Senator Max Baucus
Chairman, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Remarks at Press Conference Releasing Annual Report
October 2, 2002
Good morning. Thank you all for coming. This morning, we are releasing the first annual report of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. I am joined by Cong. Doug Bereuter, the Co-Chair of the Commission, along with some of the other Congressional and Administration members. Most of us will have a few comments, and then we will open it up to questions.
There are deep divisions in the Congress about many aspects of our relationship with China. With passage of PNTR two years ago, the Congress, and the country, declared that economic engagement was important -- in terms of our own economic and strategic interests and our ability to promote and encourage change inside China. The Commission was created in the PNTR legislation to ensure that concerns about human rights and rule of law issues in China would continue to have a high priority in our government -- in Congress and in the Administration. That is why it includes members from both branches.
The Commission membership itself reflects the broad range of views of China within the Congress. Yet we were able to develop a report that is supported by an overwhelming majority of our members. The vote in the Commission was 18 to five in favor of the report.
Let me turn to the report itself. This is the most comprehensive document produced by Congress on human rights in China. It pulls no punches in describing current human rights conditions in China. And it recommends actions to Congress and to the Administration that we believe will help promote change in China.
The underlying assumption of the report is that human rights cannot be enjoyed without a legal structure to protect those rights. Although China protects many rights on paper, this is often not the case in practice.
This is a time of uncertainty in China as they adjust to their WTO membership, go through a political transition with the senior leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the government, and face increasing demands from their citizens for greater economic, social, religious, and political freedom.
In fact, the last 20 years has seen a period of profound change inside China -- economic reform and the development of a market economy, decentralization of power, individual Chinese citizens gaining more individual autonomy and personal freedom. Yet the government continues to resist political liberalization and suppresses any threat to the Communist Party's grip on power. There are no free labor unions; all religious groups must register with the government and submit to its control; the media and Internet are restricted; there is tight control in minority ethnic regions.
The United States has limited means to influence change within China. The Chinese people, ultimately, must determine how they want to be governed and under what conditions. But we can help contribute to improving the situation inside China.
Let me stress that we are not seeking to impose American standards on China. But, from the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, to the International Labor Organizations' Declaration on Fundamental Principles, China has agreed to respect internationally recognized human rights for its citizens. Our desire is that the Chinese government abide by the terms of these international commitments, as well as the guarantees enshrined in China's Constitution and laws. That is the standard we, and others around the world, need to encourage -- constantly.
Our report stresses that the United States must take a dual approach.
First, we need to pursue high-level advocacy on core human rights issues and cases of individuals who are denied their fundamental rights. The President, senior Administration officials, and members of Congress, should raise these issues at every opportunity. It also means multilateral advocacy. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights has many tools at its disposal. The ILO is becoming increasingly involved in labor rights issues in China. We need to work with other nations to pressure China in these areas.
Second, we need to provide increased technical and financial assistance to help build a legal system in China that protects human rights. Elements of this include training lawyers and judges to build a more professional legal system; promoting grassroots legal aid so Chinese women, workers, and farmers will understand their rights and how they can try to assert them; assisting with the drafting of new laws and regulations; teaching about experiences in other countries in the West, in Asia, in the former Soviet states, regarding how they dealt in a non-authoritarian way with some of the economic, social, and political problems that confront China today; providing currently unavailable information to the average Chinese using radio, cable, and the Internet; and working with nascent Chinese NGOs who are trying to deal with the staggering social and economic challenges in China.
The range of issues is huge. This past year, our Commission examined some of the major areas of human rights and rule of law, including religious freedom, labor rights, free press and the Internet, Tibet, and the criminal justice system. Next year, we will continue to pursue these problems and address many others, including the role of foreign companies in Chinese society, women's rights which includes the one-child policy, HIV/AIDs, and the 2008 Olympics and human rights, to name just a few.
I am pleased with the scope and quality of this report. It adds to our understanding of human rights in China and provides a useful action plan for the Congress and the Administration.
Let me turn to my friend and Co-Chair, Representative Doug Bereuter, for his comments.