Thursday, July 01, 2021

The Counter-Narrative: Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) Chairs Send Letter to UN Secretary-General Calling for Action to Address Gross Violations of Human Rights in China



The Congressional-Executive Commission on China was created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 "with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and the Congress. The Commission consists of nine Senators, nine Members of the House of Representatives, and five senior Administration officials appointed by the President." (CECC About). The CECC FAQs provide useful information about the CECC. See CECC Frequently Asked Questions. They have developed positions on a number of issues.

CECC tends to serve as an excellent barometer of the thinking of political and academic elites in the United States about issues touching on China and the official American line developed in connection with those issues. As such it is an important source of information about the way official and academic sectors think about China. As one can imagine many of the positions of the CECC are critical of current Chinese policies and institutions (for some analysis see  CECC).

To mark the anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, the CECC Co-Chairs distributed the text of a letter they delivered to the UN Secretary General calling for action on Chinese policy in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.  The text of the Press Release is straightforward:

Chairs Send Letter to UN Secretary-General Calling for Action to Address Gross Violations of Human Rights in China


July 1, 2021


(Washington)—Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Representative James P. McGovern (D-MA), the Chair and Cochair, respectively, of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China released today a letter to United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres calling on him to take immediate measures to closely monitor and assess gross violations of human rights in the People’s Republic of China.  Citing a call made last year one year ago by over 50 UN Special Experts for decisive measures to address the deteriorating human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China, the Chairs asked the Secretary-General to report on what has been done to implement this request and what obstacles exist to taking urgent action.


The Chairs sent the letter in line with two July anniversaries that mark recent erosions to the fundamental freedoms of Chinese and Hong Kong citizens—the enactment of the Hong Kong National Security Law (NSL) last year and the “709 Crackdown,” a coordinated campaign to dismantle China’s human rights lawyer’s network beginning on July 9, 2015. The Chairs cited the cases of lawyers Li Yuhan and Yu Wensheng who were both determined to be arbitrarily detained by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.  Additional case information on these and other cases can be found on the CECC’s searchable Political Prisoners Database.        

 Text of the letter is here and below.

The Press Release and the longer letter to the UNSG are interesting in a number of respects:

1. It served as a strategic intervention during the course of the celebrations of (a) the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party,and (b) of one of its great diplomatic triumphs--the ceding of Hong Kong back to China (plus the return of leased territories). In this sense it was a strategic interruption of the Chinese narrative.  That is certainly fair game in the current contest between the two emerging imperial systems.

2.  It also served an important signalling device. The letter signaled a renewed engagement with the world; it signaled the renewedr eliance on multilateral organs to advance policy; and it signaled the strengthening of the old strategy of seeking o undermine the legitimacy of the Chinese political-economic order through  the insinuation that its policies cannot but produce the human rights breaches which are highlighted in the statement.

3. The letter again means to position the United States as the vanguard force for the protection of the normative framework on which the liberal democratic international order is grounded.  That is a message not for China but for the rest of the world. 

4. The letter is meant as another piece of an assemblage for the normative encirclement of China; for its containment.  It is an aid, a justification, for the decoupling necessary for that containment, and for the construction of the normative orders around which the world will be organized.   At the same time, it is not clear that it is expected to produce anything more than gesture.

5. And yet gesture is among the most imortant work left to the political branches. The battle for the authority to make meaning and to impose those meaning structures on others s the essence of the  fundamental combat that is likely to be decisive in the next decade  or so.  The battle is both internal (in China and in the US among its elites) and external between vanguard forces seeking to project leadership.

6. Lastly, the key expression of power specified ought not to be dismissed.  The letter references surveillance (monitoring and assessment) as the key drivers of applied power.  To that extent the underlying insight is powerfully accurate.  Those who manage to control the apparatus of accountability, who conyrol the mechanisms and determinations of the baselines for assessment--and the punishments and rewards that follow, will be in the superior position within the global system.

Pix Credit: Hindustan Times
7. The only real question is whether the United States will be able to make good on the gesture that this letter represents.  The contest for driving influence at the United Nations, something the US never mastered entirely, is an important a front line in the battle over the rationalization of the post-global  systems and a site for driving the narrative that serves as a gauge of the ability of each of the great imperil production powers to project their conceptual authority through (and in that way discipline) the elements of their global production chains.   In this connection the ties between US efforts expressed through organs like the CECC might be well matched against Chinese international efforts respecting the illegitimacy of the United States as a system that is structurally and irredeemably rascit (and using US discursive battles to good effect in that campaign).

8. Lastly the letter underlines the importance of vanguard theory for an understanding of the driving forces of historical development in the new eras of the United States and China. In both cases the essence of the legitimacy of advanced social forces is grounded in their ability to deliver (scientifically or rationally evidenced) the fruits of their ideological framework.  Destabilization and de-legitimization campaigns serve the interests of the parties.  Both can draw for that effort on the strong discursive tropes that has been the political Jew baiting that is the campaign of de-legitimization of the State of Israel (with Jewish people as the vanguard, e.g., here).  It is a trap of course; to successful use the trope is to expose oneself to its effects in turn (a lesson that is hard to learn, e.g., from the legalization of the execution of anointed princes in exile (Mary Stuart) to the literal separation of such persons (by beheading; Charles I; Louis XVI) from the body of the state apparatus).

Dear Mr. Secretary-General:

As the chairs of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China, we write in reference to the June 26, 2020 statement in which 50 independent United Nations human rights experts called for “renewed attention on the human rights situation in [the People’s Republic of China], particularly in light of the moves against the people of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, minorities of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, the Tibet Autonomous Region, and human rights defenders across the country.” We request that your office advise whether there has been any progress in implementing the measures suggested by these experts and if so, provide a description and the status of such efforts. If no action has been taken in this regard, please provide a basis for the failure to act.

The experts, a group that includes the leading UN special rapporteurs responsible for monitoring a wide range of human rights issues, “urge[d] the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to act with a sense of urgency to take all appropriate measures to monitor Chinese human rights practices.” Possible measures identified by the experts include creating a special session to evaluate China’s human rights violations; establishing an impartial and independent mechanism to monitor, analyze, and report on China’s practices; and engaging in dialogues with China to demand that it fulfill its human rights obligations.

Today is the anniversary of the enactment of the National Security Law (NSL), which has led to the rapid deterioration of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. To date, more than a hundred people have been arrested under the NSL, many of whom were arrested for peacefully participating in marches, advocating democratic reforms, or engaging in civic activities. In addition, independent news reporting is being targeted, and educators are being disciplined for preparing teaching materials inconsistent with the government’s narrative.

Also of note is the upcoming anniversary of the “709 Crackdown,” a nationwide and coordinated campaign that began around July 9, 2015, affecting over 300 rights advocates and lawyers. Some of them were convicted of “endangering state security” charges, when in fact they were merely defending the rights of others. Four individuals remain in prison today, and lawyers who represented those detained during the crackdown became prisoners themselves. Specifically, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that the detentions of lawyers Li Yuhan and Yu Wensheng were arbitrary. We note that the persecution of lawyers and rights advocates is at odds with the Chinese government’s rhetorical promotion of rule-based governance.

Similarly, rights abuses across China have not abated. As the Commission has noted in its reports, Chinese authorities have implemented discriminatory policies against ethnic minorities and religious groups and have used “economic development” as a pretext to sinicize them. Forced relocation of herders, demolition of religious buildings, and mandatory Chinese language education are among the methods the Chinese government has employed to eradicate cultural diversity. Significantly, credible reports show that millions of ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities are being detained in numerous large-scale internment camps across Xinjiang or are transferred from the camps to the prison system elsewhere in China. Given the immense scale of the network of camps, the Chinese government’s initial denial of the camps’ existence and subsequent justifications that the camps constitute either an anti-extremism measure or voluntary vocational training are not credible.

With these gross human rights violations in mind, we echo the UN experts’ call for immediate measures to closely monitor and assess China’s behavior. We further encourage you to employ the Commission’s Political Prisoner Database ( as a resource for information on victims of persecution. We look forward to a prompt response from your office. Thank you.

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