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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Congress Told China Lagging on Human Rights

WASHINGTON (CN) - Despite some outward signs of softening, China's commitment to human rights is at its lowest level in nearly 15 years, a commission tasked with assessing Chinese progress on that issue told Congress on Tuesday.

The Chinese government continues to crack down on religious groups, silence political dissidents with "arbitrary" restrictions and encourage human trafficking through its coercive population control methods, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China found in its latest annual report on the state of Chinese human rights.

"I can tell you this, I have been on dozens of trips to Hong Kong and I have never felt quite the sense of concern that I felt over the last couple of months," Rep. Tim Waltz, a member of the 23-person commission told the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Christopher Smith, who chairs the commission, told the subcommittee the current Chinese regime is less tolerant of dissent than previous ruling groups, and that the old belief that increasing free trade between the United States and the Asian power would lead to an increasingly democratic Beijing has "crashed and burned."

"Despite President Xi's public commitment to implement the 'rule of law,' the law is too often a cover for lawlessness, as the pervasiveness of torture in detention and the coordinated campaign to silence human rights lawyers last year demonstrate," Smith said.

The report, which the committee first issued in 2002, details China's efforts to restrict political dissent through the imprisonment of activists and censorship of the internet, its poor treatment of religious groups, such as Uyghur Muslims, and the problems associated with China's former one child policy and other efforts at population control.

Congressmen at the sparsely attended hearing asked Smith and Waltz what the United States could do to help force China to become more open and respectful of basic human rights.

Rep. Brad Sherman suggested the government offer a prize to American companies that work to help crack what he called the "great firewall of China," which keeps the Chinese people from accessing the global internet.

Rep. Matt Salmon, chair of the subcommittee, chastised the Obama administration for letting human rights take a back seat in recent meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

As for solving the human rights issues, Waltz noted China typically responds to outside pressure to change its behavior only when not changing would cause it harm.

"When the issue of intellectual property started to hurt, they changed," Waltz said. "When the issue of human rights, or some of the issues that you've heard mentioned here hurt, I believe that's when the will change their behavior."

Still, Waltz said he was "more pessimistic than [he has] been in years" about such a change happening.

"I would leave you with this, maybe the next question that will come up is how much pain are we willing to take to make them pay for it economically?" Waltz said. "Mr. Smith is right, they've been rewarded for this and if it's all about commerce alone, without any accountability based on human rights, they will continue to do it."

Just before the hearing, the subcommittee considered a bill "expressing concern" about reports of state-sanctioned nonconsensual organ harvesting from prisoners in China.

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