Last week we had news that the courageous lawyer Jiang Tianyong has been formally “arrested” after being held incommunicado since last November. It is sadly ironic that, on the same day, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuracy announced a new standard for compensating citizens who have been illegally deprived of their personal freedom (see HRIC Daily Brief here). At 258.89 RMB (USD38) per day my friend Jiang may someday receive more compensation than he earned as a great human rights lawyer!
Here’s a good report by Keith Bradsher looking into labor conditions in a Chinese factory making Ivanka Trump shoes, a sequel to his report on China’s detention of labor activists who went undercover at Chinese factories making shoes for Ms. Trump and other brands.
For the detained labor activists striving to improve working conditions, Ivanka Trump’s company has a moral responsibility to speak out. It would be helpful to the situation of the activists if the company would issue a statement expressing deep concern over their detention. That alone might bring about their release. In any event it would stimulate local police to treat the detained better than otherwise; detention house conditions in China are often appalling with a large number of suspects confined in a single cell in an often disgusting and personally dangerous environment. A Trump expression of concern might well result in a faster, more lenient decision about how to deal with the case.The Marc Fisher company at least made a prompt statement promising to inquire into the facts.
Ivanka’s company has a moral responsibility not only to those detained but also to all workers who are exploited by Chinese companies striving to make a profit while competing with rivals to successfully respond to the demands of foreign companies for ever cheaper prices. It would also be good public relations for Ivanka to take the lead in supporting more humane working conditions. She should not see the human rights monitors as antagonists but as collaborators in the difficult effort to assure improved labor conditions.
Taiwan’s Constitutional Court issued a groundbreaking decision yesterday in favor of same-sex marriage (the decision, its summary and an English press release prepared by the Court can be found here).
This decision will have profound implications in many respects, as others have recognized in various fora. Domestically in Taiwan it will spur the Executive and the Legislature to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities within the two-year time frame prescribed by the Court. The Constitutional Court has done this before in controversial situations. For example, as Margaret Lewis and I described in our 2013 book (CHALLENGE TO CHINA:HOW TAIWAN ABOLISHED ITS VERSION OF RE-EDUCATION THROUGH LABOR), the Court’s decisions played the critical role in ending the power of Taiwan’s police arbitrarily to imprison “hooligans” outside the regular judicial system. The Court stimulated the Executive and the Legislature to finally end an abuse similar to “laojiao” on the Mainland.
Yesterday's much more controversial decision reminds me of the landmark US Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education that in 1954 led a divided American society away from segregated schools and from other previously legal segregation practices. Yesterday's decision will generate backlash in Taiwan and elsewhere but it is a major step toward social progress everywhere.
Of course, the decision vividly highlights the sad contrast between Taiwan’s version of the rule of law, democracy and human rights and the Mainland’s, which has become ever more repressive. I think the decision’s positive impact on China as well as other countries far outweighs any modest additional, short-run, adverse impact on cross-strait relations. The Mainland’s strict censorship and manipulation of the media will not entirely prevent people from knowing about the decision and its meaning. Although many in the Mainland may not welcome the decision, China traditionally has been more open to same sex relations than more Christian-dominated countries, and the more educated classes will appreciate not only the wisdom and fairness of the decision on the merits but also the significance of the role of the judiciary in a genuine government under law country. It is a sobering fact that 68 years after its establishment the People’s Republic of China does not have a special constitutional court, does not permit its regular courts to apply constitutional protections and has failed to make significant use of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for this purpose, even though the SCNPC is the institution authorized to apply the PRC constitution.
More broadly, this decision is a shot in the arm for Taiwan’s standing in the world, reminding people of the immense progress it has made, although a Chinese civilization, in instituting legal protection for human rights, judicial independence, separation of powers and all the other “Western values” openly condemned on the Mainland at present. Until now Taiwan’s establishment and implementation of the major international human rights covenants has been too little recognized abroad. Yet its national security and survival depend on the willingness of the United States, Japan and other democratic countries to continue to guarantee it protection against the increasing threat of military action by China, and that willingness will turn in large part on the extent to which those countries are aware of Taiwan’s accomplishments in achieving political freedoms.
New York Times’ Chris Buckley and Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote a good story a few days ago about the resistance and resilience of the wives of Chinese human rights lawyers who have been detained.
These recent spousal responses do represent something new because they are frequently collective or joint rather than individual actions as occasionally occurred in the past and also because the Internet and social media offer opportunities for protest that were not previously available.
Moreover, each such spousal protest stimulates others, even in Taiwan. The Mainland protests of Xie Yang’s wife and Li Heping’s wife, for example, seem to have inspired the feisty wife of Li Ming-che, the Taiwan activist who has been detained in China since March 19.
Another new aspect of current protests is a greater willingness of the spouses to go to Washington in an effort to light fires under the Congress and the Executive Branch. Families of jailed dissidents and their jailed lawyers have long fled to the U.S. for refuge, as some oppressed lawyers have also, but, prior to the 2015 crackdown, they did not generally stir up protests here. And recent protests here have not been limited to Washington but have also taken place in New York and other cities, with college-age children often joining mothers whose English is not fluent.
So one might say that Xi Jinping’s resort to collective family punishments, which were formally abolished at the end of the Manchu dynasty, has evoked a collective family response.
As some of you know, I’ve begun writing my memoirs. Here is the second chapter - on how I started studying Chinese law at Berkeley from 1960 to 1963, my first three years of being a student of China. The Center for Chinese Studies of the University of California, Berkeley, which gave me my start, has published it on the website here.
Let me put a plug in for the beginning chapter as well -- the story of how I made the difficult but exciting decision to study China when it seemed to offer an unpromising career 57 years ago! This first chapter will be out in English in the Chinese (Taiwan) Yearbook of International Law and Affairs, Volume 33 (shortly). Its Chinese translation has alreasdy been published by the Financial Times Chinese, “三十而立：1960年的我是如何投身中国研究的.”
Increasing tensions in the North have led to two new under-discussed developments worth noting. The Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang has recently urged its citizens in the DPRK to return home because of the increased danger of attack. According to the May 2 Korea Times, one Chinese who took the warning seriously and returned home reportedly said that most Chinese in the capital were ignoring the message because the atmosphere there seemed peaceful despite the threats emitted in the global crisis. This is the first time such a warning had been issued, according to this informant.
Even more interesting is the April 26 report in Seoul’s “Daily NK” that the government has ordered the police, including the secret police, to “refrain from warrantless arrests” and house searches because such police crackdowns are not in accord with the intentions of the Party and estrange the people from the Party. People reportedly have recently shown intense resistance to the formerly unlimited exercise of police power. There is speculation that the authorities, in anticipation of possible Chinese cessation of oil supplies, may be trying to prevent internal unrest. But this restriction of the power of the secret police has supposedly had an adverse effect on the morale of the agents of the Ministry of State Security since some of them have been purged for apparently not heeding the restrictions out of “excessive loyalty” to Kim Jung-Un.
I have always wondered about how relatively unimportant the problem of illegal search and seizure has seemed to the Chinese people in comparison with other violations by police.
Another human rights event worth noting is the DPRK’s first ever welcome to a Special Rapporteur appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities arrived in North Korea today, May 2, for a six-day tour.
Prominent rights lawyer Li Heping, who has been held in detention since the “709 crackdown” in July 2015, received a sentence of three years in prison but with a four-year suspended sentence, and deprivation of his political rights for four years, for subverting state power in a secret trial followed by a public sentencing on April 28.
Li’s wife, Wang Qiaoling, and Li Wenzu, the wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang, issued a powerful and revealing video in response (watch here; see here for the translation by China Change). Both women have been outspoken throughout their husbands’ detention.
Beijing is facing a new phenomenon – the effective outrage of the brilliant and courageous wives of tortured human rights lawyers. One can only admire the bold stand of these long-suffering women.
Moreover, their statement of today lays bare a relatively unknown punishment for “released” activists and their families – “house arrest” for the entire family but not in their house but in that of the police. And without even the formal fig-leaf of the Criminal Procedure Law’s “residential surveillance”, which the police have been using more and more to lock up human rights lawyers in incommunicado detention for initial periods of six months.
Perhaps the righteous collective opposition of these and other spouses of detained human rights lawyers and activists has inspired the continuing public protests in Taiwan by the able wife of Lee Ming-che against her activist Taiwan husband’s detention on the Mainland since he was “disappeared” on March 19. This has given Beijing another well-deserved headache, one that is having a big negative impact on cross-strait relations.
Here is an article that Yu-Jie Chen and I wrote on China’s secret detention since March 19 of Taiwan rights and democracy advocate Mr. Lee Ming-che. We argue that China’s handling of the case violates Mr. Lee’s human rights and a cross-strait agreement Beijing and Taipei signed in 2009. This incident has dealt a serious blow to the reliability and legitimacy of cross-strait institutions, which is not in Beijing’s interest.
Where is Lee? Journalists, especially Taiwanese journalists, should keep asking questions about his fate, including in the press conferences of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office and the Foreign Ministry. In particular, we still don’t know whether he is detained under “residential surveillance at a designated place” (指定監視居住) or normal criminal detention (刑事拘留) (although as we pointed out in the article, the charge of “endangering national security” suggests that Chinese police may have invoked the former procedure).
If it’s criminal detention, the police can hold the suspect as long as 30 days, by which time they have to ask the approval of the procuratorate to formally arrest (逮捕) the suspect in order to keep him in custody. The prosecutors have up to 7 days to make their decision. The 37-day mark for Lee’s detention is April 25 (counting from March 19). If there is any formal arrest in Lee’s case, it should be made by April 25. At that point journalists should ask whether a formal arrest has been approved. If it has, where is Lee being held? Why? Can he see a lawyer? Will Taiwan officials have access to him?
If there is no formal arrest, Chinese spokesmen should be asked whether Lee is under “residential surveillance,” according to which the suspect can be held for up to six months in an undisclosed place (i.e., without the protections of a formal detention center) and has no access to the outside. Torture is commonplace in such circumstances.
Here is a nice Bloomberg report noting the decline of dissenting votes in China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) since Xi Jinping’s ascendance.
In a China Quarterly article written right after the 1978 Constitution’s appearance, China's Changing Constitution, I predicted that the then dormant NPC might not always remain dormant. Gradually, especially beginning in the ‘90s, the NPC came to enjoy considerable life as open struggles developed over important economic legislation such as the Company Law, Securities Law and Labor Law. I came to believe that the journalists’ favorite term for the NPC - “China’s rubber-stamp legislature” – was no longer accurate.
Moreover, the votes on various annual work reports permitted legislators to register their dissatisfaction and criticisms of how the laws were being administered. The number of votes after each report, including those by the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, were at least a modest indication of the growth of intra-Party democracy and the seeds of possible legislative independence of the Executive, the Courts and the Procuracy, branches of government that the Legislature in theory is supposed to control.
Since Xi Jinping’s ascendance and particularly today, it is clear that the Party has brought the Legislature to heel as part of Xi’s drive to subject all institutions, including government, the media, the legal profession and civil society, to the Party’s unbending will as he interprets it.
Below is a response by me and Edward Baker to the New York Times March 8 op-ed on North Korea: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/13/opinion/talk-with-north-korea.html?ref=topics.
Talk With North Korea
MARCH 13, 2017
To the Editor:
Re “North Korea’s Scary Show of Strength” (editorial, March 8):
Your analysis and recommendation that only a new round of negotiations between the United States and North Korea “holds any reasonable promise of working” are correct, but you don’t mention the incentives necessary to get the North to return to the table.
The United States, instead of rejecting renewed negotiations, as it did on March 8, should make clear that it will be willing to discuss not only a halt to joint military exercises with the South and the installation of the Thaad missile defense system but also conclusion of a treaty that will finally formally end the Korean War.
In Churchill’s famous phrase, it is better to “jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
JEROME A. COHEN, EDWARD J. BAKER
Mr. Cohen is faculty chairman at N.Y.U.’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, and Mr. Baker is a special adviser at Harvard’s Korea Institute.
Here’s a good report by Josh Chin at WSJ about the new legislation that China’s National People’s Congress is expected to pass next week – a set of general provisions of the Civil Code.
Chinese media generally praise this as a breakthrough in the rule of law. I do think that enactment of part of the forthcoming Civil Code will be an important step in the further development of civil and commercial law in China and promote China’s economic and social development and its business and personal and private interactions with the rest of the world. It will further evidence the important work of legal scholars, law teachers, lawyers and government officials to build a rule of law in China. Since 1978 they have already made major contributions that have helped create a legal environment to foster China’s remarkable economic and commercial progress and its cooperation with the world. In addition, the promulgation of the Contract Law, an impressive achievement, is also one of the building blocks of this evolving system. The Company Law and related legislation should also not be ignored.
Yet those who say it is window dressing are also correct because, while all this drafting, enacting and implementing of civil law-related subjects has been going on, aspirations toward what is popularly understood to be the “rule of law” have obviously been frustrated by Xi Jinping’s increasing oppression of political and civil rights and the arbitrary actions of a police state that has returned fear to the daily lives of many Chinese. The most fundamental aspect of the rule of law is protection against arbitrary detention and imprisonment and other official actions that restrict basic personal freedoms. Here, despite some legislative progress in this area, is where the current regime has ostentatiously failed to respect the rule of law in practice.
Many courageous legal reformers in China today, unable to combat the severe repression, have focused their energies on drafting better pieces of paper – legal rules – especially in the civil area where it has been possible to make progress in practice. Thus one can say that, generally speaking, the PRC has been slowly vindicating the hopes inspired by its ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Yet it is light years away from being able to credibly ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that it signed so many years ago.
At the suggestion of Ken Wasserman, instead of serving in my usual role as Grand Inquisitor of our weekly NYU U.S.-Asia Law Institute lunch guests, I submitted to an interview on Monday, fielding questions from my colleagues (video link here). I had a great time but was slightly distressed that we covered so little, even concerning the questions that we did get to discuss. I would gladly have gone on for several hours more but probably exhausted the audience, if not the subjects!
For those who may enjoy more stories, I've done 16 video memoirs, which can be watched on my website here. They encompass many interesting, fond memories of my experiences in the United States, China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and North Korea over the last five decades (and counting)!
On March 1, Asia Society hosted a program where I had a 80-minute interview with my friend, Taiwan's former President Ma Ying-jeou. You can watch the program online now (link here).
His performance was impressive and obviously appreciated by an overflow audience with diverse views. As he contemplates an important and useful future, he should not neglect occasional gigs as a stand-up comedian!
The week January 15 to 20 was a busy week in Taiwan for our ten-member committee of international human rights specialists who were invited by the ROC Government to review its progress in implementing the two major UN human rights covenants.
This was the second such review, the first having been in 2013. It was an impressive exercise and culminated in a stimulating lunch with ROC President Ms. Ing-wen TSAI. After lunch my wife, Joan Lebold Cohen, who specializes in Asian art history and photography, my very able colleague, Ms. Yu-jie CHEN, who just received her doctorate in law from NYU, and I spent another hour exchanging ideas with President Tsai. The Concluding Observations and Recommendations of the Second Review Committee can be found here.
Here is Flora Sapio’s original blog post about China’s Supreme People’s Court Chief Justice Zhou Qiang’s recent statement, which has provoked some unusual public opposition from China’s law reformers. Several aspects distinguish Zhou Qiang’s new and surprising statement.
It is much more threatening to the judicial cadres than the usual recitation about the importance of following the Party line. It focuses almost exclusively on “morality” and political reliability. Its reference to heroic historical figures is surely bizarre and suggests that the recent investigation of the Supreme People’s Court by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission must have uncovered judges’ lack of reverence for Chairman Mao as well as their continuing desire for judicial independence from Party interference. This statement is the most enormous ideological setback for decades of halting, uneven progress toward the creation of a professional, impartial judiciary. It has already provoked some of China’s most admirable law reformers and public intellectuals to speak out in defiance, and, despite their prominence, I fear not only for their careers but also for their personal safety.
I see Zhou’s statement as possibly necessary in order for Zhou Qiang, an enlightened and progressive Party leader, to have his appointment renewed by the 19th Congress. There is immense dissatisfaction among many judges, especially the younger judges, over Xi Jinping’s restrictive, anti-Western legal values being imposed on them, contrary to their largely-Western-type legal education. This comes at a time when the courts are undergoing reforms designed to reduce the numbers of officials called “judges” by as much as 60% in order to make the remaining judges more of an elite, receiving greater prestige and compensation and a better reputation for competency. Many younger officials are leaving the courts, and the procuracy too, for work in law firms, business and teaching. They do not want to spend their lives applying legal principles opposed to their largely Western-type legal education.
It’s been reported that (ex) human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who disappeared on November 21, has been placed under “residential surveillance” (RS) by Chinese police. This sad experience shows how the new provision in the 2012 Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) – Article 73 – regarding RS has been abused by the police and the Party.
My hope, rather vain in the current political climate, is that Jiang’s case will ventilate the problem of “residential surveillance” so thoroughly that it will create pressure for reform, as did Ai Weiwei’s case in 2011. At that time, if the government’s target maintained a residence in the jurisdiction of the police, the police were forbidden by Ministry of Public Security (MPS) rules to detain him in any residence but his own, i.e., to restrict him to genuine house arrest. What the police often did, however, as in Ai’s case, was to detain suspects they deemed undesirable in places designated by the police that were neither suspects’ homes nor regular police detention houses that, whatever their failings, were at least regulated by normal criminal procedures and protections. This was a plain violation of MPS regulations if the suspect maintained a local residence.
As a result of the Ai case and others that resulted in protests, when the CPL was revised in 2012 a specific provision was inserted into the new code authorizing RS “at a designated location”, i.e., in police custody, even in cases where the suspect maintained a local residence, but limiting this new authorization to three circumstances, i.e., cases involving national security, terrorism or serious bribery. As is so often the case, the relevant legislative language is vague, especially the provision that permits police to impose this six-months incommunicado sanction whenever they decide that the suspect may have committed a crime related to “national security”, an exercise of discretion that, unlike their desire to formally “arrest” someone, which must be approved by the procuracy within a 37-day period, the PRC system does not permit any other agency to review. Thus, as in Jiang’s case, all they need to do to inflict RS is assert a suspicion that the case might involve some aspect of national security.
Without even meeting any standard such as “probable cause” to believe the crime was committed by the suspect, the police detained Jiang ostensibly because he might have “incited subversion of State power”. This gives the police six months, without interference from any lawyer, family, friends or media, to subject the suspect to a whole range of pressures and punishments including torture in a highly coercive, sealed-off environment.
At the end of that very long period the police decide, based on the suspect’s degree of “cooperation” as well as other factors, whether the evidence elicited via their techniques warrants criminal prosecution in accordance with prescribed procedures leading to “arrest”, indictment, trial, conviction and sentencing. The final formal charge may indeed claim a violation of “national security” such as “subversion of State power” or merely “incitement” to such subversion. But the charge may turn out to be for a lighter offense the long incommunicado investigation of which would not have been authorized by the RS legislation.
So was the 2012 revision a reform? On the one hand, it prohibits police from giving RS in a “designated location” to a local person suspected of tax irregularities, for example, as Ai Weiwei supposedly was. On the other, it now for the first time authorizes incommunicado RS for local people any time the police choose to investigate conduct they wish to claim might constitute a type of “national security” violation (or a serious bribery or terrorism-related case). The result is that police, and the Party, now enjoy virtually unlimited freedom to arbitrarily detain and punish for six months anyone they think may be a dissident. This needs to be kept in mind when considering the progress made by the formal abolition of the police administrative punishment of “reeducation through labor”.
It should also be pointed out that Party members, who are subject to the feared Party “discipline inspection” procedures of “shuanggui”, which can extend incommunicado detention for longer periods than RS, are not immune from RS either, although it would take unpermitted empirical research to determine how often this type of RS is used against them.
China has returned the U.S. underwater drone (“unmanned underwater vehicle” or UUV) that it seized in the South China Sea last week. Plenty has been said about the illegality of China’s seizure, such as Julian Ku’s analysis here and that of James Kraska and Pete Pedrozo here. The PRC’s feeble and vague attempt to justify its action legally and the immediate move to return the drone certainly reflect its awareness of its poor legal position.
Politically China is using this incident to make the broader point of seeking to halt U.S. surveillance closer to China in what is plainly China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), whether or not the PRC’s minority legal position prohibiting EEZ surveillance is acknowledged. The UUV incident is undoubtedly an effort to remind us of PRC objections to what is really “close in” surveillance.
Obviously, the attitude of the Trump administration will be crucial in determining whether the U.S. and China are headed toward military conflict. The U.S. government should devise plans for a more vigorous effort to negotiate detailed understandings about UUV and other surveillance activities. The PRC is likely to continue its resistance to such efforts unless it decides to follow Russia’s example by belatedly acceding to the majority rule permitting EEZ surveillance. Such a change in principle is unlikely in the foreseeable future because of the immediate importance to the PRC of insulating from American scrutiny the movements of its submarines in the South China Sea and because the tides there seem to be moving in China’s favor at the moment.
There is also the broader and even more dangerous problem America faces of continuing to protect Taiwan’s security as tensions mount in the Taiwan Strait. The Taiwan and South China Sea issues are related since they both involve the major question of the extent of the U.S. government’s continuing involvement in East Asia. Will there be any possibility of serious negotiations with Beijing on these matters in the near term? First, the U.S. government will have to prepare a strategy, one that will have the backing of a divided American people long tired of foreign wars but aware of East Asia’s importance to our security, of our accomplishments in the post-WW II era and of our values.
Reports about human rights advocates in China suffering in detention and abuse such as this one on Hada, an Inner Mongolian dissident and this one on rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang certainly inspire feelings of sadness and even hopelessness. Yet the odd thing is that many Chinese human rights lawyers and other advocates continue to enter the fray, even though now fully aware of the potential consequences. Efforts are gradually being made to learn what makes them tick. Infectious Western political ideology? Religion, Eastern or Western? The psychology of martyrdom?
Some even now maintain that the numbers of human rights activists are growing, a claim that is plainly difficult to verify. It all reminds me of the situation in South Korea in the ‘70s under General Park while China was still in Cultural Revolution. The late Kim Dae-jung seemed to be motivated by Jeffersonian democracy, indeed believed that the tree of liberty has to be periodically nourished by the blood of patriots, and was prepared to die for the cause, as he almost did on at least three occasions. He was also a devout Roman Catholic and strongly supported by his highly religious wife. South Korea, well over a decade later, experienced a stressful but largely peaceful revolution, and Dae-jung was liberated, vindicated and empowered.
Prospects for his Chinese heirs seem very gloomy at present. Yet, as we mark International Human Rights Day today, we should admire them, wish them well and hope that the UN Declaration on Human Rights, which was adopted with considerable pre-1949 Chinese input, will soon prevail in China too.
Here’s the video of my talk on November 22 with Scott Savitt about his new book, Crashing the Party, An American Reporter in China, which I highly recommend. Thanks to the China Institute in America for hosting the event and recording it.
China plainly cannot be happy with this direct telephone contact between Taiwan’s President Tsai and President-elect Trump. Of course, Trump is not yet president, so the contact can be regarded as unofficial. Yet it suggests the possibility that the Trump administration may to some extent alter the long-standing policy of the U.S. Government of not maintaining official contact with the Taiwan government.
Pressures have been building during the Obama era to abandon the strict US policy of not permitting the president and vice president of Taiwan to do more than transit the U.S. Indeed, I have advocated allowing them free access to every place in America except Washington, D.C., especially since the current rule restricts my freedoms of speech, information and association unnecessarily and undesirably. A similar rule has prevented the highest American officials from visiting Taiwan, again an inappropriate restriction, especially when the security of Taiwan will soon become a major issue in Sino-American relations once again.
Of course, administrations often change course in light of events. In April 2001 I recall watching George W. Bush, as part of what appeared to be a pugnacious stance toward China, declare on TV at the outset of his administration that he would do ”whatever it takes” to defend Taiwan. Once 9/11 occurred, his administration moved much closer to the People’s Republic and began to avoid provocative statements.