my wife called me from the U.S.; of course, for me, when I was able to hear their voices, I felt a great sense of relief.
On April 4, 2018, they said my case was no longer ‘pending investigation.’ But on the same day, they declared that I was a threat to national security, and that I would not be allowed to leave the country for one year.
In addition, there are some obstacles when I do my work. Whenever I fly out Huanghua Airport from Changsha to other cities in China, I’m always stopped and questioned. What’s their reason for stopping me? Illegal petitioning. This makes me really furious. They do this almost every time.
Also on the employment front, they’ve established a number of artificial obstructions.
They would come and speak to me directly and tell me that the cases I take on are sensitive, that I can’t keep accepting them. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to listen to them, because these demands are unreasonable. They’re hindering my right to practice.
As soon as I was released, I got involved in a series of sensitive cases. For instance, the Wang Quanzhang case, the Yu Wensheng case, and a number of other citizen activist cases. I was proactively involved in all of it. I wanted my license to practice law, but I don’t want to live a compromised life. I’m going to use to use my lawyer’s license to serve society.
We don’t accept the Communist Party’s attempt to instill terror in us and threaten us, or its imprisonment of lawyers. The use of these methods [of repression] will simply make Chinese society more unhinged. As legal practitioners we hope that everyone will resolve their problems within the framework of the law.
China is part of the world, and the deterioration of human rights in China is the deterioration of human rights around the world. If you simply connive at the CCP, then you’re harming the interests and human rights of the vast majority of the Chinese people.
The country needs to change; let’s work together toward it.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘I Stayed Because I Want to Change It’, Jiang Tianyong, July 3, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘If This Country Can’t Even Tolerate Lawyers’, Wen Donghai, July 4, 2018.
709 Crackdown Three Years on: ‘You’re Guilty of Whatever Crime They Say You Are’, Sui Muqing, July 5, 2018.