The report also details considerable risks Chinese citizens took to express their dissatisfaction with abuses. One of the more dramatic public challenges involved attempts by dozens of Chinese citizens to visit the illegally detained human rights defender Chen Guangcheng in Shandong province. Since Chen’s release from prison on September 9, 2010, on a politically-motivated conviction for “disrupting traffic,” he and his family have been illegally detained in their home and reportedly subjected to vicious beatings for defying their captors. The security cordon around Chen’s village, manned by plainclothes thugs who appear to operate at official behest, apparently have detained, beaten and subjected to illegal search and seizure many of those who tried to visit him. In another expression of public solidarity, thousands of Chinese citizens raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in November 2011 to help pay the US$2.4 million tax bill imposed on the activist Ai Weiwei by Beijing municipal tax authorities.
Despite the Chinese government’s well-documented attack on human rights defenders and civil society activists in recent years, in July 2011, the Chinese government declared its National Human Rights Actions Plan (2009-2010) a resounding success. It remains unclear whether the follow up action plan and other rhetorical commitments to better rights protections and the rule of law will be adequate responses to rising public anger. More than 100,000 “mass incidents” or protests are estimated to occur annually in China and the Chinese government now budgets more funds for “social stability maintenance” than national defense.
Few foreign governments gave as much attention to the crackdown in China or to the Chinese government’s failures to honor international human rights obligations as they did to economic or security concerns. At several points during 2011, American, European, and United Nations officials expressed concerns about particular developments, but consistently failed to link those concerns to broader bilateral relations or make them an unavoidable topic in all high-level interactions with Chinese officials. As a result, the Chinese government feels little pressure to change.
“It is incumbent on all those with a stake in China’s future to prioritize helping end human rights abuses in that country, rather than occasionally speaking up about a few particularly egregious cases,” said Richardson. “The Chinese government will only be a truly reliable partner when it respects the rule of law and the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association.”