Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mainland China, Cuba & the United States: Are Normalized relations with Totalitarian States Normal?

Mainland China, Cuba & the United States

Are Normalized relations with Totalitarian States Normal?

By John Suarez

“Many activists and academics actually feel frustrated that the Western press debate whether Chinese people "want" free speech, because they feel it's hurting the movement. It is more comfortable for the West to know Chinese people don't want freedoms ... it's easier to do business with them. ... There are historical precedents of projecting contentment and lack of resentment onto a voiceless and silent population in order to keep the current power structure -- [both by] those in power and [the] business interests of those who deal with them.” - Yan Sham-Shackleton[1]

“The citizens of Cuba continue to be excluded, in law and in practice, from the freedoms of expression and press, the freedom of association, the freedom to travel, of the right to own your own business and the right to free elections. The oppression and culture of fear that prevail are key instruments in the relation between the authorities and the citizens. It would be abnormal for relations to be normalized in these conditions of exclusion and absence of rights suffered by Cubans. The dialogue between the European Union and the Cuban government must orient itself towards positive results, including an opening and not accepting this lack of rights as a normal situation. Presenting the dialogue itself as an achievement, still without any real results, encourages inflexibility and denies the objectives of the dialogue.” - Oswaldo Paya Sardiñas[2]

The debate over Cuba policy often arrives at the question why don’t we treat Cuba like we treat China? The question at first is counterintuitive the People’s Republic of China is a huge country with a population of 1.3 billion people and a land area of 3,704,427 square miles and an Asian regional power now projecting itself internationally with close economic relations with the world and the United States while the Republic of Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean with a population of 11.4 million people and a land area of 42,803 square miles and a regional power who in the past projected itself both regionally and internationally at the height of the Cold War and today struggles to remain relevant as other regional powers outshine it. Nevertheless these two regimes on opposite sides of the world, but ideologically Marxist Leninist share some similarities. First both regimes came to power through violent means China in 1949 and Cuba in 1959. Both regimes had ruthless, charismatic figures who ruled with an iron fist: Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro. Mao Zedong ruled from October 1, 1949 until his death on September 9, 1976 and Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba from January 1, 1959 until the present date. Both have sought to undermine international human rights standards and have collaborated in order to carry it out. Defenders of the current economic and foreign policy to China argue that human rights have improved because of the policy of engagement with the Chinese dictatorship both by Washington and Wall Street, and that this policy should be emulated in Cuba. Taking a closer look the argument does not hold up with the facts.

Human Rights in the People’s Republic of China Today

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch offer an assessment of a human rights situation which does not indicate substantive improvement. In addition to the harassment and prosecution of dissidents and human rights defenders, persecution of religious believers, the use of re-education-through-labor and arbitrary detention, forced confessions arrived at through torture in the legal system, systematic political censorship of media and internet content, executions and the trafficking of prisoners organs for transplants one also finds that economic rights are also systematically violated forced child labor (including in state schools), large-scale forced-evictions and involuntary resettlements to make way for infrastructure projects, forced-abortions and forced sterilization of Chinese women, illegal land seizures by corrupt officials, discrimination against rural citizens formalized by a household registration system, and ethnic genocide of Tibetans in Tibet and Uighurs in Xinjiang.[3]

According to Amnesty International the Chinese authorities consider death penalty statistics to be a state secret, and refuse to make public national statistics on death sentences and executions. The Dui Hua Foundation estimates that between 5,000 and 6,000 executions were carried out in 2007 alone.[4] In addition Amnesty International has documented how the scope of the death penalty has been expanded “for example, following amendments to the Criminal Law in December 2001, the death penalty can be applied to vaguely-defined offences of funding or carrying out "terrorist crimes", and for belonging to a "terrorist organization", even if actual membership has involved no other crime.”[5]

The controversial one child policy was introduced by the government in 1979. According to 2007 statistics males make up 51.53%; and females 48.47% of the population[6] The Dying Rooms[7] and Return to the Dying Rooms broadcast in 1995 and 1996 respectively offered a variety of sources (human rights organizations, doctors who had fled China armed with photographs) which corroborated the claims made in the documentary that Chinese orphanages were in effect dying rooms in which newborns and young children starved to death.[8] But the most telling evidence came from government records themselves that document how many of the children in their care have died, and how long it took them and they called it a "Summary Resolution".[9]

The September 28, 2008 Sunday Times headline read “China’s elite eat pure food as babies die” pointing out how Chinese children were dying from tainted milk while the country’s communist elite were dining on pure organic ingredients.[10] While there is evidence of wealth generation in China there are profound questions as to how it is impacting the overall population versus a small elite[11].

In addition to civil and political a rights there is ample evidence that economic and social rights under an autocratic government are systematically violated. According to Minxin Pei, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace specializing in China's domestic politics:

In China, government officials can use their power to gain important advantages over ordinary citizens. For example, officials can grant business licenses and sweetheart real estate deals to their family members or friends. They can also place their relatives in high-paying jobs. This phenomenon of "marketization of power" is economically inefficient and socially unjust. At the same time, because only a relatively small proportion of the population can gain such favors, the vast majority of the Chinese people -- workers and farmers -- are denied an equitable share of the fruits of economic reform. The real situation is even worse because workers and peasants are now bearing most of the costs of reform, such as rising unemployment and declining rural income. Cumulatively, such economic and social costs are reflected in the rising inequality in China. According to various estimates, China today is perhaps the most unequal society in East Asia and has experienced the most rapid increase in income inequality in history. As a result, those who are losing ground in economic reform are now falling into poverty. The Chinese government admits that there are 30 million poor people in urban areas today -- a decade ago, the concept of "urban poor" did not exist. There is a clear nexus between delayed political opening and rising inequality in China. A closed political system allows a small group of elites, as in Suharto's Indonesia, to maximize their personal gains by using the power of the state. On the other hand, disenfranchised social groups are denied the means to protect their social and economic interests.[12]

Unlike China, Cuba’s systematic violation of human rights has been closely examined on numerous occasions at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights[13] and at the United Nations Human Rights Commission and numerous resolutions calling into account Cuba’s human rights record have passed. This led to a special UN rapporteur on Cuba investigating and reporting on the human rights situation there.[14],[15] There is ample documentation from the earliest years of the communist dictatorship in Cuba of mass executions, torture, extrajudicial killings, and the exporting of these practices to other countries in Latin America[16], Africa[17], and Asia[18]. Reports on the merits have been prepared that document the extrajudicial killings of 41 men, women and children on the July 13, 1994 tugboat sinking[19] and the February 24, 1996 Brothers to the Rescue shoot down[20] by agents of the Cuban government. In addition there is a report on the merits on the mass imprisonment of 75 Cuban prisoners of conscience following summary trials.[21]

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists as of December1, 2008 China had 28 imprisoned journalists the largest number in the world followed second by Cuba with 21 journalists behind bars and third was Burma with 14.[22]

The human rights challenges outlined above are systemic and permitted by law in both countries. Despite the long list of rights listed in both the Chinese and Cuban Constitutions both governments are Marxist Leninist dictatorships and therefore all rights and freedoms are conditioned upon not being contrary to socialism, the “democratic dictatorship” or infringing on the interests of the state. Dissent is illegal.

In the Chinese Constitution of 1982 this is summed up in two Articles:

Article 1. The People's Republic of China is a socialist state under the people's democratic dictatorship led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and peasants. The socialist system is the basic system of the People's Republic of China. Sabotage of the socialist system by any organization or individual is prohibited. [23]

Article 51. The exercise by citizens of the People's Republic of China of their freedoms and rights may not infringe upon the interests of the state, of society and of the collective, or upon the lawful freedoms and rights of other citizens.[24]

While in the Cuban Constitution of 1992 it is found succinctly in Article 62 which declares:

None of the freedoms which are recognized for citizens can be exercised contrary to what is established in the Constitution and by law, or contrary to the existence and objectives of the socialist state, or contrary to the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Violations of this principle can be punished by law.[25]

Political Engagement

First let us examine the impact of Washington’s engagement with the Chinese government. In 1978 the United States normalized relations with China. A decade later on June 4, 1989 the Chinese dictatorship engaged in a massive crackdown killing 3,000 Chinese students and workers who had been non-violently protesting in Tiananmen Square. One month later on July 4, 1989 George H.W. Bush sent a secret high level delegation to meet with the Chinese regime and join with them in celebrating American Independence while downplaying any pro-forma criticisms made by the Administration. Candidate Bill Clinton would critique this de-linkage of human rights and commercial interests only to continue the practice during his own administration. This reached a symbolic low point in 1996 when the General responsible for the 1989 massacre was received at the White House with an honor guard.

What do Chinese human rights activists have to say about the state of human rights in China today? Both Harry Wu and Wei Jingsheng have been recognized by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial as Speak Truth to Power Defenders. Harry Wu offers a brief analysis of the overall human rights situation in China over the past five decades:

“Let me tell you a story of the three W’s: Wu, Wei, Wang Dan. I am the first "W." In 1957, while attending university in Beijing, I spoke out against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary. For this I was labeled a "counterrevolutionary" and sentenced to life in the laogai, the Chinese term for gulag. Ultimately, I gave nineteen years of my life to that system. In 1979, the year I was released, the West was applauding China for opening up. Mao was dead, the Cultural Revolution was over, and it seemed that Deng Xiaoping would herald a new era for China. But that same year, the second "W," Wei Jingsheng, was imprisoned for expressing himself, for calling for the fifth modernization of democracy for China. In 1989, when I was in the United States and Wei was serving the tenth year of his sentence, another young man, Wang Dan, was imprisoned for his role in the student democracy movement. The Chinese government imprisoned each of us in three different decades for peacefully expressing our opinions; we all received second sentences in the 1990s. With respect to individual rights, not much has changed since 1957.”[26]

Wei Jingsheng describes how the jailers used the policy of engagement to demoralize Chinese democrats:

“The second time I was in jail, before I was officially given a fourteen-year sentence, some of my jailers said, "What’s the point of you fighting like this? Your so-called friends in the United States are very good friends with our leader. They are in a pact together. You are wasting your time." At the time I refused to believe them. But, now that I am outside, I am forced to believe because I have seen it with my own eyes.”[27]

Wei offers an alternative approach to engagement with tyranny arguing that:

“If you do not fight tyranny, the tyrants will never let you have an ordinary life. You must either surrender to them, or you dedicate your life to something greater. I try to reach people in the democracies, asking them to call upon their governments to see the Chinese Communist government as it really is. I haven’t been successful yet, but at least this work has begun.”[28]

Both the Bush and Clinton Administrations placed human rights on the backburner in exchange for a realpolitik policy. Human Rights Watch in their 1989 report outlines the Bush Administration’s approach towards downplaying the Tiananmen Square massacre:

The Bush administration's policy toward China has been one of maintaining relations at any cost and sacrificing human rights in the process. […] The Bush administration, however, has raised hypocrisy to new heights by coupling public expressions of concern with behind-the-scenes efforts to patch things up with those responsible for the slaughter and arrests following the June 4 crackdown. The symbolism of a top-level U.S. delegation meeting in secret on the Fourth of July with the Chinese leadership who crushed the democracy movement, and again on International Human Rights Day, December 10, will stand as the hallmark of the Bush administration's human rights policy in 1989.[29]

In 1992 the Governor Bill Clinton said that he would use trade sanctions to put pressure on the Chinese to respect human rights, and then candidate Clinton went further criticizing "Mr. Bush's ambivalence about supporting democracy and his eagerness to befriend potentates and dictators” [30] Nevertheless President Clinton on December 9, 1996 hosted with full honors General Chi Haotian the man who on June 4, 1989 gave the orders to massacre students and workers in Tiananmen Square.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, now Speaker Pelosi, courageously challenged the leader of her party explaining in great detail the objections to the official visit:

My objection is not to the visit of Chinese Defense Minister General Chi Haotian, but to our country giving full military honors to the person who was in operational command over the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and who directed the Chinese government's military threats against the Taiwanese people during their elections. At the same time that President Clinton will not meet with any of the Chinese dissidents or have an official meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, he has an official meeting with the person who crushed and continues to crush dissent in China and Tibet. With its actions, the Clinton Administration has given great face to the hardliners in the Chinese regime. General Chi oversaw the massacre of civilians in Tiananmen Square who rallied around the symbol of our democracy, the Statue of Liberty. These people responded to our ideals, they were crushed, and now we honor those who crushed them.[31]

Economic Engagement

The case for economic engagement is succinctly made by Carl Hiaasen in a April 12, 2009 opinion piece: “nothing promotes capitalism as effectively as saturating a place with products, services, and entertainment supplied by a capitalist system” in short “Capitalism works.”[32] A.M. Rosenthal in another opinion piece for the New York Times, written the last time a vigorous debate was underway on sanctions toward Cuba, made the following observation: “By itself, capitalism can operate in a dictatorship. It did in Nazi Germany, in Imperial Japan and in Saddam's Iraq. Now it is at work in China, overseen by the Communists, and in a dozen other dictatorships.”[33] Rosenthal went on to ask two critical questions at the heart of trade with dictatorships like China’s and Cuba’s:

Do U.S. businesses have the moral and political right to transfer the fruits of democratic capitalism, which come from the efforts of the entire American population, workers as well as C.E.O.'s, to strengthen a dictatorship so that it can more efficiently control and persecute its own entire population? Or do they have the obligation to try to use the lure of capitalist investment to bring some liberty to the people of the dictatorships -- who will be making for Americans any profit they take out?[34]

Fourteen years later there is a record and an answer to the above questions and the rest of this paper will seek to offer a brief overview of actions taken by business and policy makers and their impact.

The ideal of the market economy was never fulfilled because it did not serve specific interests. What is called capitalism today, especially in its Chinese mainland manifestation, is a distorted, twisted and deformed system of limited market relationships as well as market processes hampered and repressed by powerful centralized state controls and regulations. And overlaying this entire system are the ideologies of mercantilism, Marxism Leninism, and Militarism.[35] The Peoples Liberation Army in China and Revolutionary Armed Forces in Cuba are at the center of this “capitalist system”

Subsidized trade

Unfortunately in the real world the free market does not operate separately from the sphere of politics. For example in 1996 the executive branch signed off on a $120 million low-interest loan to the China National Nuclear Power Corporation (CNNP)[36] from the Export-Import Bank. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) is the official export credit agency of the United States. Its mission is to assist in financing the export of U.S. goods and services to international markets.[37] For this loan to be approved the President had to sign a letter saying the loan was in the national interest of the United States. This despite an administration finding weeks before that CNNP had transferred nuclear-weapons materials to Pakistan. What national interest was served? Ex-Im Bank justified the loan from taxpayers because an American-based company. Bechtel was providing goods and services in building the plant. Also the family that runs the company had donated more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions over the last six elections to both Republicans and Democrats.[38] During a debate over the Export-Import Bank in the Congress in 1999 it was revealed that the People’s Republic of China received $5.9 billion the largest amount of money from this institution granted to another country.[39] This is government subsidized trade guaranteed by the US taxpayer.

A militarized economy with a civilian face

The Rand Corporation in its analysis of China’s Information Technology firms in the report “A New Direction for China's Defense Industry” outlines how “in dealings with foreign multinationals the major players in telecommunications—Huawei, Datang, Zhongxing, and Great Dragon (Julong)—appear to be independent, private-sector actors. Many of the electronics firms are grouped under ostensibly commercially oriented conglomerates, such as China Electronics Corporation. However, one does not need to dig too deeply to find “that many of these electronics companies are the public face for, sprang from, or are significantly engaged in joint research with state research institutes under the Ministry of Information Industry, defense-industrial corporations, or the military. Indeed, each of the “four tigers” of the Chinese telecommunications equipment market (Huawei, Zhongxing, Datang, and Julong) originated from a different part of the existing state telecommunications research and development infrastructure, often from the internal telecommunications apparatus of different ministries or the military. These connections provide channels for personnel transfers, commercialization of state-sponsored R&D (“spin-off”), and militarization of commercial R&D (“spin-on”). Huawei Shenzhen Technology Company. Huawei was founded in 1988 by Ren Zhengfei, a former director of the PLA General Staff Department’s Information Engineering Academy, which is responsible for telecom research for the Chinese military.”[40] The Castro brothers have a similar although more centralized and personal arrangement with “Grupo de Administracion Empresarial SA (GAESA), or the Business Administration Group” at the international level and Gaviota S.A.the island’s hotel conglomerate at the national level and all run by the Cuban military [41]

China and MFN

Beginning in 1980 China was granted Most Favored Nation status and following the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 Congress began an annual review to decide if the People’s Republic of China was to be granted MFN status for the following year. At the time MFN status had been tied to the improvement of China’s human rights record. ‘MFN’ was replaced by the term ‘Normal Trading Relations’ (NTR) which was the same thing. In May of 2000 the House of Representatives voted to grant China ‘Permanent NTR’ status, ending the annual debate. The Senate in September 2000 voted for PNTR for China for China's entry into the World Trade Organization.[42] This completely de-linked human rights and trade with regards to China.

Wei Jingsheng described how conditioning MFN to human rights had a positive impact on living conditions for Chinese political prisoners and the negative impact of de-linking human rights and trade for dissidents and political prisoners:

The reason that a representative of the highest level of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) met with me in 1994 was that many in the inner circles of the CCP believed that I could influence the future of MFN, due to my meeting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Among the conditions which were promised to me at that time, some were met very faithfully. Even though I had been illegally taken into custody, they scrupulously fulfilled two agreements: one was the freeing of Wang Juntao, Chen Ziming and several other political prisoners. The other was that after I agreed to their conditions they would not arrest my associates, including Wang Dan, Liu Nianchun, Liu Xiaobo and many others who fell within the protective scope of the agreement.


Because U.S. President Clinton decoupled MFN from human rights considerations, many people inside the CCP decided that there was no need to continue to keep the promises they had made. I found out in prison that the treatment of political prisoners followed the political atmosphere, changing as the atmosphere changed. The most important elements in the political atmosphere were U.S.-China relations and the question of MFN.

In 1994, after my secret negotiations with the CCP’s representative, I was put under house arrest in a high-level guesthouse. Living conditions were quite good, and it was possible to go out to eat in the company of a policeman, for example; the only thing I could not do was have contacts with the outside world. They were obviously planning to release me after a short time, because they were concerned that my opinion could influence the future of MFN. They had no control over the future of MFN, and so they treated me a high degree of courtesy.

But about a month after Secretary of State Christopher returned to the U.S., they suddenly sent me to a place where conditions were even harsher than in a prison. It was damp, there were no facilities for washing, and I could not even go to the toilet without being under the scrutiny of a guard. There was no access to newspapers, TV or radio. Not only did I have no contact with the outer world, but even my sources of news were cut off. This occurred because, although the delinking of MFN with human rights had not been made public, the Chinese government had already received reliable assurances of this from the American side. At the time I guessed that this was the situation, and after I came to the U.S. in 1997 I received proof that confirmed my earlier suspicions.

While the Chinese government began to lobby in the U.S. for permanent MFN status, I was sentenced to 14 years and was sent to prison. From the end of 1996 until early 1997, as lobbying for ‘‘permanent MFN status’’ for China was called for openly in the U.S. Congress, the CCP convened a meeting on politics and law, and the ranking politics and law committee member, Luo Gan, publicly called for a crackdown on resistance, hunger strikes and other activities by political prisoners. Conditions for political prisoners in China’s jails quickly became more oppressive. Almost all conditions necessary to sustain life disappeared, many more were beaten and the use of handcuffs and punishment cells became more common.


The events described above show clearly that the strategy of using MFN to put pressure on the Chinese government is highly effective. Although the lack of willpower and consistency in U.S. policy have prevented effective pressure on China to democratize, the effectiveness of the use of the MFN issue to improve conditions for political prisoners and limit arrests of dissidents has been clearly shown. [43]

Strengthening Totalitarian Control

In China, the government had a unique problem: how to keep a billion people from accessing politically sensitive Web sites, now and forever. . . .To force compliance with government objectives—to ensure that all pipes lead back to Rome—they needed the networking superpower, Cisco, to standardize the Chinese Internet and equip it with firewalls on a national scale. According to the Chinese engineer, Cisco came through, developing a router device, integrator, and firewall box specially designed for the government’s telecom monopoly.

—Ethan Gutmann: “Who Lost China’s Internet”[44]

In addition to Cisco you also find that Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft are cooperating with the Chinese in screening out search terms like freedom, democracy, and human rights. Meanwhile AOL, Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems disseminate government propaganda backing China Internet Corp., part of the state-run Xinhua news agency and Sparkice, the Canadian Internet colossus, provides only state-sanctioned news on its Web site. These corporations do not limit themselves to censorship and propaganda.

American Companies as “police informants”

Nortel provides wraparound software for voice and closed-circuit camera recognition, technology that the Public Security Bureau has already put to good use, according to the Chinese press. While others, according to Reporters Without Borders, like Yahoo serve as "police informants"[45] identifying to the Chinese authorities dissidents who use the internet to access pro-democracy information or express an opinion and end up imprisoned, tortured, or dead. For example both Wang Xiaoning (arrested in 2003) and Shi Tao (arrested in 2005) currently are each serving 10-year prison sentences in China, and are both suing Yahoo. Wang Xiaoning because Yahoo helped the Chinese government torture him by providing information that led to his arrest in September 2003 and Shi Tao has joined the lawsuit on May 29, 2007. According to USA Today, “Yahoo has acknowledged turning over data on Shi at the request of the Chinese government.” [46] Amnesty International identified 33 prisoners of conscience who had been detained in 2001-2002 for using the Internet to circulate or download information. Three have died while in custody and they are: Chen Qiulan age 47 female detained on July 2001 and died in custody on 24 August 2001; Li Changjun age 33 male detained on May 16, 2001 on a charge of subversion and died in custody on June 27, 2001; and Xue Hairong (age unknown) male detained on March 1, 2001 and sentenced to 7 years in prison reportedly died of leukemia while in custody on March 22, 2001. Amnesty International hasn’t been able to independently confirm the information about his death or if he had access to medical treatment.[47] According to Reporters Without Borders one of the 33 identified by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience Yang Zili, the founder of the “Garden of Ideas” ( arrested on March 13, 2001, was released on March 12, 2009 from Beijing No. 2 prison after completing an eight year prison sentence.[48] According to Human Rights in China in court “Yang and others protested that they had suffered severe abuse in detention, including beatings, electric shocks to the genitals, and being forced to sit upright in a fixed position for more than ten hours at a time. No investigation was ever conducted.”[49] According to Reporters Without Borders there are currently 49 cyber dissidents imprisoned in China out of a world total of 68.[50] On November 6, 2007 Yahoo executives [51]

The Third Sector: Civil Society

When the United States normalized relations with China, American civil society re-established ties with Chinese institutions. Thirty years later there are over 500 international NGOs, foundations, and governments that give more than $100 million dollars each year for projects in China.[52] Many donors and NGOs operating in China accept the official position that China is governed by the “rule of law.” Nevertheless although the Chinese legal system was formally restructured to increase its functionality in practice a lack of transparency, communist party interference, arbitrariness, and the lack of an independent judiciary indicates that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is today not governed by the rule of law. [53] According to Human Rights in China foreign funders are placing their faith on the “potentiality that far off into the future, rule of law will replace rule by man” while in the present depending on the “PRC government to place limits on itself.” [54] They also believe that reformist elements within the government, despite persecution (and purging) of reform-minded party members and officials who are charged with being “overly” outspoken, are forces for furthering reform. This is also based on the assumption that the Chinese communist party is the only force powerful enough to carry out reform.[55] This also leads to fundamental questions of scholarship being produced on the ground in China. Carsten A. Holz, a Hong Kong based academic pleads guilty to the practice and asks: “Does it matter if China researchers ignore the political context in which they operate and the political constraints that shape their work? Does it matter if we present China to the West the way the Party leadership must like us to present China, providing narrow answers to our self-censored research questions and offering a sanitized picture of China’s political system?”[56]

De-linking human rights from Civil Society

What impact does this top down and government centered approach have on human rights? According to Human Rights in China “some foreign funders seem to believe that it is advantageous or even necessary to de-link or de-emphasize human rights in the practical administration of legal reform or civil society programming in order not to jeopardize their in-country presence.” When maintaining a presence on the ground trumps emphasizing human rights then the end result can serve the status quo. For example at the micro-level the training of Chinese security forces may contribute to more professional behavior, but delinking technical assistance and human rights monitoring arms in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights creates the possibility that “training is occurring in one room while torture is being conducted in another.”[57] At the macro-level the delinking of human rights and acquiescing to operating within government proscribed spaces limits the possibility of creating an independent civil space and this self-censorship may transmit a message that “lawful and meaningful acts outside of what the PRC government is willing to tolerate are in fact not legitimate.” Instead of acting as agents of change and the pushing the envelope to expand spaces for independent civil society foreign non-governmental organizations by deemphasizing human rights would have the opposite effect and undercut independent Chinese civil society.[58]

An example of this approach where organizations dedicated to the advancement of democracy such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) meet with a governmental non-governmental organization (GONGO) such as the “China Foundation for Human Rights Development” and describe it as a meeting with a “human rights delegation.” In the IRI press release dated December 16, 2008 the foundation’s Chairman, Huang Mengfu, is identified also as the Vice-Chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, but not mentioned is that he is a member of the Communist Party of China.[59] Three weeks earlier at Harvard University Chairman Mengfu delivered remarks at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies in a lecture titled “China in My Perception” that was peppered with references to Chairman Mao Zedong quotes and a “cave dialogue” between Chairman Mao Zedong and his grandfather in 1945 in which Mao resolved to “take the road to democracy.” The speech offered an apologia for one party dictatorship as “democracy with Chinese characteristics” arguing that multiparty democracy would lead to chaos and offering examples of the failure of democracy in Africa.[60]

The Promise and Reality of Elections, Petitions and Village Self-Government

Both the Carter Center China Program and the International Republican Institute have invested time and funds in two areas: local democratic elections and to foster better governance and democratic environments in local communities. The Carter Center on its website highlights the “25 years” during which “600,000 villages across China moved toward open, competitive elections, allowing 75 percent of the nation's 1.3 billion people to elect their local leaders, equivalent to city council members in the United States.” According to the International Republican Institute (IRI) they were the first to begin working in China in 1993 and like the Carter Center also “supported the efforts of Chinese reformers in the government, academic and nonprofit sectors to promote electoral reform, good governance, the rule of law and the development of an open and vibrant civil society.” [61] Meanwhile the Carter Center arrived on the scene later operating for a decade, at the invitation of the Chinese government, “to help standardize the vast array of electoral procedures taking place in this new democratic environment and foster better governance in local communities. Today, while continuing to monitor local elections, the program is focused on rural and urban community building, and civic education about rights, laws, and political participation.”[62]

Elizabeth Dugan, Vice President of the International Republican Institute in a 2005 speech in Washington D.C. offered a brief summary of both the concerns and hopes raised with this approach: “It may be obvious that the ruling party in a one-party state isn’t apt to do things that it doesn’t believe are in its own interests. For that reason, many have argued that village elections are controlled by the Party and little more than window dressing. But there is evidence of a gap between the thinking in Beijing and events in the countryside. In some places, as villagers have voted for change, officials have responded by thwarting the ability of newly elected village officials to carry out their duties -- denying them access to bank accounts, financial records or official seals.”[63]

The promise of reform from below and the fostering of better governance and democratic environments at the local level seem to not have been met. The New York Times in a March 8, 2009 article described “black houses” or secret prisons for petitioners who flock to Beijing seeking justice. According to the article China’s petition system originated during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when commoners wronged by local officials sought the intervention of the imperial court and this tradition had been maintained through the Communist period. Corrupt officials have found a way to circumvent petitioners by kidnapping, torturing and sending them back (when they do not die in custody) after a period of detention to their home provinces.[64] According to the newspaper account:

The police in Beijing have done little to prevent such abuses. They are regularly accused of turning a blind eye or even helping local thugs round up petitioners. That raises suspicions that the central government is not especially upset about efforts to undermine the integrity of the petition system. [65]

Al Jazeera on April 27, 2009 presented gripping footage of one of these “black houses” in a report titled “China’s ‘Black Jails’ Citizens Held in Secret Prisons” where a woman could be heard screaming for help as three men silenced her after the doors closed. Following this footage a woman was interviewed who had been taken to one of these locations and she described how a cattle prod had been used on her body and that the physical mistreatment had led to her hospitalization.[66] According to the New York Time’s article this is a new technique being utilized by local officials to avoid scrutiny from the central government. [67]

Petitioning the Government for real change in China and in Cuba

On December 10, 2008, the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, more than 2000 Chinese citizens, including government officials and prominent intellectuals, signed the Charter ’08 statement calling for political and human rights reforms and an end to one-party rule.[68] The government response according to news reports has been to detain, interrogate and threaten dozens of the manifesto's original signers among them Liu Xiaobo, coauthor of Charter 08, detained on the eve of the charter's scheduled publication online remains jailed.[69] Despite the repression and control of the media and internet an additional 6,000 people have signed their names to the charter since it was drafted.[70] This is not the first time such a charter has been made public. The New York Times reports:

“In December 1978, the Fifth Modernization, a proposed liberalization of the political system to go with China’s other moves toward modernity, was posted on Beijing’s Democracy Wall — and its author was handed a 15-year prison sentence. Evidence of the document was wiped from Chinese history. Whether Charter 08 and Mr. Liu will meet similar fates remains unclear.”[71]

Attempts by Cubans to exercise their fundamental rights within the existing legal system to petition the Cuban government to reform itself have met with repression. For example, the Varela Project with 25,404 Cuban citizens’ signatures presented in 2002-2003 to the government petitioning for political and human rights reforms and [for a new electoral law in accord with international standards] was attacked by the regime both at a systematic and at an individual level.[72],[73]

In the Cuban case the dictatorship’s initial response to the request for reform was to announce its own petition drive to declare the constitution “untouchable” in a referendum equally as undemocratic as the system which the Varela Project seeks to reform. One needed to sign the government’s “petition” or risk losing their jobs or their children’s educational opportunities. On the eve of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 the dictatorship organized a nationwide crackdown arrested and condemned Cuban dissidents many of them Project Varela coordinators to up to 28 years in prison, which was the sentence handed down in a show trial to Luis Enrique Ferrer Garcia, a Varela Project coordinator; or 25 years in prison to his brother José Daniel Ferrer García, another local coordinator of the Varela Project and an independent journalist.[74] Dr. José Luis García Paneque, another coordinator of the Varela Project was sentenced to a 24 year prison sentence. Dr. Paneque is a 42 year-old surgeon.[75]

China and Cuba Undermine International Human Rights Standards

Harry Wu testifying before Congress observed that “because of China’s strong economic performance that its government has been able to resist domestic pressure to implement any meaningful political reforms. Within the international community as well, its growing economic interdependence with the rest of the world has increased China’s diplomatic clout, which the Chinese government has used to thwart criticism of its human rights record and water down international human rights norms.[76] A clear example of this took place when on February 9, 2009 when the Cuban ambassador Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios on the occasion of the universal periodic review of China recommended that China target “people who are qualifying themselves as human rights defenders with the objective of attacking the interests of [the] state and the people of China.” China accepted Cuba’s recommendation that undermines internationally recognized human rights standards and rejected recommendations from other countries to protect human rights defenders and also the recommendation of the UN Committee Against Torture on the inadmissibility in court of statements made under torture.[77],[78]

At the national level the People’s Republic of China has maintained tight control over NGOs and they work closely with the government and avoid antagonizing it.[79],[80] Internationally, China has led efforts to limit the role of NGOs at the United Nations and at other international non-governmental meetings.[81] For example on May 18, 2007 China succeeded in stripping the NGO Liberal International of its consultative status with the Economic and Social Council “on the grounds that the organization had severely abused that status on 4 March by assisting a ranking official from China’s Province of Taiwan to gain access to a meeting of the Human Rights Council.”[82]

Economic Interests and National Security

Foreign companies tried to buy market access by investing heavily in domestic R&D and joint-venture labs with “private” Chinese competitors such as Huawei, which is tightly related to China’s military, for example, has established technology-cooperation agreements or labs with Lucent, Motorola, Intel, IBM, AT&T, Texas Instruments, and Sun Microsystems. In addition to sharing lab space and agreements some corporations have agreed to transfer core technologies, such as source code, in order to secure market position. Ericsson turned over the source code to its CDMA cellular technology to its Chinese partner, as did Microsoft with the source code to Windows. [83] In an example that has additional implications for users concerned about computer viruses: “In some cases, companies have even agreed to relinquish R&D data. Network Solutions, in an effort to speed along the certification of an anti-virus product by the Ministry of Public Security’s lab, handed over 300 computer viruses to the security apparatus.” [84]

“In July of 2003, the Chinese government formed a formal and public Chinese military IT alliance including at least three U.S. firms (Network Associates, Sybase, and Luxeon), with the aim to “strengthen their hand in the lucrative defense market, as the Chinese military is reforming its purchase system by adopting the practice of government procurement.”[85],[86] China accounts for about 25 percent of the world’s market for telecommunications equipment and is expanding exponentially. Much of this growth is achieved through the Chinese government’s purchase of equipment to build its “security system.”

On the national security front narrow short term economic interests took priority over medium and long term national security concerns. One example “[o]n May 7, 1999 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a 45-page unclassified report that concluded that lax monitoring of the launching of American satellites in China and shortfalls in US intelligence assessments contributed to Beijing’s enhancing its ballistic missile fleet using American expertise.”[87] That’s how the power of capitalism can modernize a totalitarian dictatorship with the latest technological innovations to maintain and project power.

Economic sanctions and principled engagement: Soviet Union 1981-1989

Pragmatists and realists were highly critical of the Reagan Administration’s approach of mixing sanctions, confrontation, along with principled engagement in its policy towards the Soviet Union. Time Magazine in their January 1984 “Men of the Year” cover story on Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov outlined the establishment view:

“Though Reagan has learned not to say so out loud, associates say he still believes that the U.S.S.R. could be badly damaged, and forced to cut back on its military buildup, if the West cut it off from trade contacts. That is a delusion: inefficient as the Soviet civilian economy is, the Kremlin could squeeze it further to continue piling up arms.” [88]

The consensus among Sovietologists[89] that the regime was stable and long lasting that sanctions and political isolation would not work and indeed cause more harm to the United States and its relations with its allies was also reflected in the same article:

“The Soviet public will do what it is told, partly because it has no choice, but partly because it responds vigorously when it believes the motherland is being threatened. Sporadic U.S. attempts to invoke sanctions against the U.S.S.R., notably Washington's fumbling efforts to block the building of a pipeline to carry Soviet natural gas from Siberia to Western Europe, have embittered U.S. relations with NATO allies, costing Washington more than it could hope to have gained in damage to the Soviet economy.” [90]

Finally the “realist” camp sought for the United States to renounce trade sanctions against the Soviet Union arguing that it “should shift to a policy of straightforward self-interest” no doubt similar to the one pursued in China.[91] The Reagan Administration pursued a policy of principled engagement supporting democrats in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union pressing Moscow for improved respect for human rights while pressing for disarmament agreements that reduced stockpiles on both sides while at the same time pressing Western Europe to stop technology transfers and maintain sanctions on the Soviet Union to squeeze the totalitarian security and military apparatus.[92] The end result was the peaceful breaching of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the peaceful end of the Soviet Union on December 8, 1991.[93]

Cuba Policy from the perspective of a Chinese human rights expert

Harry Wu, also known as Wu Hongda, is an activist for human rights in the People’s Republic of China. He spent 19 years in Chinese labor camps, and in 1996 the Columbia Human Rights Law Review awarded Wu its Leadership in Human Rights Award an in 1996 he has also received honorary degrees from St. Louis University and the American University of Paris. In 1994 he received the first Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders and in 1991 the Freedom Award from the Hungarian Freedom Fighters' Federation. Mr. Wu has testified before various United States congressional committees, as well as the Parliaments of the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, as well as the European Parliament, and the United Nations. In 2006 Harry Wu challenged organ harvesting claims at a camp in the Sujiatun district of Shenyang, Liaoning in China arguing a commitment to the truth above everything else.[94]

Taking all of the above into account Harry Wu’s analysis of Cuba and China policy on International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2002:

“There are many investments that help China and they are like blood transfusions. In contrast, Cuba has the embargo …There are many differences between China and Cuba.…Here there are approximately 1.2 million well organized Cubans in opposition to the government. On the other hand, here are a large number of Chinese, but when the president [Jiang Zemin] came to the United States; many greeted him with little red flags at the airport.”[95]

C'est pire qu'un crime; c'est une faute - Charles de Talleyrand

The United States and much of the West has pursued a policy of engagement in China since 1978 with the premise that economic investment would lead to economic and political liberalization. It has not. Instead you face a technologically modernizing totalitarian regime that is a rising power undermining both international human rights standards and political liberalization. The policy of political and economic engagement with ruthless totalitarians in China is failing. To paraphrase the great diplomat Talleyrand the policy is worse than a crime; it's a mistake. The policy in Beijing needs to be changed not copied in Havana.

[1] Yan Sham-Shackleton is an artist, writer and activist living in Hong Kong. Frontline: The Tankman April 11, 2006

[2] Payá Sardiñas, Oswaldo José y Chil Siret, Minervo Lázaro “Mensaje a la Unión Europea” A nombre del Consejo Coordinador del Movimiento Cristiano Liberación May 28, 2008

[3] Human Rights Watch “China UPR Submission” September 30, 2008

[4]Amnesty International “People’s Republic of China Amnesty International submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review Fourth session of the UPR Working Group” February 2009

[5]Amnesty International People’s Republic of China Executed "according to law"? - The death penalty in China March 22, 2004

[8] Mungello, David E Drowning girls in China: female infanticide since 1650 Rowman & Littlefield, 2008

[10] Sheridan, Michael “China’s elite eat pure food as babies die” The Sunday Times September 28, 2008

[11] Chih-Chia Hsu “The Increasingly Uneven Distribution of Wealth in Mainland China” Department of Journalism, , Ming Chuan University 2003/06/30

[12] Frontline: China in the Red: Roundtable: Round Two - Responses 2003 PBS

[13]IACHR prepared special reports on Cuba in 1983, 1979, 1976, 1970, 1967, 1963, and 1962 available here

[14]Groth, Carl-Johan Situation of human rights in Cuba 24 October 1995

[15] Groth, Carl-Johan Situation of human rights in Cuba October 7, 1996

[17]Memorandum of Conversation of SED Comrade Lamberz with Cuban Ambassador to Ethiopia, Comrade Pepe, Addis Ababa

[18]Benge, Michael D. The Cuban Torture Program: Torture of American Prisoners by Cuban Agents House International Relations Committee Chaired by Benjamin A. Gilman 11/4/99

[19] REPORT Nº 47/96 CASE 11.436 VICTIMS OF THE TUGBOAT "13 DE MARZO" vs. CUBA October 16, 1996

[20] Inter-American Commission on Human Rights REPORT Nº 86/99 CASE 11.589 ARMANDO ALEJANDRE JR., CARLOS COSTA, MARIO DE LA PEÑA, AND PABLO MORALES vs CUBA September 29, 1999

[21]Inter-American Commission on Human Rights REPORT Nº 67/06 CASE 12.476 OSCAR ELÍAS BISCET ET AL. vs CUBA October 21, 2006

[22]Committee to Protect Journalists “2008 prison census: 125 journalists jailed”

[23]People’s Daily Online CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA Adopted on December 4, 1982

[24]People’s Daily Online CONSTITUTION OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA Adopted on December 4, 1982

[25] Government of Cuba The Cuban Constitution (1992)

[27] Wei Jingsheng Political Participation and Imprisonment

[28] Wei Jingsheng Political Participation and Imprisonment

[29]Human Rights Watch WORLD REPORT 1989: China

[30] Friedman, Thomas Clinton Asserts Bush Is Too Eager To Befriend the World's Dictators New York Times October 2, 1992

[31] Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi Statement on Visit of Chinese Defense Minister

December 9, 1996

[32] Hiaasen, Carl “CANF makes sober proposal about U.S. policy on CubaThe Miami Herald April 12, 2009 1L

[33]Rosenthal, A.M. “On My Mind;How to Trade With CubaThe New York Times October 27, 1995

[34] Rosenthal, A.M. “On My Mind;How to Trade With CubaThe New York Times October 27, 1995

[35] Ebeling, Richard M “Historical Capitalism vs. The Free Market” Future of Freedom Foundation January 1993

[38] Carney, Timothy P “Bank Scam The House of Representatives keeps Enron on welfare” National Review May 31, 2002


[40] Evan S. Medeiros, Roger Cliff, Keith Crane, James C. Mulvenon A New Direction for China's Defense Industry Copyright 2005 RAND Corporation Pg. 217-218

[41] de Cordoba, Jose “Cuba's military puts business on front lines” The Wall Street Journal November 15, 2006 ,

[43] Jingsheng, Wei THE EFFECT OF MFN ON CHINA July 27, 1999 Congressional Record - House H6449

[44] Ethan Gutmann, “Who Lost China’s Internet,” The Weekly Standard, February 25, 2002,

[45] BBC “Yahoo 'helped jail China writer'” 7 September 2005

[46] Yahoo! sued over torture of Chinese dissident” Times Online April 19, 2007

[47] Amnesty International Document - People's Republic of China: State control of the internet in China. November 26, 2002

[48]Reporters Without Borders “Cyber-dissident Yang Zili freed on completing eight-year sentence, call for probe into how he was treated while held” March 13, 2009

[49] Human Rights in China Case Update: Beijing Intellectuals Yang Zili and Zhang Honghai Released after Eight Years in Prison March 12, 2009

[51] Mark, Roy “Yahoo Settles Jailed Chinese Journalist Lawsuit”

[52] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 22 2003

[53] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 23 2003

[54] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 24 2003

[55] Ibid

[56]Holz, Carsten A. “Have China Scholars All Been Bought?” Far Eastern Economics Review, April 2007

[57] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 28 2003

[58] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 32 2003

[59]China Daily “Huang Mengfu -- Vice-chairman of 10th CPPCC National Committee”

[60]Mengfu, Huang China in My Perception Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University Nov. 24, 2008

[61] International Republican Institute China

[62] The Carter Center China Elections and Governance

[63] Dugan, Elizabeth “Is Democracy Stirring in China?” Address to the United Nations Association-National Capital Area and the Young Professionals for International Cooperation by the Vice President of the International Republican Institute June 29, 2005 Washington, D.C.

[64] Jacobs, Andrew “Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails” The New York Times March 8, 2009

[65] Jacobs, Andrew “Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails” The New York Times March 8, 2009

[66] Al Jazeera Screams for help at China's secret 'black jails' - 27 Apr 09

[67] Jacobs, Andrew “Seeking Justice, Chinese Land in Secret Jails” The New York Times March 8, 2009

[69] Adams, Jonathan “Charter 08 worries ChinaThe Christian Science Monitor January 7, 2009

[70] MacKinnon, Mark “The most dangerous man in ChinaThe Globe and Mail May 3, 2009

[71] Wines, Michael “Beijing Memo: A Manifesto on Freedom Sets China’s Persecution Machinery in Motion” The New York Times April 30, 2009

[72]Directorio Democratico Cubano “Nomination of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas for the Nobel Peace Prize”

[74] Human Rights First “Luis Enrique Ferrer and José Daniel Ferrer García”

[75] Human Rights First “Dr. José Luis García Paneque”

[76] Wu, Harry The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission January 27, 2009 United States House of Representatives

[77] Human Rights in China “China Rejects UN Recommendations for Substantive Reform to Advance Human Rights”; HRIC Summary February 11, 2009

[78]World Organisation Against Torture “Statement by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)”

[79]Reuters “China audit of NGOs sends ripples through sector” September 1st, 2006

[80] Yongding China’s Color-Coded Crackdown” Foreign Policy October 2005

[81] Human Rights in China “Funding the Rule of Law and Civil Society” SEEDS OF CHANGE CHINA RIGHTS FORUM NO.3, pg. 26 2003


[83] Evan S. Medeiros, Roger Cliff, Keith Crane, James C. Mulvenon A New Direction for China's Defense Industry Copyright 2005 RAND Corporation Pg. 217-218

[84] Evan S. Medeiros, Roger Cliff, Keith Crane, James C. Mulvenon A New Direction for China's Defense Industry Copyright 2005 RAND Corporation Pg. 217-218

[85] Evan S. Medeiros, Roger Cliff, Keith Crane, James C. Mulvenon A New Direction for China's Defense Industry Copyright 2005 RAND Corporation Pg. 217-218

[86] “Li Jinnai Attends Ceremony of Launch of IT Firm Alliance for Military Procurement,”

Xinhua, July 30, 2003.

[87] Schmitt, Eric “Lax Monitoring Let China Improve Missiles, Panel Says” The New York Times May 7, 1999

[88] “Men of the Year: Ronald Reagan & Yuri Andropov” Time Magazine Jan. 2, 1984 pg 15,9171,921437-15,00.html

[89]Pipes, Richard “Where Sovietologists Went Wrong” History News Network 12/1/03

[90] “Men of the Year: Ronald Reagan & Yuri Andropov” Time Magazine Jan. 2, 1984 pg 15,9171,921437-15,00.html

[91] “Men of the Year: Ronald Reagan & Yuri Andropov” Time Magazine Jan. 2, 1984 pg 15,9171,921437-15,00.html

[92] Johnson, Loch K. Strategic Intelligence Volume 3: Covert Action Behind the Veils of Secret Foreign Policy pg. 128-129 Praeger Security International Multi-volume December 30, 2006

[94]Wu Hongda's Statement on the Sujiatun Concentration Camp


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