memorandum, by Mr Mignon
1. This report stems from a hearing
on the political situation in China in the run-up to the Olympic
Games, organised in Strasbourg on 17 April 2008 by the Political
Affairs Committee, on the occasion of the second partsession of
the Parliamentary Assembly.
2. During the exchange of views that took place at the hearing,
concerns were expressed by committee members over the continuing
lack of progress in improving democracy, the rule of law and human
rights in China. This led the chair, on behalf of the committee,
to ask the Bureau of the Assembly for a general policy debate on
the political situation in China on the eve of the Olympic Games,
during the third part-session of the Assembly in June 2008. The
Bureau agreed to this proposal.
3. Before going further into the topic of this report, I wish
to express my gratitude to Mr Jianli Yang, Chinese researcher and
human rights activist, founder of the nonprofit forum Initiatives
for China (Boston), Mr Jampal Chosang, Representative of the Dalai
Lama (Paris), Ms Corinna-Barbara Francis, Researcher from the Amnesty
International East Asia team (London), and Mr Olivier Basille, Permanent
Representative of Reporters Without Borders to the European Institutions
(Brussels) for taking part in the hearing. Their input was highly
appreciated by committee members and was extremely helpful for my
4. Equally, I would like to express my grateful thanks to Mr Quan
Kong, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in France. Mr Kong
was kind enough to receive me so that I could seek his advice on
the current situation in China. The fruits of this interview were
significant and indispensable to the credibility of this report.
5. I regret, however, that the Chinese authorities turned down
the Political Affairs Committee’s invitation to take part in the
hearing in order to present their position. The Chinese authorities
simply chose to send a representative to observe the exchange of
views from the audience, without taking part.
6. It is fair to say that China has made tremendous progress
in recent decades in a number of fields, especially as regards its
economy and its modernisation programmes. Because of its dynamic
economy and high growth, China is now the world’s fourth largest
economy. It should be stressed that China also has excellent trade
relations with the Council of Europe member states.
7. Yet this progress, appreciable though it might be, has been
accompanied neither by significant reforms of the political system
nor by tangible progress in the protection of human rights.
8. Although China is neither a member state of, nor an observer
state to, the Council of Europe, in the light of the above-mentioned
hearing and bearing in mind the role the Assembly can play in promoting
democracy in China, I am convinced that the Assembly has a duty
to look into the political situation in China as the Olympic Games
9. The purpose of the present report is not to condemn China
for its poor human rights, rule of law and democracy record. It
is not our intention to impose specific “models” of democracy, but
we can offer a platform for dialogue on the core values the Council
of Europe stands for; those of democracy, human rights and the rule
of law. It is up to China to accept this proposal and undertake
to introduce genuine reforms in those fields, in the run-up to the
Olympic Games and thereafter.
10. China often claims that Europe should not interfere in its
internal affairs and thus should not probe into its democracy and
human rights record, arguing the uniqueness of each culture, contesting
the universality of human rights and putting forward the specificities
of China and its political system. While one can understand that
every country is strongly marked by its own culture, it is important
to stress that the principles of human rights, the rule of law and
democracy are universal. Therefore, the defence of those principles
should not stop at the frontiers of the 47 member states of the
Council of Europe, as recognised by the final declaration of the Warsaw
In that context, I would like to recall what was said by both
the German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French Minister
for Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, during their addresses to
the Assembly on 15 and 17 April 2008 respectively. The former stressed
that: “… in the human rights sphere, a country can have no internal
while the latter referred to the
“duty of interference”Note
it comes to human rights issues.
12. Before going into the substance of my report, I would like
to express my solidarity with the Chinese people in connection with
the catastrophe that hit their country on 12 May 2008 and led to
deaths and disappearances on a massive scale.
13. I would like to pay tribute to the Chinese authorities’ reaction
to this large-scale natural disaster, which was speedy and efficient.
Their readiness to accept international emergency intervention is
to be underscored.
14. While I appreciate that China is currently focusing all its
efforts on coping with the consequences and aftermath of the earthquake,
I nevertheless consider it important, in the run-up to the Beijing
Olympic Games, to deal with the general political situation in this
report, as it has long-term effects on Chinese society at large.
2 The political situation
2.1 Opportunities arising from
the choice of China to host the 2008 Olympic Games
On 13 July 2001, at the 112th
International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Moscow, Beijing
was elected host city for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad in 2008.
The vote reflected the IOC Evaluation Commission’s view that “a
Beijing Games would leave a unique legacy to China and to sports.”Note
16. Both during the IOC selection process and after Beijing had
been chosen to host the Olympic Games in 2008, the Chinese authorities
repeatedly committed themselves publicly to improving human rights
in China and ensuring media freedom in the run-up to the Olympics.
17. For its part, the IOC echoed the Chinese statements and stressed
that, if the human rights situation in China was not acted on to
its satisfaction and if it undermined the Games, the IOC would step
18. The Olympic Charter, and more specifically the section dedicated
to the “Fundamental Principles of Olympism”, highlights the importance
of “universal fundamental ethical principles”. The goal of Olympism
is described, inter alia,
as being to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation
of human dignity”.
19. Unfortunately, only two months before the Olympics and seven
years after China’s promise to improve human rights and the political
situation in the country as a whole, not much progress has been
20. In an attempt to portray a stable and harmonious image of
the country, China, in the run-up to the Olympic Games, seems to
have cracked down further on human rights activists and the population
in general. The argument often put forward by the Chinese authorities
is that of “state security”. This argument is frequently not supported
by tangible evidence.
21. It is in China’s interest to realise that hosting the Olympic
Games means being given unprecedented international exposure along
with a unique opportunity to show the world its achievements in
the fields of human rights and democracy. China should not waste
such an opportunity.
22. Although very little time is left before the start of the
Olympic Games, China would gain international support and praise
if only it could show, through concrete action, its determination
to improve the situation on the ground.
2.2 Democracy, the rule of law
and human rights in China
23. Although the majority of the
Chinese people is rightly proud to be hosting the Olympic Games,
this pride is undermined by the current of dissatisfaction linked
to the discrepancy between what is being shown to the world and
the reality on the ground.
24. This reality is largely linked to the way in which the Chinese
regime operates politically. It has to be observed that the values
on which modern democracies are based are rejected by this communist
regime: political party pluralism, free elections, the separation
of powers (the executive, the legislature and the judiciary), the
rule of law, the peaceful settlement of conflicts in society, freedom
of expression and freedom of the media, freedom of association and
freedom of worship.
25. The Chinese regime is characterised by the dominance of a
single mass party attached to communist ideology, with power concentrated
in the hands of a few leaders, who are answerable to no one and
who are not obliged to observe the rule of law. They consequently
abuse their power, particularly when it comes to legislation, passing
large numbers of laws that are controversial, to say the least,
such as the legislation concerning the onechild policy, which is
all too often still enforced by coercive methods.
26. According to the Chinese dissident Yang Jianli, who attended
our hearing on the political situation in China in April 2008, “communism
in China is dead, but it has never retreated from seeking new ways
to control the Chinese people”. Indeed, the party exercises unprecedented
control over the state, blurring the boundary between the two concepts
and extending this control to all aspects of the daily lives of
the Chinese people. It is therefore hardly surprising to learn that
China deploys considerable resources to assure itself of a network of
police and informers, who enable it to keep a grip on politics and
the private sphere and prevent any action that escapes its control.
27. Chinese citizens are still at risk for voicing their views,
for criticising the government, for posting articles on the Internet,
for giving interviews to foreign journalists and for not practising
their religion within the confines of government-controlled churches.
Moreover, the death penalty is widely applied in China. There is widespread
recourse to abusive forms of administrative detention; arbitrary
detention, imprisonment, torture and harassment of human rights
activists, including lawyers and journalists, are common; freedom
of expression is a cause for concern, especially as regards the
censorship of the Internet. Discrimination against rural migrants,
ethnic minorities and against women is widespread.
28. Admittedly, China has had welcome successes on a number of
fronts: its economy is flourishing; its foreign policy is geared
to bringing about a stable international environment conducive to
the pursuit of the country’s development; it plays a key role as
a mediator in numerous crises; it is in the process of ratifying
some 20 international conventions concerning the protection of human
rights; and the number of higher education graduates is increasing
sharply each year – to mention only a few examples.
29. China cannot continue to be a leading economic power unless
it succeeds in extending the benefits of its economic development
to the population at large. The Chinese Government has officially
set itself the objective of achieving a “harmonious society”, but
inequalities in terms of employment, income and quality of life
generally are being exacerbated, preventing proper development of
the Chinese middle classes.
30. As previously underlined by the Assembly in its report on
“Implications for Europe of the economic resurgence of China” by
Mr Wille, Rapporteur of the Committee on Economic Affairs and Development,
in January 2006, in order to sustain this undeniable economic success,
it seems more important than ever that China should embark on the
road to democracy. Admittedly, the Chinese regime has become more
flexible over the decades, and we Europeans cannot ask China to
change overnight from totalitarianism to democracy. China has every
interest in reforming its political system, however, in such a way
as to respect the fundamental values that define a modern democracy,
for its international appeal will be all the stronger for it.
2.2.1 The death penalty
31. The Council of Europe’s attitude
to the death penalty has always been clear and unequivocal: the
death penalty is an absolute violation of the fundamental rights
of any human being. It must be definitively and completely removed
from the legislation of states that believe in respect for democracy,
the rule of law and human rights. The abolition of the death penalty
in Europe is one of the Council of Europe’s greatest achievements.
32. Over the decades, the Parliamentary Assembly has constantly
reaffirmed its complete opposition to the death penalty, which it
considers as an act of torture and an inhuman and degrading punishment.
Accordingly, we can but welcome official statements by the Chinese
authorities to the effect that China’s ultimate objective is the
complete abolition of the death penalty. It is our duty to encourage
China to continue its efforts in this respect.
China is by far the biggest perpetrator of capital punishment
in the world.Note
For individuals sentenced to death
in China, the road to death is paved with a series of violations
at every stage of the legal proceedings, due to the failure of China’s
criminal justice system to guarantee everyone a fair trial. Most
of the time, people sentenced to death have had no immediate access
to a lawyer, have been tortured in order to extract confessions,
have had no guaranteed presumption of innocence and have been detained
beyond legal time limits.
34. There would therefore appear to be an urgent need, pending
full abolition of the death penalty in law, for China to begin by
removing non-violent crimes, including economic and drug-related
offences, from the scope of the death penalty, and to impose a moratorium
2.2.2 Arbitrary detention
35. Detention without trial is
a widespread practice in China. As a result of an attempt to “clean
up” the country, and especially Beijing, the city hosting the Olympic
Games, China has recently witnessed an increase in administrative
detention, which is a system whereby people can be imprisoned for
up to four years without being brought before a judge or benefiting
from a fair trial.
The practice of “re-education through labour” is also of concern.
Re-education through labour is an administrative measure designed
to reform people through compulsory education and change offenders
into people who “obey the law, respect public virtue, love their
country, love hard work, and possess certain standards of education
and productive skills for the building of socialism.”Note
It is a system of detention and punishment
which is imposed administratively on those who are deemed to have
committed minor offences but who, from a legal standpoint, are not
Several major problems are linked to the system of re-education
through labour: the lack of any kind of procedural restrictions;
the use of re-education to incarcerate political and religious dissidents;
the lack of means of appeal; the poor conditions in the camps; and
the system of “retention for in-camp employment” which permits the
authorities to keep prisoners in the camps once they have served
38. It is, however, encouraging that the Chinese authorities have
promised to reform the system. We have no doubt that China will
redouble its efforts to do so as soon as possible, as this seems
to be on the country’s agenda more than ever before.
Furthermore, political arrests in China more than doubled
in 2006, in comparison with the previous year. The Chinese Government
often levies the charge of “endangering state security” against
dissidents and government critics.Note
2.2.3 Human rights activists
40. Chinese human rights activists
play a key role in pushing for progress in the field of human rights
in China. They are courageous individuals who believe in the fundamental
principles of human rights and strive to defend them, fully conscious
that they are putting themselves at great risk of reprisals from
41. By intensifying recourse to the pretext of state security,
the Chinese authorities have increased the crackdown on human rights
activists by detaining and imprisoning a large number of them. A
recent example is the arrest of Hu Jia, who is a well-known figure,
both in China and internationally, and who has organised information
campaigns on the taboo issue of HIV/Aids and given several interviews
to foreign journalists regarding the failed promises of the Chinese
authorities to improve human rights in the run-up to the Olympic Games.
He was recently sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison on
the charge of subversion of state power.
42. In the light of this arrest, one can but fear for the fate
of many more human rights activists in China who are less well-known
on the international scene.
43. An equally disturbing trend is the harassment of the families
of human rights activists held under house arrest. Human rights
activists are being charged with all sorts of criminal offences.
Human rights lawyers have been particularly targeted, with Chinese
officials confiscating their lawyers’ licences and putting them
under house arrest, thereby making it increasingly difficult for
members of the public to have legal protection in respect of highly
2.2.4 Freedom of expression
44. As the Olympic Games draw near,
the situation regarding the freedom of expression in China would appear
to be getting worse, with continuing restrictions and the tightening
of the surveillance of journalists and censorship of the Internet.
45. According to Reporters Without Borders, China is the state
in the world which spends the most amount of money on Internet surveillance.
Highly sophisticated measures are put in place to filter, block
and monitor the entire Internet infrastructure at all levels.
46. The Chinese Government tries very actively to control the
Internet. New laws are being passed which makes it a crime to post
anything on the Internet which might be viewed as subverting state
power. Writers, webmasters, bloggers, editors and journalists risk
punishment ranging from immediate dismissal to prosecution and lengthy
jail terms for sending news outside China or posting articles criticising
the Chinese political system. Self-censorship by Chinese Internet
users is also encouraged by the Chinese authorities, which have
an efficient “Internet police” constantly monitoring the Internet.
47. The complicity of an increasing number of foreign Internet
service providers in the system of self-censorship is a matter of
concern. At the request of the Chinese authorities, they provide
e-mails that have been sent via their servers, thus helping the
authorities to identify and subsequently detain people.
48. Chinese journalists are under constant pressure and have no
leverage whatsoever to write about taboo topics in Chinese society
or any topic that might be considered subversive by the authorities.
Also, China has only one press agency, through which all the news
is distributed and censored.
49. The law passed last year giving greater freedom to foreign
journalists, which is meant to apply only during the period of the
Olympic Games, is a step in the right direction. China could consider
extending the scope of this law to Chinese journalists, as a sign
of its readiness to improve its record in terms of freedom of expression
in the country.
2.3 Specific concerns regarding
the situation in Tibet
50. An overview of the political
situation in China would be incomplete without a reference to the
Chinese authorities’ policy in Tibet, especially in the light of
the recent events which took place there, and to the approach explored
by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, and
by Tibetans in an attempt to find a solution to the situation by
51. At the heart of the conflict over the status of Tibet within
China lies their historical relationship. It is true to say that
the Chinese Government and Tibetan representatives offer competing
versions as regards the status of Tibet and whether it is an integral
part of China or has legitimate aims to independence or autonomy.
52. According to the Tibetan representatives, the geographical
area of Tibet includes three main regions: Amdo, Kham and Ü-Tsang,
covering a total area of 2.5 million square kilometres with 6 million
53. According to China, Tibet, which is referred to as the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR), covers Ü-Tsang and western Kham, while
Amdo and eastern Kham are part of the Chinese provinces of Qinghai,
Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan.
54. It should be recalled that Tibet claimed independence until
the early 1980s, when the Dalai Lama, who had established a so-called
government-in-exile in India, abandoned such claims. It now favours
a “middle way” approach, advocating political autonomy for Tibet
under Beijing’s rule.
55. Over the years, several rounds of official talks have been
held between envoys from the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership,
but they came to a standstill. No progress has been made on the
major bones of contention, namely the economy, religion, demographics
and the respective goals of each side.
56. In recent months, the tensions between Tibetans and the Chinese
authorities led to an outburst of violence. Protests started in
Lhasa in mid-March 2008 during demonstrations marking the anniversary
of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising. Hundreds of monks from Drepung
monastery, west of the city of Lhasa, began peaceful protests calling
for an end to religious restrictions and the release of imprisoned
monks. The protests quickly spread to Tibetan communities in the
neighbouring Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, and in Kathmandu,
Nepal, and Dharamsala, India.
57. The Chinese authorities responded by firing tear gas in order
to try to disperse more than 600 monks taking part in the street
protests. This subsequently led to looting and violence, prompting
the Chinese authorities to blame the Dalai Lama for having masterminded
58. The protests led to the death of numerous demonstrators and
to the sealing off of Tibet. China suspended foreign travel permits
to the region, preventing foreign journalists from having access
to the area. The Chinese authorities quoted a low figure for the
number of deaths, while the Tibetans and the international media
reported a much higher one.
59. These dramatic events led to increased international mobilisation
in connection with the situation in Tibet. Several demonstrations
of solidarity with the Tibetan people were organised around the
torch relay for the Olympic Games. While violence was breaking out
in Tibet and neighbouring regions, the Olympic torch was touring
some major cities in the world. Demonstrators seized the opportunity
to voice their concerns about the human rights situation in Tibet
by disrupting the torch relay.
60. I do not believe that disrupting – sometimes violently – a
torch relay, whose message is purportedly one of peace and harmony,
was the most appropriate means of addressing the situation in Tibet.
61. In this context, the Chinese authorities’ decision to renew
dialogue with envoys from the Dalai Lama is to be welcomed. Envoys
sent by the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials from the Communist
Party’s United Front Work Department held a round of informal talks
in Shenzhen, in southern China, on 4 May 2008. Both sides seem to
have shown a readiness to agree to a joint approach to overcoming
the problems at issue in Tibet. Although this informal meeting did
not lead to any concrete action, both parties agreed to hold a seventh
round of official talks in the near future. With the dramatic earthquake
which shook China recently, one can imagine that further official
talks will not be an immediate priority for the Chinese Government.
However, I do hope that talks resume as soon as possible.
62. One of my aims as rapporteur
on this topic has been to seize the opportunity of the imminent
Olympic Games in China to mobilise Council of Europe member states,
which will be sending athletes to the Games, to respond to the political
and human rights situation in China, and invite China to agree to
a dialogue with us concerning the fundamental values upheld by the
Council of Europe.
China is our partner and, accordingly, I hope that the Assembly
can establish a dialogue with it. Hence, the following recommendations:
- European states should be coherent
in their approach to China with the aim of obtaining tangible improvements
in the field of democracy, the rule of law and human rights;
- European governments should have a strategy for influencing
China, with a view to securing sustainable improvements in the long
term, beyond the summer of 2008. They should be franker with China
and heighten calls pressing it to strive for substantial human rights
improvements and, with regard to Tibet, to engage in constructive
dialogue with the Dalai Lama;
- China should take specific, tangible steps to honour its
promise to improve its record. For example, it could lift the Internet
blockade, release cyber-dissidents, end house arrests and guarantee
freedom of movement and reporting for both domestic and foreign
journalists during and after the Olympics. China should take urgent
measures to prevent arbitrary detention, harassment and unfair dismissal
of journalists, in violation of their freedom of expression;
- the Olympics should leave a positive legacy in the field
of human rights and democracy, and improvements should continue
after the Olympic Games;
- China should end the crackdown on activists raising human
rights concerns during the Olympics;
- the Assembly could urge the European Union to continue
to raise such issues as the death penalty, torture and inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment, the situation of human rights
activists, media freedom and freedom of expression in its political
dialogue with China;Note
- in order to promote parliamentary democracy, the rule
of law and respect for human rights, the Assembly could invite the
Chinese Parliament to engage in political dialogue with it, once
China has made appreciable progress in those fields, so that the
Chinese Parliament can apply for observer status with the Assembly;
- the informal talks on 4 May 2008 between envoys from the
Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities should be welcomed, and the
launching of a new round of official talks with envoys from the
Dalai Lama should be supported. Any concrete dialogue between the
two sides should be encouraged;
- in the long run, the Chinese authorities should be encouraged
to consider setting up a truth and reconciliation commission so
that both the Chinese and the Tibetans can deal with the legacy
of the conflict in the region and reconstitute the history of abuses
committed and injustices suffered, allowing all sides to express