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  • Guangzhou Hosts Global Lawyers Forum Amid Ongoing “War on Law”

  • China Rewards Protest-free Macau With Financial Policy

  • Forced Labor and Social Control in Xinjiang


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Guangzhou Hosts Global Lawyers Forum Amid Ongoing “War on Law”

Guangzhou hosted 800 legal professionals from 57 countries at the Global Lawyers Forum this week. The event partly coincided with International Human Rights Day on Tuesday, which the E.U. delegation to China marked by highlighting "continuous arrests, detention and imprisonment of human rights defenders, lawyers and other citizens," and noting that "human rights lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Li Yuhan, Gao Zhisheng and Yu Wensheng have been convicted, detained, or forcibly disappeared." The "War on Law" that peaked with the 2015 Black Friday or 709 crackdown has continued: AFP reported last month that "at least a dozen legal representatives have had their licences canceled or revoked since last year," while another who had previously suffered this punishment was formally arrested last week.

“The ongoing disbarment continues to serve as an effective tactic by the Chinese government to further diminish the space for human rights advocacy,” said Yaqiu Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Disbarment is to deprive the livelihood of human rights lawyers and their families,” she said.

In China, authorities can revoke a lawyer’s licence to punish behaviour such as bribing judges, but also ambiguous offences such as “seriously disrupting court order”.

A licence can also be cancelled if a lawyer does not practise in a six-month period – which is not uncommon for rights lawyers who have been detained or arrested.

[…] Sui Muqing, another Chinese lawyer who was detained during the 709 crackdown, said the widespread disbarment over the past two years had been “an even better deterrent than arresting lawyers”. [Source]

Presiding over this week’s Guangzhou forum was Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua, a longtime "troubleshooter" for Xi Jinping whose résumé includes crackdowns on Falun Gong practitioners, "Big V" social media influencers, and "malicious" stock trading. Fu also led the investigation into former security chief Zhou Yongkang and, as Beijing police chief, oversaw the death of activist Cao Shunli, who had been denied medical treatment while in detention for public participation in a U.N. human rights review. From Xinhua:

"The meeting is a platform built by Chinese lawyers to promote international exchanges and pragmatic cooperation for common development, and represents their practical action in playing their role as lawyers in advancing the reform of the global system for governance," Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua said at the opening ceremony.

He added that the forum was also an opportunity for China to draw on global experience in developing the rule of law.

Hosted by the All China Lawyers Association under the auspices of China’s Ministry of Justice, the forum drew foreign participants including heads of international lawyer associations and dozens of national associations.

Topics under discussion cover legal services for the Belt and Road Initiative, technological advancement and legal services, cross-border investment, merger and acquisition, international trade and business compliance, international commercial dispute resolution, pro bono legal services and lawyers’ social responsibilities. [Source]

The Guardian’s Lily Kuo reported:

[… A]s the forum got under way, at least one spouse of a detained lawyer was put under house arrest. Several rights groups have issued open letters decrying the event as a “cynical charade” intended to gloss over China’s ongoing crackdown on lawyers, from well-known human rights advocates to self-taught local, or “barefoot, lawyers” who help residents petition for their rights.

[…] As the forum opened on Monday, Geng He, the wife of prominent lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared more than two years ago, published an open letter to those in attendance.

“You have the responsibility and obligation to ask the Chinese government that invited you: ‘Is Gao Zhisheng alive?’

“Or else, why did you come? To enjoy the air tickets, the hotels and luxurious hospitality of the Chinese Communist party’s dictatorship … or to let the CCP use your status and reputation to once again proclaim the greatness of CCP rule at home and abroad?” [Source]

Another open letter from Xu Yan, wife of detained lawyer Yu Wensheng, was translated by ChinaChange on November 29. After describing her husband’s work, the various procedural violations in his case, and her own "profound sense of helplessness and sorrow," Xu made the following requests:

  1. Please arrange a time to meet with me, Xu Yan, Yu Wensheng’s wife, to understand what is happening right now in China regarding Lawyer Yu, who has been deprived of his freedom and his legal rights, and to hear about my rights defense experience. Please rescue your lawyer colleague. Thank you!

  2. I am asking you to clearly raise the following points at the Forum:

  • Lawyer Yu exercised his lawyer’s professional rights and freedom of expression according to law and should be immediately acquitted and released.

  • The right of Lawyer Yu to meet with his defense attorneys and receive their help should be honored immediately.

  • End his illegal extended detention, immediately issue a verdict, and acquit Lawyer Yu.

  • Yu Wensheng has been deprived of his professional rights and prosecuted, but the All-China Lawyers Association (ACLA) has done nothing to defend the rights of its member Lawyer Yu, and even aided in persecuting him. I am requesting the Global Lawyers Forum to ask ACLA to immediately correct its previous mistakes and help to immediately launch an emergency rescue action of its member Yu Wensheng.

  • Please inquire of the Chinese government on my behalf: has Lawyer Yu been tortured? Is he still alive? [Source]

In 2017, Guangzhou authorities prepared to host Fortune magazine’s Fortune Global Forum by sweeping the city of perceived troublemakers. This time their preparations included pressure on the local legal community, whose members were warned not to speak out on issues like protests in Hong Kong, and urged to bring "even trivial matters of everyday life" under "moral supervision"; to "love the Party and socialism"; and to win government contracts and other benefits by reading Xi Jinping’s quotations and setting up Party branches within law firms. These were detailed in a ChinaChange post last week, which continued with a collection of views on the Global Lawyers Forum from several prominent rights lawyers:

“The All China Lawyers’ Association (ACLA) is the same as the Chinese government; it is a part of the government. ACLA contributes little to defending human rights in China, and more often than not it is an accomplice in suppressing human rights. Such a country holding such a conference and urging lawyers from all over the world ‘to jointly promote the rule of law around the world’ –– how could anyone believe this? How could anyone attend and support such a meeting? Are the participants burying their heads in the sand or just being ignorant?” (Liang Xiaojun, Beijing)

[…] “Just as a country engaging in censorship has no business holding a ‘World Internet Conference,’ similarly, a one-party state where no competition of parties is allowed has no business holding a ‘World Political Parties’ Meeting,’ and a country where the rule of law is merely an empty slogan has no business holding a ‘Global Lawyers Forum.’ (Lu Tingge, Shijiazhuang)

“I hope attendees from foreign bar associations won’t just listen to the officials’ big empty words and propaganda but pay more attention to the actual human rights situation in China. I hope they learn more about religious groups, ethnic minorities, dissidents and human rights activists. These groups have suffered cruel persecution in China; I hope the foreign attendees will speak on their behalf at the conference and raise questions.” (An anonymous Beijing lawyer)

[…] “The concept of lawyers under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party is different from the normal Western concept of lawyers. The former Minister of Public Security who was the chief persecutor against human rights lawyers is now in the position to oversee all lawyers in China. In many locales, former domestic security policemen have become chiefs of the judicial bureaus overseeing lawyers. In recent years, the authorities have frequently introduced regulations that restrict lawyers’ freedom of expression and litigation rights; they have established CCP branches in law firms, and intensified ideological education. In their everyday practice of law, lawyers are increasingly playing a role of a prop, without any independence to speak of, and have become a tool of authoritarian rule.” (Xie Yanyi, Beijing) [Source]

NYU law professor Jerome Cohen shared the ChinaChange post with this comment:

The New York Bar Association also issued a statement:

The UK Bar Council published a vague appeal to "the internationally accepted concept of the rule of law"; "lawyers around the world who have suffered violations of their human rights"; and "good relations with lawyers worldwide […] in the public interest as well as in the interests of clients in the UK and internationally"; followed by a more specific list of concerns:

The Bar Council of England and Wales repeats its calls to the Chinese authorities to release any lawyers arrested in the legitimate pursuit of their practice, which includes the right to advocate freely and fearlessly in the best interests of their lay clients.

We continue to be concerned about reports of the following practices in China:
– The detention of lawyers held incommunicado and without their families’ knowledge of where they are being detained
– The prosecution of lawyers for vaguely defined national security-related crimes
– Revoking licenses to practise, imposing residential surveillance or preventing foreign travel.
– Detention without access to a legal representative or visits by family
– Restrictions on access to a legal representative of a detainee’s choosing
– Using improper pressure to secure incriminating statements and confessions from defendants [Source]

A stronger and broader statement came from the Bar Human Rights Committee, the Bar Council’s "independent international arm":

Lawyers across the world, including those gathering for the Global Lawyers Forum, will wish to stand in solidarity with their colleagues and recognise the importance of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which require governments to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without improper interference.

It is through the courts and decisions of the judiciary that the rule of law successfully operates. Human rights cannot be duly protected without operation of the rule of law. We recently have expressed our concern to the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region at the brutal treatment and indiscriminate arrest of peaceful protesters in Hong Kong. We were further concerned by the nature of the criticism by the Central People’s Government at the decision of the Hong Kong High Court striking down anti-mask provisions. Judicial independence is a cornerstone of the rule of law and it is critical that judicial decisions can be made free from political interference.

Finally, those present at the Global Lawyers Forum must not ignore the severe crackdown on fundamental rights taking place by way of a terrorism prevention policy operating in Xinjiang. This explicitly targets Turkic Muslim ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities as well as Kazakh nationals. Credible sources estimate that over 1 million largely Muslim minority groups, in particular Uighur and Kazakh people, are detained in internment and indoctrination or re-education camps and prisons, alongside a high-tech surveillance strategy that in practice prevents Muslim worship and identity across the region. The stymying of religious expression and identity through mass coercive and arbitrary detention, as well as forced conversion, is a wholly disproportionate and unnecessary response to any threat of extremism and terrorism and constitutes a violation of many fundamental rights of these minority groups. [Source]

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China Rewards Protest-free Macau With Financial Policy

Reuters reports that Xi Jinping is next week expected to announce a series of central policies aimed at diversifying the casino-reliant economy of Macau. This comes as six-month running pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are giving no signs of slowing soon. According to officials and executives quoted, the move can be seen as a reward for signaling devotion to the “one country, two systems” framework of governance, and also a means to avoid market disruption caused by the political situation in Hong Kong.  Farah Master and Keith Zhai report:

[…] “The financial industry used to be an idea that we reserved for Hong Kong,” said one Chinese official who requested anonymity. “We used to give all the favorable policies to Hong Kong. But now we want to diversify it.”

[…] While the new initiatives were not explicitly linked to toeing the official line, Chinese officials have repeatedly praised Macau for setting an example in maintaining national security and adhering to the central government’s requirements.

“This is the candy that Hong Kong did not want,” said Larry So, a political commentator and retired Macau university professor. “It is a gift for Macau, for Macau being a good boy.”

[…] In recent weeks, Xi has said at several gatherings of senior government officials that it is crucial to find ways to implement the “Macau model” in Hong Kong, two people familiar with the discussions said, on condition of anonymity.

[…] “Macau will be an example of China’s reunification,” Ho Iat Seng, who is set to become Macau’s next chief executive on Dec. 20, told state broadcaster China Central Television last month. [Source]

The policies that Xi will announce include the establishment of a yuan-denominated stock exchange, the acceleration of a renminbi settlement center that is already underway, and the allocation of land for Macau to develop on the island of Hengqin. Stocks for Macau casinos took a jump following the Reuters’ report, after low gaming revenues related to China’s slowing economy took a toll on them last month.

Xi is also expected to announce Macau’s decision to join the Beijing-backed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank while visiting the city next week. At Bloomberg News, Jihye Lee and Jinshan Hong note that the plans have been in progress for some time, providing context on how they fit into Beijing’s “Greater Bay Area” development plan to further integrate the mainland with Macau and Hong Kong:

The plans may have been in the works for a while. The Securities Times reported in October that a proposal for a securities exchange in Macau were submitted to the Chinese central government. Authorities were researching how to fit Macau’s advantages into Xi’s broader Greater Bay Area plan to knit the region together more tightly, the Security Times said at the time.

The blueprint for China’s long-awaited plan to create a high-tech megalopolis on its southern coastline rivaling California’s Silicon Valley was unveiled in February. Proposals include setting up a futures exchange in Guangzhou with carbon emissions as the first product and setting up a securities market in Macau using yuan settlement.

Macau is looking to diversify its economy as growth in China slows and the high-rollers who helped make the city the world’s largest gaming hub look elsewhere. Local casinos are poised for the first decline in annual gaming revenue since 2016, when Xi’s anti-corrupting campaign battered revenues. [Source]

Last week, two senior leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were denied entry into Macau. The denial, which came without an official explanation, may have been an act of retaliation for President Trump signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law late last month. Beijing also censured the U.S. for “interfering in China’s internal affairs” after the law was passed, and imposed sanctions on five U.S.-based NGOs that, according to the foreign ministry, had played an “egregious role” in the Hong Kong protests. Amy Gunia reports for TIME, noting that Macau’s government has taken moves to ensure that solidarity for the Hong Kong movement isn’t on display in the city:

The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Tara Joseph, and the group’s chair, Robert Grieves, were separately denied entry into the Chinese-ruled territory on Saturday.

[…] “We are puzzled as to why this happened, given this was simply a social occasion to celebrate AmCham Macau’s annual gathering,” an AmCham spokesperson said in a statement.

[…] Their refused entry comes at a time of escalating fiction between Washington and Beijing. The world’s first and second largest economies are trying to end their bruising trade war, while also clashing over the ongoing political unrest in Hong Kong.

[…] Macau has been quick to clamp down on any shows of solidarity for its neighboring enclave. Officials in Macau have denied requests for demonstrations and have reportedly detained several people showing support for the Hong Kong protesters. [Source]

In an opinion essay published at the South China Morning Post, Alice Wu argues that Beijing’s calls for Hong Kong to be more like Macau demonstrate just how bad the CCP is at reading public sentiment in Hong Kongwhich, she argues, is also a major cause for Beijing’s current troubles in the region.

With public sentiment renegading again in the “renegade province” (Taiwan) and “the prodigal son” (Hong Kong) going on another prodigal binge, it is no wonder Beijing is turning its attention to, and the spotlight on, the trouble-free Macau, especially since it will soon be celebrating the 20th anniversary of reunification with China. Macau is now the main feature, considered the shining model of “one country, two systems”; so much so that the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, basically told Hong Kong to emulate Macau in implementation.

Macau won the hearts of Beijing’s leaders by enacting national security legislation without incident, unlike Hong Kong, and by having more “patriots” in leadership positions. There is nothing wrong with praising Macau and appreciating and celebrating this former Portuguese colony, of course. It is most unwise, however, to want Hong Kong, or anyone else, to be more like Macau.

Hong Kong could not be Macau, even if it wanted to. We don’t need to dive into the inherent differences – geographical, demographical, historical, cultural – and realities that render that impossible. Macau deserves to be celebrated for its distinct character, just as Hong Kong should be.

By turning a blind eye to the reasons behind the years of deteriorating Hong Kong-Beijing relations, Beijing is doing no one any favours. Beijing must come to accept that it did not have an accurate assessment of what was happening in Hong Kong, and that has nothing to do with Hongkongers’ understanding and interpretation of the Basic Law, nor does it have anything to do with Hong Kong not being “Macau enough”. […] [Source]

Last month at Quartz, Isabella Steger similarly argued that Beijing’s continued inability to read public opinion in Hong Kong is partly to blame for it “missing numerous chances that may have stopped unrest from escalating.”

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Forced Labor and Social Control in Xinjiang

Just as the Chinese government has announced that detainees at internment camps in Xinjiang have “graduated” – without offering any evidence or explanation – researcher Adrian Zenz has released a paper examining the use of forced labor in Xinjiang. As Zenz explains it, officials have released detainees into forced or involuntary labor camps, as part of a larger effort toward social control and under the guise of “poverty alleviation.” Zenz’s full paper is accessible from the Journal of Political Risk; he also wrote up a summary of his findings for Foreign Policy:

Since spring 2017, the Chinese government has placed vast numbers of Turkic minorities into internment camps, which it refers to as “reeducation camps,” in the northwestern Xinjiang region. This March, it claimed that these supposed students would gradually be released into work placements. Data such as this supports this claim, but not in the way that the government is trying to sell it. Rather, it is part of a rapidly growing set of evidence for how Beijing’s long-term strategy to subdue its northwestern minorities is predicated upon a perverse and intrusive combination of coercive labor, intergenerational separation, and complete social control.

In Xinjiang, state-mandated poverty alleviation goes along with different forms of involuntary labor placements. Under the banner of “industry-driven poverty alleviation,” minorities are being torn away from their own jobs and families. Just as brainwashing is masked as “job training,” forced labor is concealed behind the euphemistic facade of “poverty alleviation.”

The irony of placing interned Uighurs into labor-intensive sweatshops is that many of them were extremely skilled businesspeople, intellectuals, or scientists. Several years ago, flourishing Uighur businesses abroad were severely impacted by seizures of passports, and Uighurs have been progressively forced out of eastern Chinese labor markets. While there are many Uighurs living marginal economic existences, this group are not people who need unskilled labor jobs paid at around 85 cents per hour.

But for Beijing, the real aim is not to improve Uighurs’ lives. It is to achieve so-called social stability in its most extreme form imaginable: the state controlling the educational, work, and care placement of every family member, however old they are. [Source]

Allegations of forced labor at Xinjiang camps have been circulating for the past year, with implications for clothing manufacturers and others who export to the U.S. and other countries. Juozapas Bagdonas reported last month for The Diplomat:

In December 2018, Badger Sportswear was accused of ordering a shipment of 1.5 million units from Hetian Taida, a manufacturer known to employ Uyghur detainees in its factories. This year, the retailer Costco was also found out to be buying apparel from Hetian Taida, which prompted the Trump administration to halt all shipments from the supplier on October 1. A quick glance in the records of ImportGenius shows that the last two shipments ordered by a U.S. company from Hetian Taida were made in September 21 and 26 by KHQ Investment LLC, an apparel wholesaler based in New York’s Empire State Building. Unlike the cases of Costco and Badger, the two orders of polyester blanket sleepers likely made by Muslim detainees in Xinjiang and bought by a company with an office located in the famous bastion of American business has so far escaped media attention.

[…] Just a simple keyword search on the tracking system can reveal which companies are likely involved in forced labor in Xinjiang. Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories was registered in the Beijing Industrial Park in Hotan’s Lop county on January 19, 2018. A re-education camp in the same compound was identified by Radio Free Asia as the location of the famous picture showing hundreds of detainees listening to a de-radicalization speech. According to Haolin’s spokesman, the company has already employed 5,000 new workers in its first year of business – more than 2 percent of the entire county’s population. Data from ImportGenius shows that the company has made a total of 159 international shipments, which first went through ports in Vietnam and on to buyers from four U.S. cities. [Source]

As Zenz pointed out in his article, many of those being interned for “vocational training” and/or manual labor are actually often already highly educated and employed individuals who are sent to the camps. Radio Free Asia reports on Uyghur historian Iminjan Seydin who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison after being held at a camp. Most of those being held in the camps have not been officially charged or tried for any crime:

Seydin, while a Muslim, was not particularly religious and generally adhered to government guidelines on faith—putting his loyalty to the Communist Party before the central tenets of Islam—according to his daughter, Samira Imin, who has lived in exile in the U.S. since 2014 and recently spoke with RFA’s Uyghur Service.

[…] But despite toeing the party line, Seydin was called back to Urumqi in May 2017 and detained by the Public Security Bureau, which did not provide his family with any information about where he was being held, Imin said, citing contacts in the XUAR, adding that she had last made contact with her father while he was in Hotan in April of the same year.

[…] RFA was able to obtain a document from an anonymous source in the XUAR which shows that Seydin was initially held at a facility that makes up part of the region’s network of 1,300-1,400 internment camps, where authorities are believed to have held 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas since April 2017.

The document, entitled “Notice on the Censuring of Iminjan Seydin” and issued by the Xinjiang Islamic Institute in November 2019, said that in February 2019 Urumqi’s Tengritagh (Tianshan) District Court found Seydin guilty of “inciting extremism” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, five years’ deprivation of political rights, and a fine of 500,000 yuan (U.S. $71,000), although it cites no evidence of his crimes.

In its notice, the school says it ended Seydin’s employment contract after he was detained and placed in a camp, dissolved his relationship to the institute, and terminated his salary and benefits. [Source]

Another prominent Uyghur academic, Rahile Dawut, disappeared two years ago and her whereabouts are still unknown, though she is presumed to be in a camp.

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