The government continued to deny its citizens basic democratic rights, and law enforcement authorities suppressed those perceived to threaten the legitimacy or authority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Against a backdrop of hardening government policies towards ethnic minorities, Tibetans engaged in widespread protests and riots in March and April 2008, with more than 200 civilian deaths reported. Smaller scale protests by Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region also occurred in March 2008. There continued to be numerous high-profile cases involving the monitoring, harassment, detention, arrest, and imprisonment of journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law. The government tightened restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, including increased efforts to control and censor the Internet and foreign media access to sensitive areas of the country. The government used vague criminal and administrative provisions to justify detentions based on participation in peaceful social, political, or religious activities and prevented groups from organizing or acting independently of the government or the CCP. Authorities interfered frequently with legal proceedings, intimidating attorneys or witnesses in politically sensitive cases, including by threatening to charge attorneys or witnesses with crimes.
The United States promotes human rights, democracy, and the rule of law by advocating key human rights priorities at all levels. Key programmatic elements are aimed at strengthening China's judicial system, promoting the rule of law, improving public participation and transparency in governance, and bolstering civil society. A U.S. federal prosecutor serving as Resident Legal Advisor and numerous U.S. officials emphasize how the impartial application of an objective body of law, without political interference, can help create a more just and stable society. U.S. officials urge the government to seize the opportunity of the 2008 Beijing Olympics to put its best face forward and fulfill its Olympic bid commitments to increase access to information and expand freedom of the press, as well as take positive steps to address international and domestic concerns about its record on human rights and religious freedom.
The United States employs multiple diplomatic and public diplomacy strategies to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, making clear that progress in these areas would enhance the country's stability. In public statements and private diplomacy, U.S. officials urge the government to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international standards, to make systemic reforms, and to release prisoners of conscience. The United States presses the government to strengthen the country's judicial system and strengthen the rule of law; encourage democratic political reform; promote freedom of religion and the press; protect human rights, including the rights of workers and women; improve transparency in governance; and strengthen civil society. U.S. officials also work with the government, domestic and foreign NGOs, and others to identify areas of particular concern and encourage systemic reforms.
Through the U.S. International Visitor Leadership Program, U.S. speakers travel to China to discuss rule of law issues. Nearly half of all Chinese citizens sent to the United States to participate in various programs worked in democracy and rights-related fields or in areas related to religious freedom. Both the Fulbright and the Humphrey Fellowship exchange programs devote significant resources to rule of law subjects. For example, the Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar Program includes opportunities for established scholars in the field of law to undertake independent advanced research at U.S. universities, and U.S. professors serve in residence at top Chinese law schools and lecture at leading legal training institutions.
The U.S. government supports seminars and training on international standards for free expression, reaching out to journalists, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. Visiting officials discuss the need for greater Internet and press freedom, especially in light of increasing international attention on the 2008 Beijing Olympics and expectations that over 20,000 accredited and 10,000 unaccredited journalists will cover the Games. The president, the secretary of state, the ambassador, and other U.S. officials also repeatedly raise the cases of detained journalists and Internet writers in public remarks and in private meetings with senior government officials. U.S. officials work with Internet portals and media organizations to expand the nature and quality of discussion on many topics including trade issues, clean energy development, and the U.S. electoral process.
The United States supports programs aimed at increasing popular participation in government and fostering the development of local elections for village assemblies, local people's congresses, and urban community residential committees in certain cities. U.S. programs support grassroots democratization efforts through training for elected village officials and deputies to local legislatures. U.S. officials and NGOs participate in election observation missions. The U.S. government encourages the development of civil society by supporting projects that increase the capacity of independent NGOs to address societal needs, expand access for marginalized citizens to legal services, and enable citizens to provide individually or collectively input into public decisions. U.S. officials frequently raise concerns with the government over restrictions on NGOs, emphasizing the important contributions NGOs can make in addressing pressing social issues.
The United States works to promote legal reform, urge progress on rule of law, and encourage judicial independence. The United States funds projects designed to provide legal technical assistance, assist efforts to reform the country's criminal law, strengthen legal education, support judicial independence, and enable average citizens to find the information necessary to seek protection under the law. For example, one U.S.-supported project provides training for prosecutors on trial skills consistent with international standards, and complementary projects focus on techniques for defense attorneys. Another program allows a U.S. federal prosecutor to encourage criminal justice reform through interaction with the country's academic community and the government. This U.S. official lectures at government training institutions and universities on issues ranging from search and seizure to compelling witness testimony at trial, and participates in international and domestic anticorruption conferences. In addition, U.S. officials coordinate programs for federal and state judges and other legal experts to discuss trial and criminal procedure reform, discovery and evidence rules, prison reform, and other rule of law issues with judges, lawyers, officials, and academics.
The United States urges the government to put an end to its coercive birth limitation program. The United States publicly and privately urges the government not to use the war on terrorism as a justification for cracking down on Uighurs expressing peaceful political dissent. U.S. officials also pressed the government not to repatriate forcibly North Koreans and to allow the UN High Commission for Refugees access to this vulnerable population, as required by international conventions to which the country is a party.
The president and other senior U.S. officials consistently call upon the government to respect international standards for religious freedom for people of all faiths. U.S. officials regularly raise religious freedom issues with Chinese leaders, including calling for the release of religious prisoners, the reform of restrictive registration laws, and more freedom for religious groups to practice their faith.
The United States promotes compliance with international labor standards. U.S. officials monitor compliance with the 1992 U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding and 1994 Statement of Cooperation on Prison Labor and investigate allegations of forced child labor but receive almost no cooperation from the government. The United States supports programs to combat human trafficking and promote HIV/AIDS education in the workplace. The United States and the government conduct exchanges on coal mine safety, occupational safety and health, wage and hour administration, and administration of private pension programs. The United States funds programs that support technical cooperation on dispute resolution and help develop the capacity of local organizations involved in rights protection and legal aid for workers.
The poor human rights situation in Tibet dramatically deteriorated beginning in March 2008, when interactions between security forces and initially peaceful protesters in Lhasa turned violent, resulting in the deaths of both Tibetan and Han Chinese citizens. Unrest spread to other Tibetan areas, prompting a major security deployment and a virtual media blackout in the affected areas. Since the unrest, the United States has urged the government to exercise restraint, calling upon all sides to refrain from violence, and has continued to advocate vigorously for improvements in human rights conditions in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China. The United States consistently presses for unfettered access to Tibet by journalists, diplomats, and other international observers, and calls for the release of all those detained for peacefully expressing their political or religious views and for the proper treatment of all detainees. In addition, U.S. officials, including the U.S. special envoy for Tibet, and under secretary for democracy and global affairs, continue publicly to urge China to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama and to end repressive policies that are blamed for triggering the recent unrest. In October 2007, during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, President Bush called on China's leaders to respect religious freedom and to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. U.S. government officials at all levels continue to raise individual human rights cases involving Tibetans, including the status of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.