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Kin Cheung, File / AP Photo

In this June 18, 2016, file photo, a picture of missing bookseller Gui Minhai is shown on a placard beside freed Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee. (Kin Cheung, File / AP Photo)

Snapshots of China

China’s non-coronavirus news

Beijing continues a crackdown on dissidents, Hong Kong protesters, and religious minorities

While the China-related headlines have focused on the novel coronavirus outbreak for the last month and a half, you may have missed other breaking news that reveals the continuing trend of China flexing its control inside and outside the country.

Swedish bookseller sentenced to 10 years

Chinese agents first kidnapped Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai in Thailand in 2015 for publishing and selling gossipy books about Chinese political leaders (one book explores President Xi Jinping’s supposed affairs). Authorities then held him in prison and forced him to make televised confessions. In 2017, they claimed to release him—although he remained under house arrest—and a few months later abducted him again while he was on a train with two Swedish diplomats.

Last week, authorities sentenced him to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas,” even though Gui had no access to any intelligence except his experience of treatment inside Chinese prisons. 

Chinese authorities also claimed Gui renounced his Swedish citizenship and applied to regain his Chinese citizenship in 2018. Yet the Swedish Foreign Ministry received no notice about his renunciation. China has also barred Swedish consular officers from visiting him, making it impossible to verify the claims.

Gui’s daughter, Angela, wrote in an op-ed about Sweden and the European Union’s weak response to his sentencing: “It should be impossible to continue normal diplomatic relations with a state that claims ownership of anyone, regardless of nationality. Governments need to recognize that their relationship to China actively puts their citizens at risk of having all their rights and protections stripped at any moment.”

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong …

Police arrested three veteran pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong Feb. 28 for joining an unauthorized prayer walk protest last August. The most well-known of the trio is Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of the government and the owner of the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The 71-year-old self-made millionaire also faces one count of intimidating a reporter from Oriental Daily on June 4, 2017.

Police also arrested 63-year-old Lee Cheuk-yan, the vice-chairman of the Labor Party, and 72-year-old Yeung Sum, the former chairman of the Democracy Party, for taking part in the same protest. Authorities released the trio on bail a few hours later. They will appear at Eastern Court on May 5. 

Yeung noted that the Aug. 31 rally was peaceful: Participants sang hymns and chanted slogans. “Freedom of procession is a fundamental right, especially when we don’t have full democracy,” he told Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. “I thought the government should be focused on fighting the epidemic, but it seems it will not let go of what happened last year.”

In another sign of Beijing tightening the screws on Hong Kong, in February authorities appointed Xia Baolong, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, as the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. Xia demolished thousands of crosses and shut down churches while party secretary of Zhejiang. He likely will take a hard line on dealing with Hong Kong, which has been embroiled in protests since June.

While the coronavirus outbreak has tamped down the pro-democracy protests, violent clashes returned Saturday as protesters marked the six-month anniversary of the police attack at Prince Edward Station. Molotov cocktails, fiery barricades, and tear gas again filled the streets of the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong as police arrested 115 people that night. 

Uighur oppression continues

Lacoste gloves, Nike sneakers, and Apple iPhones all include components Uighurs manufactured—likely against their will—a new report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found. As international condemnation against China’s detention of more than 1 million Uighurs in Xinjiang re-education camps grew, Chinese authorities claimed many had “graduated” from what they claim were vocation training camps. The next phase of the government’s control of the ethnic minority apparently involves sending them to work in factories far from home while continuing their monitoring and ideological training. 

Government officials transferred an estimated 80,000 Uighurs to factories around China between 2017 and 2019, according to the report, and 83 global brands depend on these factories to create their apparel, technological devices, and cars. The workers are unable to refuse their work assignments.

“For the Chinese state, the goal is to ‘sinicize’ the Uighurs; for local governments, private brokers and factories, they get a sum of money per head in these labor transfers,” Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, the study’s lead author, told The Washington Post

The Xinjiang government advertised Uighur workers for hire, claiming they had “semi-military-style management.” Watchtowers and barbed-wire fences surround a factory in Qingdao where hundreds of Uighurs make Nike shoes, according to the Post. After work they take classes in Mandarin and patriotic education. They can no longer practice Islam. The report also found government minders monitor the workers and limit their freedom of movement.

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Lee Jin-man/AP Photo

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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ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images

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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