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Human rights in China

China named as ‘force of instability’ in US human rights report

Beijing comes in for harsh criticism over freedoms of speech and assembly, and violence against religious and ethnic groups

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 9:50pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 April, 2018, 11:36pm

The United States has hit out at China, along with Russia, Iran and North Korea, in its annual human rights report for violating rights, calling them “forces of instability”.

As in previous years, China was harshly criticised for restricting freedoms of speech and assembly and allowing or committing violence against religious and ethnic groups in the latest report from the US Department of State that covers 2017 and was released on Friday.

The global human rights report said Beijing was also responsible for arbitrary detentions, executions without due process and coerced confessions of prisoners, as well as forced disappearances. It was the first time the report has been produced entirely by the administration of US President Donald Trump.

“China continues to spread the worst features of its authoritarian system,” Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan told reporters on Friday.

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The report stresses the condition of significant figures including Liu Xia, the widow of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, and lawyer Wang Quanzhang, who was detained by Chinese authorities during a round-up of more than 300 human rights lawyers and legal associates in July 2015 known as the “709” crackdown because of when it happened.

Liu Xia has remained under extralegal house arrest after her husband died of liver cancer while in police custody in July last year, the report said. But it did not say whether the US would press for her release.

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Wang’s whereabouts remain unknown, and he is believed to be the last lawyer swept up in the “709” crackdown still in custody.

“As of December, Wang’s family had neither seen nor heard from him since his detention, and his friends and family said they did not know whether or not he was still alive,” the report said.

Wang’s wife Li Wenzu has been under house arrest since she staged a march to highlight her husband’s plight earlier this month, according to media reports.

Official repression in Xinjiang and Tibet has also worsened, especially with the implementation of new “deradicalisation regulations” to contain extremism since April last year, the human rights report said.

A broad definition of extremism had resulted in the disappearance, jailing or forced attendance at re-education classes of tens of thousands of Uygurs and other Muslim minorities, including many ordered to return to China from studying abroad, it said.

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Print, broadcast, digital and social media meanwhile continued to be subject to tight censorship and control, the report said.

It gave the example of a finding by a foreign researcher in September that Chinese authorities were erasing historical records. “While working through the digitisation of historical documents, they deleted Chinese journal articles from the 1950s that contradict explanations of party history promoted by President Xi,” it said.

But Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University, did not believe the report would have a big impact on the already tense ties between Beijing and Washington, saying although it was released every year, Trump did not seem to care about the issue.

“He didn’t raise the issue on his visit to China, and his former secretary of state Tillerson seldom mentioned it in public either. Human rights has been played down in the Trump administration’s strategy on China,” Shi said.

“Trump’s policies have been fully expressed through the issues of trade, the South China Sea and Taiwan. As tensions reach a new level, the human rights issue is unlikely to have much influence.”

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Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International, said many areas of the report were in line with points covered by the global report put out by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.

“What China is doing to its citizens who hold dissenting views is not only creating instability domestically but also challenging the universal values on basic human rights that China should also be bound to as a member of the international community,” Poon said.

“China should positively respond to these objective and constructive criticisms.”

China has responded with a similar report on human rights in the US, released soon after the State Department’s, every year since 2000. In last year’s, it said human rights in the US had continued to deteriorate in key areas including “the gunshots lingering in people’s ears behind the Statue of Liberty, worsening racial discrimination and the election farce dominated by money politics”.