The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights criticizes China over wave of Tibetan self-immolations. A Chinese think-tank close to the central government recommends phasing out the one-child policy. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi unveils a four point plan aimed at a political solution to the civil war in Syria. Beijing dramatically ramps up security one week prior to the 18th Party Congress. These are the top stories from the People¡¯s Republic of China for the week of November 2.
UN Criticizes China over Wave of Self-Immolations by Tibetan Protesters
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a report on November 2 accusing China of suppressing the rights of Tibetans and driving them to ¡°desperate forms of protest,¡± most notably self-immolation. Pillay urged Tibetans to refrain from setting themselves aflame, but claimed that detentions, disappearances, attacks on cultural rights, and use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators by Chinese authorities has exacerbated the situation. Pillay called upon Beijing to release all Tibetans detained solely for exercising fundamental rights such as freedom of expression, association, and religion. The rare public criticism of China suggests a growing frustration within the UN on the lack of progress within China over the self-immolations of ethnic Tibetans, 60 of whom have committed self-immolation since February 2009. China has pledged to increase cooperation with the UN on issues of human rights, but there are currently 12 outstanding requests to visit China by UN investigators for human rights on various issues.
Protests by Tibetans have increased during the run up to the 18th Party Congress, scheduled to commence on November 8. During the week ending on October 27, seven Tibetans committed self-immolation to protest Chinese rule, including a pair of cousins in Biru County North of Lhasa, and a farmer in Xiahe County, Gansu Province, home of the Labrang Monastery, one of the most preeminent monasteries outside of Tibet. Exiled Tibetans in Dharamsala, India held an impromptu candlelight vigil on October 27 in remembrance of the previous week¡¯s deaths. Police in areas that have seen self-immolations have offered rewards of up to 48,000 renminbi ($7,700 US dollars) for information leading to the prevention of further acts of self-immolation.
(Huffington Post, October 27; Al-Jazeera, the Guardian, October 28, New York Times, November 2)
Think tank urges Chinese leaders to Phase out One-Child Policy
The China Development Research Foundation, a think tank under the State Council of the Chinese Government, urged Chinese leaders to completely end the one-child policy over a period of eight years. The report boldly suggests the government to allow two children for every family by 2015. It proposes that all birth limits be dropped by 2020. In addition, the report says that the government should take measures to increase the fertility rate and birth rate by 2026. The Chinese government issued the one-child policy in 1980 to control the booming size of population. The government insists that this policy has helped prevent between 100 and 400 million births and has lifted countless families out of poverty. On the other hand, the strict family planning has also led to forced abortions and sterilizations. Couples who violated the policy faced punishments such as fines, seizure of property and loss of jobs. The one-child policy and gradual improvements in life expectancy have created an age imbalance, with China¡¯s population of those over 60 expected to increase from 185 million in 2012 to 487 million by 2053. The generation that grew up as the only child of the family has now entered society as their parents is approaching the age of retirement, adding to social distress because the only child must support the entire family.
The one-child policy is more complex than its name suggests. Generally, urban families are permitted a single child, but rural families are allowed two if the first born is female. Ethnic minority groups face looser rules, as do parents who are both themselves only children. The policy has been criticized as a leading cause of the growing gender gap in China, although the government has introduced measures in the past to prevent parents from aborting female children. There is general support among younger Chinese to end the program, which many see as an outdated relic of the past, but the Central leadership has not been so warm to the idea of reforming or abolishing the policy, with President Hu Jintao stating last year that the policy should remain unchanged for the foreseeable future to prevent population growth. Enthusiasm for ending the policy might not result in younger people having more children, as many individuals asked about the change in policy stated they would probably not have more than one child, citing expenses in raising children and competition for education as primary concerns. There are some fears that relaxing the policy could also raise the divide between urban and rural families, and lead to an unsustainable influx of migrant workers.
(China Development Research Foundation, October 26; Huffington Post, the Guardian, October 31; NBC News, November 1; Southern Weekend, China Digital Times, Wall Street Journal, November 2)
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Unveils Four- Point Plan for Political Solution to Syrian Civil War
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi presented a four-point proposal for ending the Syrian Civil War to UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on October 31. The proposal calls for a political solution to the conflict by calling on all parties in the war to stop fighting and work with Brahimi on a region by region basis, appoint interlocutors to create a roadmap for political transition, urging the international community to cooperate with Brahimi in implementing his plan, and all involved parties in Syria and the international community to provide greater assistance to the UN to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Yang stated his belief that ¡°a political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria.¡± China¡¯s proposal comes one day after the United States firmly stated its belief that the Syrian opposition movement needed new leadership, and days after a failed four day ceasefire was negotiated by Brahimi to coincide with the Eid-al-Fitr holiday.
Syrian watchers criticized the plan for its lack of specifics and a diplomat with the UN Security Council claimed the plan contained the same Achilles Heel as previous plans: unwillingness to enact measures that would put pressure on Bashir Al-Assad¡¯s government to stop the killing. China has acted with Russia in vetoing three Security Council resolutions on Syria since the conflict began, most recently on July 19 when China and Russia blocked a British sponsored resolution that would have implemented sanctions on Damascus for failing to advance a peace plan. Brahimi for his part thanked China for its support and expressed his hopes that China will continue to play a positive and constructive role in ending the 20 month long conflict that has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
(Xinhua, October 31; Xinhua, People¡¯s Daily, New York Times, Foreign Policy, November 1)
Draconian Security Measures Enacted in Beijing in Preparation for the 18th Party Congress
With the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin on November 8, Beijing has begun to enact stringent security measures throughout the city. Online postings have complained about security measures deemed excessive, such as official requests for taxi drivers to remove window handles or disable electric car windows and make all passengers sign a ¡°travelling agreement¡± promising they would avoid sensitive areas of Beijing and refrain from opening doors or windows if passing ¡°important venues.¡± A memo made the rounds on Sina Weibo warning taxi drivers about passengers that might want to release balloons or throw ¡°ping-pong balls with reactionary words¡± from car windows, which might explain the extreme measures. It was undetermined which department or official issued the memo, or if it was authentic. The government has already blocked all searches for the phrase ¡°18th Party Congress¡± on Chinese websites, including Sina Weibo, leading to resourceful netizens to substitute characters that sound like ¡°party congress,¡± including ¡°sparta¡± in their postings and searches.
Police are also requiring residents to present ID cards, or foreigners to show their passport in order to buy model airplanes, and an officer from the Chaoyang district Public Security Bureau issued an order directed towards owners of pigeons requesting that the birds be kept in their coops during the congress. Knives and pencil sharpeners have also made the blacklist, as one Beijinger interviewed claimed that he was unable to purchase a new knife after the handle on an old one broke. The Beijing Marathon and a marathon in Hangzhou were also postponed with no official explanation, although it was commonly assumed that the delay was due to the congress. This marks the first time in 31 years that the Beijing Marathon has not been run as scheduled. Increases in security are not rare during important events in Beijing, but many residents suspect the numerous scandals, from Bo Xilai to environmental protests and concerns about corruption in the lead up to this years¡¯ congress are the reason for such stringent security measures.
(Los Angeles Times, October 28; Washington Post, New York Times, November 1; South China Morning Post, November 2)
Summaries by Andrew Dirks and Zhuqing Ju, China Program interns at the Carter Center.