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Party Empire: China's Political System and Its Influence on UN’s Human Rights Mechanisms

On Tuesday November 6th, the UN Human Rights Council will review China's human rights record through the third cycle of Universal Periodic Review (UPR). It is an important chance to examine the  Chinese political system and its influence on UN human rights mechanisms.

For some scholars, China's government is an authoritarian or totalitarian regime, the Chinese political system is autocracy, dictatorship or the Party State. These definitions partly interpret the features of the Chinese political system. I think the “Party Empire”[1] is a more suitable name, as specified in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC), it gives the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the paramount source of power. The Party Empire attempts to root out any dissent by using an end-to-end grid of social control and the Chinese development model for expansion overseas, ensures State sovereignty and security take precedence over individual rights and fundamental freedoms.

The CCP implements a national security policy and stability maintenance system, to repress any human rights and pro-democratic activity. Under the umbrella of China’s nation, the Party Empire of Chinese imperialism has invaded and attempted to subjoin to it, Inner (or Southern) Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjing (or Eastern Turkistan) and other non-Han Chinese regions. Hong Kong has been forced into the Party Empire. The Chinese Communist Party rules Hong Kong similarly to the occupation of Tibet in the mid-1950s, at the same time, reverting to the repressive methods familiar to the former British colony. Moreover, the Party Empire has consistently denied genuine universal suffrage to the people of Hong Kong contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Chinese Constitution contains inconsistencies and contradictions, such as those between the CCP’s paramount source of power and people’s sovereignty, and the democratic dictatorship. To resolve this contradiction, the CCP cries wine but sells vinegar. For example, a provision for the “respect and protection of human rights” has been inserted into the Chinese Constitution, writing-in rights to free speech, the freedom of the press, the freedom of assembly and of association, as well as freedom of religious belief. Whereas, in reality, all human rights have been restricted and suppressed. Law, under the Party Empire, gives the CCP a monopoly of power. Chinese Assembly Law has been used as a legal means of oppression. The Cyber Security Law is used to silence online criticism. The Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law increasingly forces assimilation into Han-Chinese domination under the Party Empire. Sensitive legal cases are not heard independently by courts, but under the authority and direct supervision of the CCP’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee.

According to the legal codes in the PRC, individuals peacefully protesting, criticising the policies of the Chinese authorities or calling for Party-government transparency may all be charged as creating public disturbance. After splashing ink on a poster of Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CCP, in Shanghai, protestor Dong Yaoqiong was first detained and then sent for compulsory treatment at a psychiatric hospital in the province of Hunan, over 1,200 kilometres away. Ilham Tohti, Uighur scholar, and critic of government policy towards the Muslim minority, was charged with separatism and sentenced to life in prison. Religious groups, outside the Chinese government’s control are charged with illegal assembly or even more seriously, charged with terrorism. Having campaigned for language rights, Tibetan language advocate Tashi Wangchuk has been jailed for five years. Shen Mengyu, an employee of the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen, and another dozen labour rights activists have been forcibly disappeared after they attempted to organise an independent labour trade union. Veteran human right defenders and democracy activists, such as Qin Yongming and Hu Shigen, who established opposition parties or initiated a human rights forum, having been charged with the subversion of State power, served long-term sentence in prisons. Human rights lawyer, Wang Quanzhang has been held in a Tianjin detention centre for over three years without trial. Hong Kong is no different, over 200 participants of peaceful protests have faced criminal charges, the longest having been a seven-year prison sentence.

After the Tiananmen Massacre, the Chinese Party Empire has gradually started its own version of human rights foreign policy in order to contend with international criticism. As one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and one of the big three global powers, China plays a more influential role on the UN Human Rights Council. China led the resolution “Promoting the International Human Rights Cause through Win-Win Cooperationat the United Nations this year. The win-win means that China will win twice. It seemed that all regimes supporting China’s resolution enjoyed the collusion but people in the countries are paying with significant costs. The Chinese Party Empire is reinterpreting universal human right only as life to survival, freedom to food, human rights being subordinated to development or trade. The Chinese government has appointed government officials as independent experts into the UN’s Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, and the UN treaty bodies. Additionally, the Chinese government has labelled Chinese government-organised organisations as non-governmental organisations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council, in order to occupy space in the organs of UN human rights mechanisms and water down the pressure over pending issues on violation of human rights. Meanwhile, the Chinese authority has prevented NGOs criticising the Government’s human rights record from their review or application of NGO consultative status with the Economic and Social Council.[2]

China, the world's second largest economy, only contributed $US100,000 to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right’s budget last year, which is disappointing considering a much smaller economy, like Sweden, contributed almost 159 times that. However, China has mainly influenced the UN human rights mechanisms and meddled in political and economic affairs of other countries through the country’s global investment strategy, especially in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Opened Confucius Institutes, exchange programs of Chinese government officials, media cooperation, China’s business associations, democratic countries have backed down over China’s censorship, compromised the principle of free expression and decreased government’s transparency.

Before Chinese leaders visited these countries, pressure from the Chinese government had been disseminated down through authority chains in host countries. Police officers were briefed to avoid embarrassment and bad public perception of the visitors. There was added pressure from the Chinese government with regards to the methods of policing and operations,  as well as imposing restrictions on where and how people could protest during Chinese State visits. Some activists were detained until Chinese leaders left the host countries. Any related communication between Chinese State visit and the authorities in host countries have been skirted by the host governments in name of “public interest” and “national security”.

For the first and second Chinese Universal Periodic Reviews, the Chinese government claimed that the right to life is an overarching human rights principle, but even only in this regard, the Chinese government failed to meet its commitments. Cao Shunli, a law graduate, used her own legal background to help others in their fight for justice, participating in the China’s first and second UPR process. Following China’s first UPR, Cao Shunli was sent to re-education through labour for two half years. After China’s second UPR process, Cao Shunli was murdered. Cao Shunli's body was covered all over with bruises and her whole body was swollen when she died. In the following year, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and four other prisoners of consciousness were tortured to death in prison.

In 2017, when Xi Jinping was invited to speak at UN Offices at Geneva, police arrested five Tibetan protesters outside the UN’s European Headquarters, just a few hours before the CCP leader arrived at the building. The UN Human Rights Council did not make an official complaint about the incident to the UN President or the General Secretary. In fact, the UN seemed to side with China, reinforcing respect for sovereignty over individual rights and security over right to peaceful protest. Six months later, Liu Xiaobo became the first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to die n state custody since Nazi Germany. Moreover, over one million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps, further demonstrating how Chinese leaders have violated rights with absolute impunity during the CCP’s 69-year rule in the People’s Republic of China.

UN human rights mechanisms have suffered from a lack of independence and effectiveness for many years, they are especially helpless against the global superpowers’ numerous and systematic violations of human rights. The Chinese Party Empire, in collusion with other authoritarian regimes, is attempting to replace the standards and principles of the International Bill of Human Rights with their own edition. Such challenges require fundamental changes. For example, the venues of the fourth circle of UPR should take place in the reviewed countries rather than in Geneva. The venue of Denmark’s UPR should be in Copenhagen. China’s next UPR should take place in Lhasa, or Hohhot, Beijing, Urumqi or Hong Kong, the venue should be amid scenes of massacres, bloodsheds and crackdowns in 1959, 1967, 1989, 2009, 2014 or inside existing concentration camps or prisons. If Chinese government refuses, China’s fourth UPR should take place in Taipei. If Chinese government still refuses, Periodic Review China should be prevented from becoming a member of the UN’s Human Rights Council in the future.


Note: the article was initially presented at the Geneva Human Rights Forum-2018 on 2 November 2018. Thanks to an editor’s effort, the version has been polished.

[1] For more the features of the Party Empire, please see my book, Citizen Publications in China Before the Internet Palgrave Macmillan,  2015,32-36.

[2] For China’s more influence on on UN’s Human Rights Mechanisms, please refer to my another essay, : ‘The UN’s Human Rights Mechanisms and the Development of the Civil Society in China ’, Taiwan Human Rights JournalI, 2014


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