Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s committee briefing entitled “Congressional-Executive Commission on China: 2011 Annual Report”:
Thank you Madam Chairman for calling this hearing.
As you pointed out, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China was established in the year 2000 as part of the legislation that granted permanent normal trade relations to China, and it now plays a key role in tracking human rights conditions and the development of the rule of law in China.
The Commission and the report that it issues every year serve as valuable resources for not only Congress, but for a much broader audience that wants to understand what’s happening in China on these critical issues.
Under the leadership of its teo co-chairs – Representative Chris Smith and Senator Sherrod Brown – the Commission’s recent report makes clear those human rights conditions in China remain a significant concern. While China’s remarkable economic progress over the past 30 years has lifted millions of its citizens out of poverty, the unfortunate fact remains that these economic achievements have not led to commensurate gains in political freedoms and human rights for the Chinese people.
The Commission’s report goes into great detail on a broad range of issues that are of vital importance, including freedom of expression, religious freedom, worker rights, rule of law, ethnic minorities, and democratic governance.
The report notes that China’s record on human rights and rule of law has not improved, but instead has worsened in some areas. Even more troubling, the report states that the Chinese government has grown more assertive in the violation of human rights, disregarding the laws and international standards that it claims to uphold while tightening its grip on Chinese society.
Specifically, the Commission’s report found that Chinese authorities instituted a major crackdown on Internet and press freedom starting last February after the appearance of online calls for “Jasmine” protests in China following the outbreak of demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.
In Tibet, Xinjiang, and other minority areas, China’s government continued to promote policies threatening the viability of the language and culture of these groups. The report also notes that China implements industrial policies which are inconsistent with its commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization and are incompatible with the rule of law.
Promoting human rights and political freedom is a key tenet of U.S. foreign policy, and these universal values must remain a central focus in our relationship with Beijing.
Some might argue that emphasizing human rights conflicts with other priorities in our bilateral relations, such as Iran, North Korea, trade, and many other issues. But as Americans, we should not simply check our morals at the door.
Regrettably, China’s unelected leaders fail to recognize that greater human rights protections are also in China’s self-interest. Repression, as we have most recently seen in the Middle East, ultimately causes people to rebel against their oppressors. If there is one thing Chinese leaders care the most about, it is domestic tranquility. Their current policies can only result in that which they fear the most: domestic turmoil. Ultimately, China’s international image and economic growth are dependent on developing a society based on the respect for the rule of law and the rights of the Chinese people.
I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses and in discussing ways the United States can help improve the deplorable human rights situation in China.