WASHINGTON — Religious persecution and forced abortions persist in China, even as the nation exerts increasingly global influence.
Experts predicted that China’s rapid economic expansion and integration into global financial markets would soon foster improvements in human rights. But the 2011 “Congressional-Executive Annual Report on Human Rights in China,” released this week, signaled that the nation’s rapid economic growth has not been matched by equally dramatic improvements in the Communist Party’s approach to civil rights.
“Tragically, in the years since [Congress granted] permanent normal trade relations, China has continued to abuse the fundamental human rights of its citizens while failing to establish a fair and transparent legal system,” asserted Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a bipartisan body established to address human-rights concerns raised during the debate fueled by the initial legislation.
“[A]s we meet here today, a Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo, languishes in a Chinese prison for promoting peaceful democratic reforms, but he is just one of 1.3 billion Chinese who live under the Chinese state’s repression,” said Smith at a Oct. 12 press conference announcing the key findings of the annual report.
Prominent “disappeared” dissidents noted in the report include Roman Catholic Bishop Su Zhimin. During an interview, Smith noted that he had met with Bishop Su more than a decade ago and continued to press for information about his whereabouts.
“When I visited China back in the ’90s, Bishop Su said Mass for our small group. He gave me a rosary, and he talked about how he prayed for the dictatorship. But his backbone was like rock.”
Since that meeting, the bishop had been arrested several times, said Smith. “The last sighting was by a family member who saw him going into a hospital under guard. He looked like he had been beaten up. That is the measure of this dictatorship.”
The report expresses the authors’ alarm about “officials’ increased willingness to disregard the law when it suits them, particularly to silence dissent. …n sensitive-issue areas such as China’s population-planning policy, local government officials demonstrated little restraint in turning to illegal measures, including violence, to coerce compliance with a policy that itself violates international human-rights standards.”
Smith noted that he had opposed granting permanent normal trade relations to China because of China’s egregious human-rights record and “the risks to U.S. businesses when trading with a country that plays by its own rules, instead of abiding by rule of law.”
500 Suicides a Day
Eleven years later, the 2011 report states that “China’s leaders have tightened their grip on Chinese society. … The government’s campaign to ‘disappear’ numerous lawyers and activists following pro-democracy protests elsewhere in the world — one of China’s harshest crackdowns in recent memory — is but one example.”
The report also targets religious persecution in China, from the harassment of Protestant house church members to the imprisonment of “underground” Catholics and Falun Gong members. Tibetans and Uyghurs also face concerted attacks on their linguistic and cultural practices.
Smith reserved his strongest language for China’s one-child-per-couple policy, describing it as “one of the most brutal and barbaric attacks against women and children — ever. Through coercion, financial penalties and the use of forced abortion and sterilization, the Chinese government continues its population-control program and limits the number of children women may bear.
“It is no coincidence that according to the World Bank and the World Health Organization, that approximately 500 women committed suicide a day in China in 2009.” he said.
The report provides information on government campaigns and specific cases in which women were subject to forced abortions and sterilizations — “or pay heavy fines for having ‘‘out-of-plan’’ children. In one example, local officials in Fujian province are accused of abducting a woman who was eight months pregnant and “forcibly injected her with a substance that caused the fetus to be aborted.”
A primary resource for the 2011 report is the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database, which contains more than 6,600 cases of political prisoners, from activists and church leaders to parents and farmers.
The Chinese government has challenged the findings of past reports released by the congressional commission. But Smith insisted that the commission was simply “monitoring its compliance with the same universal human-rights standards that apply to all countries.”
As China’s economic, political and military clout continue to expand, he said, it was even more important to show how “China’s actions have global consequences in areas such as basic human rights and freedoms, product safety, environmental disasters and infectious disease.”
The report offers policy guidance on promoting human rights and the rule of law in China, such as “training for advocates to promote religious freedom.”
The still dominant Communist Party has intensified the targeting of dissidents and independent organizations that pose a challenge to party control, according to the report. But the authors also note “hopeful signs, notably at the grassroots level. The commission observed the courage of citizens calling for justice, as when … members of the Shouwang church openly defied the government to hold outdoor worship services in Beijing.”
Choice of Bishops
The government officially sanctions five religions, and members of these faiths “must register with the government and submit to ongoing state control,” according to the report. “Unregistered worshippers and those practicing unrecognized beliefs continued to face harassment.”
Thus, Catholics who worship in underground churches that have not been approved by the government continue to face harassment and detention. The report states that the “state-controlled church forced some bishops to attend the ordination ceremonies of two bishops ordained without Holy See approval — the first such ordinations since late 2006 — as well as a December 2010 state-controlled church conference.”
Steven Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, said the report’s findings were even more positive than his own judgment of the situation, based on extensive research, including and a 2010 visit to China.
“The report is careful to err on the side of caution because, if anything, the situation in China is worse than they describe, though you might ask: How could it be worse when they describe women being forced to have abortions, or the continued manipulation of the Catholic church hierarchy by China?”
“Thirty years ago, a lot of us expected that, by now, political liberalism would follow and human rights would blossom,” said Mosher, author of A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy (1994). “But we haven’t seen any movement toward democracy. This is a very grim outcome, not just for the Chinese people, but for the world at large.”
Last year, Mosher met with Chinese Catholic priests and laypeople in several different dioceses, who said there had not been any significant improvement in religious freedom.
“For several years, people were talking about a ‘Constantine moment,’ with government entering into an informal concordant with Rome,” said Mosher.
“But what happened on the ground is that Beijing would nominate someone, then the Vatican would investigate; and if there weren’t serious reasons, they would go along with it. But in the last couple of appointments, there were grave reasons, and Beijing still went ahead with it. Now, the head of the Chinese bishops’ conference is not a legitimate bishop. He has been put in that position by Beijing,” he asserted.
As for the one-child policy, Mosher contends that little has changed since he first witnessed a forced abortion three decades ago while researching village life as a Stanford University doctoral student.
“The abuses I saw then are still happening now. When I was there last year, I spoke to a woman who was a deaf mute. As a condition of marriage, the government told her she had to undergo a tubal ligation. There is a eugenics component to the one-child policy. People with handicaps are not allowed to marry unless they are sterilized.”
Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.