China (includes Tibet)

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The government's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas. During the year the government increased its severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in Tibetan areas, and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR). The government increased detention and harassment of dissidents and petitioners, and maintained tight controls on freedom of speech and the Internet. The government continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, activists, and defense lawyers, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law. The government applies vague and overly broad criminal and administrative provisions of the law to justify detentions based on participation in peaceful social, political, or religious activities and prevented groups from organizing or acting independently of the government or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Workers cannot choose an independent union to represent them in the workplace. Authorities interfere frequently with legal proceedings, intimidating attorneys, or witnesses, in politically sensitive cases, including by threatening to charge attorneys or witnesses with crimes, revoking lawyer's licenses, and closing down law firms that represent sensitive clients. 

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States will continue to urge China to adhere to international standards of human rights and to protect its citizens' constitutional rights by raising individual cases as well as advocating systemic change. Key programmatic elements aim to promote the rule of law, strengthen the judicial system, improve public participation and transparency in governance, bolster civil society, and preserve minority communities and culture.

The United States employs multiple diplomatic and public diplomacy strategies to promote human rights and democracy, making clear that progress in these areas is in China's interest. U.S. officials publicly and privately urge the government to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international standards, to make systemic reforms, and to release prisoners of conscience. The United States encourages the government to strengthen the country's judicial system and strengthen the rule of law; encourage democratic political reform; promote freedom of religion and the press; protect human rights, including the rights of workers and women; improve transparency in governance; and strengthen civil society.

The United States publicly and privately urges the government to carefully distinguish between those seeking to express peaceful political dissent and those engaged in terrorism. U.S. officials also press the government not to repatriate forcibly North Korean refugees and to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to this vulnerable population. The United States urges the government to put an end to coercive elements of its birth limitation program.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
In May 2008 the United States participated in the first round of a formal bilateral Human Rights Dialogue since 2002. U.S. officials emphasized how the impartial application of an objective body of law, without political interference, could help China deal with the challenges it faces as well as create a more just and stable society.
As part of its efforts to promote legal reform, urge progress on rule of law, and encourage judicial independence, the United States funds projects designed to provide legal technical assistance, assist efforts to reform the country's criminal code, strengthen legal education, support judicial independence, improve access to legal representation, and enable average citizens to find the information necessary to seek protection under the law. For example, a U.S.-supported project provides training for prosecutors on trial skills consistent with international standards, and complementary projects focus on techniques for defense attorneys. Another program enables a U.S. federal prosecutor to encourage criminal justice reform through interaction with the country's academic community and the government. This U.S. official lectures at government training institutions and universities on issues ranging from search and seizure to compelling witness testimony at trial, and participates in international and domestic anticorruption conferences. In addition, U.S. officials coordinate programs for federal and state judges and other legal experts to discuss trial and criminal procedure reform, discovery and evidence rules, prison reform, and other rule of law issues with Chinese judges, lawyers, officials, and academics. The U.S. Government also supports a partnership between U.S. and Chinese universities to help promote legal and justice system reform; to enhance the rule of law; and to improve access to legal representation for disenfranchised people in the country. The U.S. Speakers Program supports these efforts by sponsoring U.S. speakers' travel to the country to discuss rule of law issues. Approximately one-third of all citizens sent to the United States to participate in various professional exchange programs worked in democracy and rights-related fields or in areas related to religion. U.S. exchange programs devote significant resources to promotion of the rule of law. For example, one program includes opportunities for established scholars in the legal field to undertake independent, advanced research at U.S. universities, and for U.S. professors to serve in residence at top Chinese law schools and lecture at leading legal training institutions.
The United States supports programs to increase popular participation in government and foster the development of local elections. U.S. programs support grassroots democratization efforts through training elected village officials and deputies to local legislatures. The U.S. government supports projects that increase the capacity of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to address societal needs, expand access for marginalized citizens to legal services, and enable citizens to provide input individually and collectively into public decisions. U.S. officials frequently raise concerns with the government over restrictions on NGOs, emphasizing the important contributions NGOs can make in addressing pressing social issues. 

The U.S. government supports seminars and training on international standards for free expression, reaching out to journalists, lawyers, judges, and lawmakers. Visiting officials discuss the need for greater Internet and press freedom. U.S. officials also repeatedly raise the cases of detained journalists and citizens in public remarks and in private meetings with senior government officials. U.S. officials work with Chinese Internet portals and media organizations to expand the nature and quality of discussion on many topics including trade, clean energy development, and the U.S. electoral process.

The United States promotes compliance with international labor standards. U.S. officials also monitor compliance with the 1992 U.S.-China Memorandum of Understanding and 1994 Statement of Cooperation that prohibit the importation of products of forced or prison labor, and investigate allegations of forced child labor, but they receive very limited cooperation from the government. The United States supports programs to combat human trafficking and promote HIV/AIDS education in the workplace. The United States and the government conduct exchanges on coal mine safety, occupational safety and health, wage and hour administration, and administration of private pension programs. The United States funds programs that support technical cooperation on dispute resolution and help develop the capacity of local organizations involved in rights protection and legal aid for workers.


The government's human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during 2008. On March 14 and 15, rioting occurred in Lhasa after security officials used force to arrest some initially peaceful protesters, including monks. This resulted in the deaths of Tibetans, Hui, and Han Chinese. Unrest spread to other Tibetan areas, prompting a major security deployment and a virtual media blackout in the affected areas. Since the unrest, the United States has urged the government to exercise restraint, calling upon all sides to refrain from violence, and has continued to advocate vigorously for improvements in human rights conditions in the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China. The United States consistently presses for unfettered access to Tibet by journalists, diplomats, and other international observers, and calls for the release of all prisoners of conscience and for the proper treatment of all detainees. U.S. officials continue publicly to urge China to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama's representatives and to end repressive policies that played a role in triggering the recent unrest. U.S. government officials at all levels continue to raise individual human rights cases involving Tibetans, including the status of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.