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Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch’s executive director, speaks during a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 1, 2018. (Lee Jin-man/AP Photo)

Snapshots of China

Reports of repression

Two new reports detail China’s worsening human rights situations

Hong Kong authorities barred Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), from entering the territory last week. He had come to Hong Kong to launch the group’s latest annual report on human rights around the world with a special focus on China.

“I had hoped to spotlight Beijing’s deepening assault on international efforts to uphold human rights,” Kenneth Roth said in a statement. “The refusal to let me enter Hong Kong vividly illustrates the problem.”

Immigration officials did not give a reason as to why Roth, a U.S. citizen, could not enter after landing at Hong Kong International Airport. Yet the move comes after a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs official threatened “sanctions” against HRW and other U.S. human rights organizations in December after Congress passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

The report highlighted how China has created a surveillance state to monitor its people domestically while internationally refusing to accept accountability for its repression. With more countries and companies dependent on Chinese money, China has been able to keep them quiet even as it commits human rights abuses such as detaining more than 1 million Uighurs in reeducation camps.

World Report 2020 calls on foreign governments to band together to keep China accountable and stop the Communist country from spreading its authoritarianism: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation could speak out against China’s treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang. Governments and international financial institutions can offer alternatives to China’s loans. Companies and universities can create explicit codes of conduct for dealing with China. 

“Unless we want to return to an era in which people are pawns to be manipulated or discarded according to the whims of their overlords, we must resist Beijing’s assault on our rights,” Roth said. “Decades of progress on rights, and our future, are at stake.”

The bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China released its own report with similar findings. Established by the U.S.-China Relations Act in 2000 as China prepared to join the World Trade Organization, the group was tasked with tracking China’s human rights and rule of law. In 2019, the group found the situation in China continued to deteriorate, focusing on the mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang, which they said may constitute crimes against humanity. It also examines Beijing’s encroachment of Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protests are now in their seventh month. 

The report recommends the U.S. government link all of its interactions with the Chinese government—including trade negotiations—to the issues of human rights, rule of law, and democratic governance. 

“The Commission’s report shines a bright light on Beijing’s dangerous and ever-expanding repression and efforts to crack down on freedom of expression, religion, assembly, and speech,” said U.S. Rep. James McGovern, Chair of the CECC. “The United States must be a strong and unwavering voice for universal human rights in China.”

CECC’s commissioners also sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to raise the cases of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have been arbitrarily detained or barred from leaving China. The letter mentions John Sanqiang Cao, a missionary who authorities sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly “organizing illegal border crossings.” Cao, who is a permanent resident of the United States, was building schools for impoverished children in the mountains of Burma. 

It also mentioned Jacob Harlan and Alyssa Petersen, two Americans who ran an English-language teaching company in China and were detained in September on the same charge as Cao. They have been released on bail, but are unable to leave the city of Zhenjiang for at least 12 months. Their arrest is believed to be retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese official in New York on visa fraud charges.

The Chinese government has prevented two other U.S. citizens, Victor and Cynthia Liu, from leaving China since the summer of 2018. Their mother has been detained on criminal charges in China, and China is using the siblings as human collateral to convince their father, Liu Changing, to return to China to face fraud charges. 

Comparing exit bans to “de facto hostage-taking,” the letter calls on Trump to raise these cases as he meets with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials. 

Roth, the director of HRW, noted the consequences if the world stays silent: “If not challenged, Beijing’s actions portend a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression.”

Running on tradition: Nike’s first Chinese New Year ad is a hit in China. It portrays a young girl politely refusing her aunt’s red envelope of money—as is custom in China. The years pass, and she starts running away (in her Nike shoes) as her aunt gives chase. Finally as the girl has her own family, she tries to give her aunt a red envelope, continuing the chase with the roles reversed. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu8T-7Ct6Oc

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A pro-democracy march in Hong Kong on Jan. 1. (ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)

Snapshots of China

China stories to watch

Seven top issues to follow in 2020

At the beginning of 2019, I listed seven China-related stories worth following throughout the year. Some became big headlines—the Uighur detentions, the U.S.-China trade war, and Chinese influence overseas. Others are perennial issues, such as Taiwan’s relationship with China and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Still others represented the trend of greater control in the country, such as the government crackdown on Christians and forced disappearances.

What I didn’t foresee was 2019’s biggest China-related story: Hong Kong’s pushback against mainland China’s encroachment. Who would have thought a controversial extradition bill would unleash pent-up anger within Hong Kongers and lead to a protest movement still going strong in its eighth month?

As we begin 2020, I’ve picked seven China stories worth watching in the new year.

1. Hong Kong:  The 1-million-strong New Year’s Day protest shows the movement’s momentum is continuing into 2020. That’s because even though the Hong Kong government has withdrawn the extradition bill, it refuses the demand of the people to set up an independent investigation into police brutality or to allow direct elections. Young Hong Kong protesters view this as a fight for survival, so arrests and increasingly harsh police actions have done little to dampen their enthusiasm.  

2. Taiwan: The upheaval in Hong Kong has shown the self-governed island of Taiwan a terrifying picture of what could happen if the island accepts China’s “one country, two systems” policy. As a result, incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen—who has been vocal in her criticism of the Chinese government—rose in the polls and is expected to win tomorrow’s presidential election. If Tsai wins a second term, Beijing will likely continue isolating Taiwan on the international stage and luring away diplomatic allies (Taiwan currently has only 15).

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Chinese police stand guard outside the Chengdu People’s Intermediate Court in Chengdu. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyImages)

Snapshots of China

Long-expected sentence

China’s imprisoned Pastor Wang Yi had prepared himself for governmental persecution

After a closed-door trial the day after Christmas, a court in Chengdu, China, on Monday sentenced prominent house church Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church to nine years in prison. His crimes: inciting subversion of state power and operating an illegal business. The sentence comes more than a year after Chinese authorities cracked down on Early Rain Church on Dec. 9, 2018, breaking down the doors of church members’ and leaders’ homes and arresting more than 100 people. 

This is the longest prison sentence handed to a house church pastor in more than a decade, according to Bob Fu of ChinaAid. The sentence signals the Chinese government’s increased crackdown on Christianity and its fear of Wang’s influence in the Chinese church. Authorities also stripped Wang of his political rights for three years and seized $7,200 worth of assets.

“This is a pure case of unjust religious persecution against a peaceful preacher of a Chinese Reformed church,” Fu said. “This grave sentence demonstrates [President Xi Jinping’s] regime is determined to be enemy to the universal values and religious freedom.”

Authorities have released all Early Rain members except for Wang and Qin Defu, an elder who was sentenced to four years in prison for “illegal business operations.” Officials continue to monitor and harass the released believers and have sent some back to their hometowns. Those who remain in Chengdu continue to gather in homes for weekly services. 

Titus Wu, a church leader at Early Rain, said he and the other leaders felt a mix of emotions upon hearing Wang’s sentence: relief that the sentence wasn’t longer, anger at the injustice of the ruling, and grief for Wang’s wife Jiang Rong and son Shuya, who will spend his teenage years without his father. Wu (whose name WORLD has changed for security reasons) said they also felt encouraged that Wang had stood firm in his faith while imprisoned. It caused them to reflect on how they can serve God more fervently over the next eight years until Wang’s release.

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