Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Subversion in Xi’an: The Trials of Guo Ran & Kou Ji

The Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court building. Image credit: Xi’an court website 

Dui Hua’s research into Chinese government sources uncovered new information concerning Guo Ran (果然) and Kou Ji (寇稽). The two men received lengthy prison sentences in a closed-door trial for subversion held in Xi’an in 2013. Subversion is a crime of endangering state security and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. 

Dui Hua first discovered their names in an annual work report an annual work report released by the Xi’an Intermediate People’s Court in June 2013. The report stated that Guo and Kou were tried for subversion, but the trial outcome was not disclosed. Their fate was only subsequently revealed by sentence reduction decisions posted on China Judgements Online around 2016.  

The first reduction decision Dui Hua found stated that Kou, born in 1969, was serving his 10-year prison sentence in Shaanxi’s Weinan Prison. Because of good behavior and meritorious service, Kou received his first sentence reduction of nine months in February 2016, about four years into his sentence. Two years later, in May 2018, Kou received his second sentence reduction of seven months.  

That same year, Guo, born in 1981, received his first sentence reduction of five months in September. The sentence reduction decision stated that Guo was serving his 14-year prison sentence for subversion in the same prison as Kou. The clemency he received took place seven years into his prison sentence. Kou completed his prison sentence on July 13, 2020, and his three-year supplemental sentence of deprivation of political rights (DPR) is thought to have expired on July 12, 2023. Guo’s sentence is expected to end on July 1, 2025, after which he will begin his five years of DPR. All three sentence reduction decisions have since been removed from China Judgements Online

A search for "inciting subversion of state power" that yielded no results in July 2021. Dui Hua conducted another search in May 2024. As in 2021, the search yielded no results. Image credit: China Judgements Online

The court documents did not provide other case specifics beyond their background, crime, sentences, sentence reductions, and new release dates. The acts leading to their imprisonment were unknown. Around 2019, information from unofficial news sources concerning this subversion case began to surface. However, it was only briefly reported that Guo frequently held gatherings on his own business premises to discuss pathways to achieve freedom and democracy. The duo was reportedly detained in 2012 and formally arrested on February 20, 2013. 

A Chinese government publication Dui Hua uncovered in 2022 sheds light on this mysterious case of subversion. Guo operated a private gallery, and Kuo was an architect. The two were accused of establishing a political group known as the “Xingya Party” (兴亚党, lit “Thriving Asia Party”). Guo published posts online and recruited people online to join the group. Members were to become citizens of the “Chinese Federal Republic” (中华联邦共和国). Guo allegedly called on online recruits to carry out violent activities.  

As part of their operation, which they named “Dawn of Liberty,” Kou was allegedly tasked with collecting intelligence about troop deployment and military facilities on Chongming Island, China’s third largest island located on the estuary of Yangtze River in Shanghai. Guo intended to launch a military occupation there and create the “Chinese Federal Republic,” according to the official narrative. Kuo was also accused of scheming and drafting the “state creed.” Guo was arrested for subversion, and Kuo was initially arrested for kidnapping.

Military patrol on Chongming Island. Image credit: Sohu 

While this account is likely the only official source which provides information about the acts of Guo and Kou, Dui Hua is unable to assess how truthful the description of criminal activities is. Assuming this account is accurate, Guo and Kou are not the first people to have been sentenced to lengthy terms for subversion for founding opposition parties and advocating for a violent overthrow of the Chinese government.  

According to Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016, Chinese courts accepted 162 subversion cases involving 347 individuals in the 18-year period from 1998 to 2016. Many of these subversion cases are by nature sensitive, and information pertaining to these cases is far from transparent. 

Among the earliest cases of subversion involved leaders of the so-called “Southwest Yangtze Column of the Chinese Anti-Corruption Army” (中国人民农工反腐败大军西南长江纵队) in Chongqing. Established by farmers in 1998, the group called itself a democratic alternative to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It opposed excessive agricultural taxes and distributed fliers calling for the rehabilitation of June Fourth prisoners on the tenth anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy movement. Sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for subversion in the early 2000s, Song Bukun (宋步坤) is believed to be the last member of the group to be released from prison in September 2013. Dui Hua received two responses from inquiries dating back to 2008 in which government sources said Song received an 11-month sentence reduction in February 2009. 

In March 2006, dissident writer Ren Ziyuan (任自元) was sentenced to 10 years in prison for subversion because he established the “Mainland Democracy Frontline” to promote the right to end tyranny by violent means. He reportedly published anti-government views on the Internet, including a tract entitled "The Road to Democracy" and other essays. Some human rights organizations claim that some of his essays asserted citizens’ rights to violently overthrow tyranny. Ren was released from Shandong No.1 Prison on May 9, 2015, without receiving a single sentence reduction. 

Dui Hua uncovered details of another political party that was accused of “violent intent” in 2019. The “People’s Party,” later renamed the “New Era Communist Party of China,” was founded by Dong Zhanyi (董占义). The group aimed to fight corruption and recruit aggrieved workers and petitioners to overthrow the CCP. Dong and another founding member Chen Guohua (陈国华) established a corporate entity called Tongkang to operate a supermarket project. The plan, according to official documents, was to use the supermarket project to employ online recruits and raise money to fund their political activities, including assassination plots and procuring weapons. Dong was convicted of subversion and fraud and was sentenced to life in 2011 by a Beijing intermediate court. The sentence later was commuted to a fixed 19 years' imprisonment in 2015. Chen was convicted of subversion and sentenced to 14 years. Other key party members were also given long sentences. 

Xu Zhiyong (left) and Ding Jiaxi. Image credit: VOA 

Subversion is not exclusively used to criminalize leaders of opposition parties nor is it confined to suppressing calls for the violent overthrow of the Chinese government. As recently as April 2023, prominent rights activist and legal scholar Xu Zhiyong (许志永) and rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜) were both convicted of subversion. Unlike Guo and Kou's case, Xu and Ding did not establish a dissident party. They are advocates of non-violent resistance and the responsible use of civil and social rights. In late 2019, they organized an informal gathering with around 20 activists and lawyers in Xiamen to discuss current political affairs and activism. Xu and Ding were sentenced to 14 and 12 years in prison, respectively, and their appeals were rejected in November 2023. Despite their rejection of violence, Xu and Ding's sentences are among the harshest for a subversion conviction, exceeding in length even cases where the accused allegedly called for the use of force. 

The fates of Kuo and Guo may no longer be shrouded in secrecy, but the acts leading to their imprisonment were revealed only a decade after they were incarcerated. Such gaps in disclosure further concerns that vague laws with ambiguous wording and low levels of legal transparency are eroding confidence in China's judicial system.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Gray Matters: China’s Aging Prisoners

Men play chess inside the “elderly” prisoner cell block of Henan No. 3 Prison. Image credit: Pan Xiaoling / Southern Weekly

Decades of falling birth rates and rising life expectancy have made China one of the fastest aging countries. In 2023, its population aged 60 and above reached 297 million, or 21.1 percent of the population. While the aging population puts pressure on the already strained pension system and economic growth, elderly prisoners represent another pressing issue that requires more attention.  

Unlike juvenile justice, there is a dearth of information about elderly prisoners. They don’t seem to be an area of concern prevalent or pervasive enough to warrant careful consideration. Even the Ministry of Justice acknowledged the lack of relevant statistical data and academic research, and that judicial organs and law enforcement have yet to develop sensitivity with regard to the conviction, sentencing, rehabilitation, and management of elderly offenders. 

A Rising Estimate 

The World Prison Brief indicated that that there were 1.69 million prisoners in China in 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available. According to Chinese sources, the number increased to two million in 2022 although it has not been officially verified. While publicly available sources have not disaggregated the prison population by age, a 2021 article by the China Prison Association estimated that elderly prisoners accounted for about 5.2 percent of the prison population, and of them 65 percent were male and 35 percent were female. If we extrapolate the estimate from the prison population, an estimated 88,000-104,000 elderly people are in jail today. 

Chinese legal experts generally agree that the number of elderly prisoners has been surging. First, a substantial portion have aged naturally after serving long prison sentences. Following the 2011 eighth amendment to the Criminal Law, more people who were already serving lengthy terms have had to spend more time in jail. The amendment also increased the mandatory minimum time served for life sentences before their sentences can be commuted to fixed terms. In 2015, China introduced the sentence of life without the possibility of parole for people convicted of corruption and bribery. 

Elderly crime has also soared over the years. Statistics provided by the Supreme People Court indicated that the number of defendants aged 60 or above increased fourfold from 5,759 in 1998 to 23,817 in 2016 (See Table 1). However, not all of those tried and convicted ended up in jail. The 2011 Criminal Law amendment allows courts to grant offenders aged 75 or older lighter punishments, such as suspended sentences, because they are seen to pose a smaller risk to society. 

Table 1. Elderly Defendants from 1998-2016
Source: Dui Hua, Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016 

Types of Elderly Crime 

In 2012, China Court Website published its findings on this under-researched topic and summarized the types of elderly crime: 

  1. Most crimes were committed solitarily and could be classified into two distinct categories:  
    • (i) crimes reflecting lower-level needs for survival or safety;  
    • (ii) crimes committed for obtaining economic benefits, venting negative emotions, or satisfying physiological needs; 
  2. The crimes of bribery, abetting, deception, and harboring tended to be perpetrated by elderly people with good education, social status, and work experience attained from their careers; 
  3. Violent crimes such as homicide, aggravated assault, and robbery were rare. Perpetrators typically had poor education and targeted vulnerable groups such as women and children as victims; 
  4. Elderly males committed crimes such as molestation, rape, fraud, theft and harboring while women tended to commit crimes of disrupting social order; 
  5. An increasing number of elderly people were involved in Article 300 “organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” 

Although the 2012 article did not provide relevant figures, Dui Hua’s research into court statistics released by the Supreme People’s Court showed a clear upward trend in “cult,” or unorthodox religion, cases involving elderly prisoners from 1998-2016. In 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, 523 defendants aged 60 or above were tried for Article 300, or 2.2 percent of all elderly defendants. In 1998, when Article 300 was in force for the first year, only three elderly people were tried. The number rose to 103 in 2003 when the crackdown on Falun Gong was in full swing.  

Table 2. Elderly Defendants Tried for Article 300, 1998-2016
Source: Dui Hua, Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016 

Endangering State Security 

Elderly offenders are not prominently represented in cases of endangering state security (ESS), China’s most serious political crimes. Statistics released by the Supreme People’s Court indicated that only 63 defendants aged over 60 or above were tried for ESS from 1998-2016. No elderly people were tried in ESS cases in 2013, 2014, and 2016. 

Table 3. Elderly defendants in ESS cases, 1998-2016 
Source: Dui Hua, Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016 

Dui Hua previously reported the case of Chen Zhaolu (陈兆祿), one of the China’s oldest ESS prisoners. Born on December 9, 1917, in Guangzhou, Chen became a Hong Kong resident in 1968 when he started working for Xinhua News Agency – then China’s de facto consulate in Hong Kong. Eighteen years after his retirement, on November 25, 2003, Chen was detained in Guangzhou on suspicion of espionage. On January 19, 2004, the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Chen to 13 years’ imprisonment. At age 86, he was incarcerated in the elderly prisoner cell block of Guangzhou Prison, Guangdong’s “model prison.” Chen was given a nine-month sentence reduction in 2006 and a 16-month sentence reduction in 2008. He was granted medical parole for a period of three years on September 2, 2009. His sentence expired in October 2014. 

More recently, US citizen and Hong Kong resident Leung Shing-wan (梁成运, aka John Leung) was convicted of espionage and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2023 in Suzhou at the age of 78. Such heavy terms are rare for elderly offenders and for foreign nationals in China. Leung was the chairman of the Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China in Texas. The association is believed to be connected to the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department tasked with promoting Beijing’s claim over Taiwan. His case was showcased on the 10th National Security Education Day on April 15, 2024. 

The Intermediate People's Court of Suzhou, Jiangsu. (Inset) Leung Shing-wan, who was 78 years old when the court convicted him. Image credit: Cantonese Group Cartography / Radio Free Asia

Leniency & Clemency 

While individuals aged 60 or above are generally considered elderly, leniency is now granted at a higher age threshold. The Public Security Administration Punishments Law grants public security the discretion to not impose administrative detention on elderly people over 70 years old, even in cases of serious violations of public security management.  

Additionally, the Criminal Law stipulates lighter punishments for individuals over age 75. Following the 2011 amendment, they cannot be subjected to the death penalty unless the offender has committed an act of particular cruelty. As an indication of the impact this has had, the number of Chinese capital cases involving people over 70 is fewer than 10 cases per year in the early 2010s, compared to the estimated 4,000 people executed in China in 2011. 

The amendment also expanded the scope of leniency by encouraging the use of lighter punishment and suspended sentences to those who commit an intentional crime at the age of 75 or greater. Some critics have similarly argued that this age is too high to have any real impact. 

Provincial authorities have also taken it upon themselves to expound on how elderly offenders are treated with more leniency. In 2014, the Sichuan High People’s Court issued a guiding opinion on the sentencing of elderly prisoners. Offenders of intentional crimes aged 65-74 can have their sentences mitigated by 30 percent. The mitigation length increases to 40 percent for those aged 75 or above. Elderly offenders who commit crimes of negligence can also have their penalty mitigated by 50 percent. The extent of leniency is also determined by the motive, time, method, severity of the crime, truthfulness of their confessions, and willingness to repent. 

In 1991, businessman John Kamm, now executive director of Dui Hua, visited a prison in Guangdong Province. He went to the prison to ask about two members of the Shouters, an “unorthodox religious group.” Upon arrival, Kamm was told that both men had been granted medical parole shortly before he arrived at the prison. The warden claimed that the prison authorities had the discretion to grant medical parole to prisoners over the age of 70. Dui Hua was unable to verify this claim.  

In January 2011, provincial authorities in Anhui grant parole or sentence reductions to 151 elderly or disabled prisoners. Image credit: Legal Daily 

Since Xi Jinping became President in 2012, he has issued two special pardons benefitting specific groups of elderly prisoners (Xi was the first leader to use his power to grant special pardons since Mao Zedong. No special pardons were issued between 1975 and 2015).  
  1. Of the 31,527 people pardoned in 2015, fifty were veterans of the War of Resistance Against Japan (World War II) and the War of Liberation (the Chinese Civil War), 1,428 were veterans of foreign wars who were not convicted of serious crimes, and 122 were over 75 years old “with serious physical difficulties” and “unable to take care of themselves.”  
  2. In 2019, Xi announced the second special pardon to mark the 70th founding anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. This resulted in 15,858 people receiving clemency. It remains to be seen whether Xi will announce a third pardon in 2025 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II. 
Besides the special pardons, releases of elderly prisoners have been rare. An exception was in 2009, when Chinese news media reported that approximately 2,000 elderly, sick, and disabled prisoners were given parole or allowed to temporarily serve sentences outside prison in part to alleviate prison overcrowding. At the time, 5,000 elderly, sick, and disabled prisoners were reportedly held in Sichuan prisons. Another mass release, albeit on a lesser scale, took place in Ningxia also in 2009. Nearly 100 elderly prisoners were granted parole. This clemency took place following a study which revealed that 117 or almost half of the elderly, sick, and handicapped prisoners in Yingchuan Prison and Ningxia Women’s Prison had not received any clemency from 2007-2009. 

On December 15, 2008, a 54-year-old female prisoner returns home after receiving parole and being released from Chengdu Women’s Prison. Her sentence was set to expire in March 2010. Image credit: Sina News 

In carceral facilities, restraint devices are prohibited on elderly prisoners under normal circumstances. Alongside the weak, ill, and handicapped, elderly prisoners are also exempt from prison labor. While Chinese government sources confirmed that around 10 percent of the prison population in 1990 were exempt from physical labor, recent figures have not been made publicly available. Instead, elderly prisoners are assessed by their willingness to express remorse and their performance in education rehabilitation.  

Health Issues 

Prisons are designed to prevent criminals from escaping, not to cater to the elderly. They often have poor lighting, steep stairs, and dim corridors unsuited for elderly prisoners. While these prisoners are typically held in special prison wards along with the ill, weak, and disabled, high bunk beds and pit-style urinals are commonplace and can be physically challenging for elderly prisoners.  

An article published in an academic journal in 2021 examined the health problems of elderly prisoners. The author cited a survey conducted in an elderly ward in Hebei. Of them, over half suffered from cardiovascular diseases, followed by 7.3 percent from tuberculosis, 6.7 percent from diabetes, 2.8 percent from hepatitis, 2.3 percent from asthma, and 2.2 percent from spondylitis. Citing research published in 2018, the study revealed that 57 percent of the elderly in an unnamed Shanghai prison were on daily or regular medication. 

The cost of incarcerating elderly prisoners has surged because of their medical needs. Hospitalization expenses for elderly prisoners in an unnamed prison in a western province rose 77 percent in three years to 15,900 yuan in 2016. Hospitalization alone exceeded 76 percent of the budget allocated for medical care. In a women’s prison also in the western province, the government’s financial allocation for inmates’ medical costs in 2015 could only meet one-sixth of its actual medical expenses. In most provinces, actual medical expenses for inmates similarly exceeded the standard financial allocation by more than 50 percent. Elderly prisoners are said to be the leading cause of the surge in medical costs, according to the author. 

Discriminatory Treatment 

Many elderly political prisoners are known to be ailing, but they have been denied sufficient care in prison. Prominent journalist Gao Yu (高瑜) began serving her five-year prison sentence for illegally trafficking in state secrets for a foreign entity at age 71. The crime stemmed from her leaking “Document No.9,” an internal notice by the Chinese government warning members against promoting “universal values” such as human rights. While incarcerated, she suffered from chronic heart pain, high blood pressure, a form of inner ear disorder called Ménière’s disease, and an undiagnosed chronic skin allergy. She was denied medications she took when living at home and access to specialists to assess and treat her. Gao had to wait two full years before she was admitted to a Beijing hospital to receive treatment. 
Journalist Gao Yu in the Beijing's Anzhen Hospital after her garden and office were demolished, April 5, 2016. Image credit: Su Yutong / Radio Free Asia

Despite their failing health, clemency is not guaranteed for prisoners convicted of politically motivated crimes. Wang Bingzhang (王炳章), born in 1947, continues to serve his life sentence in Guangdong’s Shaoguan Prison 22 years into his sentence. Wang is a veteran dissident who founded the China Democracy & Justice Party. In 2003, he was sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage and organizing a terrorist organization. Information given to Dui Hua by a Chinese government interlocutor confirmed that Wang suffered from thrombophlebitis, varicose veins, "sudden" bradycardia, tinea, and allergic rhinitis. He had suffered a mild stroke. Wang was in prolonged solitary confinement and subjected to daily “political study” meant to get him to write confessions and admit his crimes. Updates provided by his family in March 2023 revealed that Wang had contracted Covid-19 earlier that year, and that he was in constant dental pain and needed dental implants after eight of his teeth had fallen out. However, such dental care is not available in Shaoguan Prison. 

China has a track record in depriving political prisoners of medical care. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo died from liver cancer in 2017 at age 61. Medical parole was granted only when his cancer had advanced. Wang Bingzhang, aged 77 this year, has yet to have his life sentence commuted despite repeated applications for medical parole and clemency over the past two decades. Such discriminatory treatment strengthens the fear that the Chinese government will simply let ailing elderly political prisoners die behind bars. 

Wang Bingzhang, aged 77 this year, has yet to have his life sentence commuted despite repeated applications for medical parole. Image credit: Raoul Wallenberg Centre 

Prisons are responsible for the well-being of all prisoners regardless of their crimes. They should ensure that everyone has immediate access to the specialist care they need. If such care is unavailable in prison, prisoners should be transferred to a hospital before their conditions worsen. Rule 27 of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners states that “All prisons shall ensure prompt access to medical attention in urgent cases. Prisoners who require specialized treatment or surgery shall be transferred to specialized institutions or civil hospitals. Where a prison service has its own hospital facilities, they shall be adequately staffed and equipped to provide prisoners transferred to them with appropriate treatment and care.” 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Dui Hua Hits Important Milestone

Image credit: Dui Hua

Since the Dui Hua Foundation was established in 1999, it has composed and handed over 500 written requests for information on prisoners to the Chinese government. The Chinese government has never refused to accept a list from Dui Hua. 

In the past 25 years, Dui Hua has asked about 2,210 prisoners, of whom 396 were females and 1,316 were males (gender is not known in all cases). The foundation received responses on 1,070 prisoners, of whom 235 were females and 726 were male (gender is not known in all cases). Dui Hua has learned of 454 acts of clemency and better treatment afforded to 294 prisoners on its lists. 

Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database, used to generate prisoner lists, has grown from a few hundred names on notecards in 1999 to 48,699 names at the end of 2023. 

Individuals in the PPDB from 2004-2023. Image credit: Dui Hua

Prior to Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999, founder John Kamm actively engaged the Chinese government in a dialogue focused on prisoners, submitting hundreds of lists and receiving responses on more than a thousand prisoners. Unfortunately, good records were not kept. 

Dui Hua advocates for at-risk detainees — political and religious prisoners and other individuals facing coercive measures. Individuals have been subjected to coercive measures including detention, arrest, imprisonment, and residential surveillance in a designated location, among others. Most names raised by Dui Hua are largely unknown outside of China.

Recipients of Dui Hua lists have included the State Council Information Office, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Supreme People’s Court, State Administration for Religious Affairs, provincial and municipal governments, and government backed policy thinktanks.  

As judicial transparency deteriorated, the number of prisoners about whom information has been provided has decreased but has nevertheless continued. In 2024, nine lists have thus far been accepted and two responses on eight prisoners have been received. 

Sample of prisoner lists from August 1999 (left) and June 2000 (right). Image credit: Dui Hua 

Important acts of clemency that Dui Hua has learned of through active interventions include: 

Xu Wenli (徐文立). Xu was a prominent political dissident who was dubbed “China’s special prisoner number one.” Xu co-founded the China Democracy Party (CDP) and organized activities during the 1979 Democracy Wall Movement leading to his sentence of 15 years in prison in 1982. Kamm’s intervention contributed to parole in 1993. Xu was subsequently convicted of subversion and sentenced to 13 years in prison and three years DPR in 1998. This was Xu’s second imprisonment. Dui Hua inquired about his case eight times during 2000 and 2002. China provided eight responses. Those efforts contributed to Xu being granted medical parole in 2002 and receiving permission to seek medical treatment abroad. Kamm and Dui Hua also successfully advocated for other June 4 protesters and members of the CDP, including Wang Youcai (王有才).  

Zhang Lin (张林). A veteran activist, Zhang was tried and convicted in five separate trials between 1991 and 2014. Kamm and Dui Hua raised his name on ten lists and received eight responses. Dui Hua assisted a women’s rights activist to bring Zhang’s daughters to the United States, then with stakeholders to secure his passage to the United States in 2018.  

Jigme Sangpo (晋美桑布). Takna Jigme Sangpo was a Tibetan school teacher and advocate for Tibetan independence. He was believed to be the longest serving prisoner convicted of counterrevolution. Dui Hua assisted in negotiations, one of which took place in Lhasa. Jigme Sangpo was released in 2002 on medical parole and allowed to come to the United States for medical treatment before taking up residence outside Zurich, Switzerland. Dui Hua submitted eight inquiries between 1999 and 2003, and Kamm submitted at least two in 1995 before the foundation's establishment. He received six responses. Takna Jigme Sangpo passed away on October 17, 2020, at the age of 91. 

Ngawang Sangdrol (阿旺桑珍). At the age of 13, Ngawang Sangdrol was convicted of counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement and sentenced to three years of imprisonment with one year deprivation of political rights (DPR) in 1992. Her sentence was then extended three times to 23 years. Ngawang was the youngest of 13 women known as the “singing nuns of Drapchi.” They secretly recorded and smuggled protest songs out of prison. Ngawang was granted a sentence reduction in 2001 and parole in 2002. John Kamm visited Lhasa in early 2003 and met with Ngawang. Dui Hua helped secure her departure to the United States for medical treatment that same year. Dui Hua made 11 inquiries between 2001 and 2003, either directly to the Chinese government or through governments that held human rights dialogues with China. The Chinese government provided ten responses. Dui Hua also assisted in efforts to secure the early release of another “singing nun,” Phuntsog Nyidron, in 2004.

Xu Zerong (徐泽荣). Xu, a Hong Kong resident and respected expert on China’s military history, was detained in 2000 and accused of stealing state secrets and illegal business activity. He received a combined sentence of 13 years, with three years of DPR. From 2002 to 2011, Dui Hua raised Xu’s case on 28 lists, directly or through stakeholders, and received 26 responses. Those efforts contributed to three sentence reductions, totaling 24 months. Kamm visited the prison where Xu was first incarcerated and pressed the warden to provide better treatment. Xu was transferred to a “model prison” and released in 2011. 

Rebiya Kadeer (热比亚•卡德尔). A prominent Uyghur businesswoman and representative to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Rebiya was placed in custody in August 1999 after attempting to meet with staff of a US congressional delegation that was visiting Urumqi. She was convicted of illegally providing state secrets to an overseas entity in 2000 and sentenced to eight years in prison and two years of DPR. Dui Hua submitted eight inquiries between 2002 and 2004 to the Chinese government and received more than 20 responses. Dui Hua’s efforts contributed to a one-year sentence reduction in 2004 and medical parole in 2005. She was allowed to seek medical treatment aboard.  

Liang Jiantian (梁鉴添). Owner of a small printing shop in Guangzhou, Liang was convicted of illegal business activities, including publishing Falun Gong materials, and sentenced to life in prison in 2000. Dui Hua put Liang’s name on 20 lists and received 18 responses contributing to seven sentence reductions. Liang was released in October 2021.  

Tenzin Delek Rinpoche (丹增德勒仁波切, 阿安扎西). An influential Tibetan monk from Ganzi, Sichuan. An outspoken advocate for local Tibetan autonomy, he led efforts to provide education to poor children and orphans in the region. The authorities accused Tenzin Delek of involvement in several explosions in Chengdu and Ganzi. He was convicted of inciting splittism and setting off explosions and given a sentence of death with two-year reprieve in 2002. The sentence was later commuted to life in 2005. Dui Hua raised the case directly and through governments on 31 lists and received 31 responses during 2002 and 2015. Despite being in poor health, the prison authorities refused to grant him medical parole. Tenzin Delek Rinpoche passed away in July 2015 at the age of 65. The authorities refused to release the body back to the family for a proper burial, fearing potential social unrest. Dui Hua found and provided the family with government regulations that required the body to be treated with respect for ethnic traditions. The government relented. 

Shi Tao (师涛). Shi was an editor of a provincial newspaper in Hunan. In 2005, he received an internal notice instructing reporters not to cover the upcoming 15th anniversary of the June 4th crackdown, Shi described the post on an overseas website. He was detained in 2004 and sentenced to ten years for providing state secrets to an overseas entity. Dui Hua uncovered the connection between a US internet company and the case and attended a congressional hearing on the case. Shi was released in 2013.  

Yao Wentian (姚文田). Publisher and bookstore owner based in Hong Kong. (He is the father of Yao Yongzhan, John Kamm’s first intervention that took place in 1990.) He was convicted for smuggling common goods and sentenced to ten years in 2013. He received a short sentence reduction in 2019. Although the prison authorities refused to consider medical parole for Yao, he was placed in the medical ward of the prison for most of his sentence, exempted from physical labor, and allowed to receive monthly visits from his wife. Yao returned to Hong Kong on February 27, 2023. 

Li Yan (李彦). A woman from Anyue County in Sichuan was sentenced to death for murdering her abusive husband in 2012. The Supreme People’s Court affirmed the judgment in January 2013. In February 2014, Dui Hua convened an international conference on women in prison in which judges from the Supreme People’s Court took part. Topics of domestic violence were discussed. A judge and another official from the court told Dui Hua that what they heard was helpful in reversing the lower court’s decision. In June 2014, the SPC issued a decision to the Sichuan High Court to hold a retrial. The sentence was changed to death with two-year reprieve in April 2015.

Chen Taihe (陈泰和). A lawyer in Guilin, Guangxi, an associate professor at Guilin Electronic Technology University Law School, and an advocate of adopting the jury system, Chen was one of more than 300 lawyers and activists interrogated or detained in the “709” a national-wide police action in 2015, later known as the “7.09” crackdown. Dui Hua worked closely with Chinese officials and diplomats from China and the United States to secure a passport and permission for Chen’s departure for the United States in 2016. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

New Rules on Religion in Xinjiang: Comparing State Council and Provincial Congress Regulations

The entrance to Ihlas Supermarket in the Kashgar city center in August 2018. Various banners and posters bearing political slogans in Mandarin and Uyghur, with slogans promoting speaking Mandarin and ethnic unity. Image credit: Kubilayaxun / CC BY-SA 4.0

Near the end of 2023, the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) issued new regulations on administrating religious affairs in the region. The restive province remains a source of international controversy — Western nations have decried widespread surveillance and religious repression while China has refuted these as politically motivated criticisms and pointed to its support from Muslim-majority nations to validate its policies. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 2022 report concluded that “serious human rights violations” that may constitute crimes against humanity have been committed in the region, and the new regulations passed more than a year after that report and China’s rejection of its findings. 

The fourteenth XUAR People's Congress passed the Religious Affairs Regulation on December 22, 2023, at its seventh session. The new regulations will take effect on February 1, 2024, a week after its human rights record was examined in the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. Xinjiang was notably a recurring issue during this review, which took place on January 23, 2024. 

The regional regulations are based in large part on the 2018 National Religious Affairs Regulation issued by the State Council. The Xinjiang regulations introduce several provisions “in consideration of [the] actual circumstances in the autonomous region.” (XJ Article 1) 

Using translations done by the China Law Translation, Dui Hua has put together a side-by-side comparison (link) of the XUAR Religious Affairs Regulations (2024), hereafter referred to as XJ regulations, and the State Council Religious Affairs Regulations (2018), hereafter SC regulations

In the XJ regulations, some provisions from the SC regulations are re-arranged and combined. They also omit details of some provisions included in the SC version by simply referring to them as “in accordance with the national laws, regulations, and rules.” 

Such regulations and rules include the Measures for Administration of Religious Venues introduced by the State Religious Affairs Bureau, which went into effect on September 1, 2023. Some of the notable differences between the XJ and SC versions are highlighted below.  

Battling Against Endangering State Security, Extremism, & Ethnic Hatred 

The stated goal of the XJ regulations is to protect citizens' freedom of religious worship and to maintain religious and social harmony. Both the XJ regulations and the SC regulations highlight the responsibility of religious groups and believers to fight criminal activities carried out in the name of religion. 

Both regulations reference the need to battle extremism (SC Article 3. XJ Article 4) and activities that might endanger state security (SC Article 4, 63, 64. XJ Article 5), especially splittism (SC Article 4, 63, 73(1). XJ Article 5, 49(2)). While both versions strongly emphasize the importance of promoting and maintaining “ethnic harmony” the XJ regulations also reference “inciting ethnic hatred” in its text (XJ Article 5, 49(2)), which is not mentioned in the SC text. 

XJ expands on the emphasis against religious extremism and includes specific behavior in Article 47: 

  • ...must not use appearances, apparel, signs, symbols, and so forth to play up religious fanaticism; 
  • [must] not coerce or force others to wear religious extremist clothing or wear religious extremist symbols or signs. 

Publishing & Personal Consumption of Religious Materials 

While SC Article 45 permits religious groups, religious schools, and churches and temples to print materials for internal use (“in accordance with relevant laws on publishing”), XJ Article 48 requires such publications to be reviewed and approved by the regional religious affairs bureau. A printing permit issued by the regional news and press department is required and distribution can only be within the approved scope.  

De-extremization propaganda paintings. Image credit 

SC Article 45 stipulates religious materials cannot contain content: 
  1. that undermines harmonious co-existence between religious and non-religious citizens; 
  2. that undermines the harmony between different religions or within a religion;  
  3. that discriminates against or insults religious or non-religious citizens;  
  4. that advocates religious extremism;  
  5. that contravenes the principle of religions' independence and self-governance. 
XJ Article 49 expands on this by prohibiting five more types of illegal content: 

(1) that undermines national unity, social stability, economic development, and scientific and technological progress;   
(2) that incites ethnic hatred, ethnic discrimination, and undermines ethnic unity;   
(3) that promotes ethnic separatism, religious extremism, and violent terrorism;  
(7) that endangers social morality or the traditional culture of China; and 
(8) Other content prohibited by laws, regulations, and state provisions. 

XJ Article 50 further restricts individual consumption of contents that are deemed illegal (as defined by Article 49) on the internet or other digital formats, including mobile phones and portable data storage. The article adds that “Organizations and individuals must not illegally listen to, watch, or transmit overseas religious radio and television programs.” 

However, the XJ version omits SC Article 46 which regulates importing religious materials from overseas for personal use.  

A photo of the Urumqi bazaar taken in 2005. Image credit: 29cm via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Religious School Appointments & Sinicization 

The XJ regulations largely follow the SC regulations in “Chapter II: Religious Groups” (on rules for personnel appointments) and “Chapter III: Religious Schools” (on religious training), but it adds the requirement that religious schools and religious training should contribute to social harmony and Chinese culture by incorporating “Chinese characteristics.” 

XJ Article 11(3) stipulates that research on religious culture and texts should: 

“... thoroughly uncover content in religious teachings and rules that are conducive to social harmony, modern progress, and health and civilization; and make interpretations of religious teachings and rules in line with contemporary China's requirements for development and improvement, and in line with the outstanding traditional Chinese culture.” 

XJ Article 14 also asks religious schools to: 

“...follow the path of school operations with Chinese characteristics, running the school in accordance with law, advancing educational and teaching reforms, and increasing the quality of school operations.” 

Sinicization reappears in “Chapter IV: Religious Activity Sites” which regulates building, renovation, and expansion of religious sites and venues. XJ Article 26 adds that sites that are newly built or renovated, expanded, or rebuilt shall “reflect Chinese characteristics and style in areas such as their architecture, sculptures, paintings, and decorations.” 

Conduct of Religious Professionals 

While the SC regulations includes brief, generalized provisions regulating the conduct of religious professionals, including the requirement to follow relevant laws and rules and to protect their rites, the XJ regulations call on personnel to also follow orthodoxy and anti-extremism measures.  

XJ Article 38 further defines specific acts that are not permitted, including: 

  1. Making “edicts” [DH: Idhn—permission, promise], appointing religious presiding officiants, and restoring or indirectly restoring feudal privileges;  
  2. Accepting canonization, appointments, or honorary titles from overseas organizations or individuals; 
  3. Accepting instruction on engaging in religious and educational activities from overseas organizations or individuals;  
  4. Setting up private meeting places and establishing illegal religious organizations;  
  5. Conducting unauthorized “living Buddha reincarnation" activities. 

Of these, (1) is a common practice among Chinese Hui Muslims, and (5) is specific to Tibetan Buddhism.  

A roadside sign in Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, written in both Uyghur and Chinese with the phrase “I liken the party to my mother. Image credit: Kubilayaxun / CC BY-SA 4.0 

An Expansion of Past Regulations 

It is important to note that the XJ regulations are an expansion of the SC regulations. On the surface, it appears that the XJ regulations include fewer mentions of the phrase “extremism.” However, the regional version refers in places to being “in accordance with the relevant national laws and regulations,” which is a clear reference to the SC regulations. The regional regulations also made combating splittism and extremism a top priority, including allocating these responsibilities to religious schools and religious professionals. Additionally, the XUAR previously passed de-extremification regulations in 2017. 

The XJ regulations build on the SC ones to further dictate how individuals and institutions can engage with state-sanctioned religions. Beyond the restrictions and obligations outlined above, both regulations also place restrictions on adhering to specific pillars of Islam. For example, going abroad for the Hajj is permitted only when organized by a national Islamic group (in this case the Islamic Association of China), and both regulations include rules against accepting overseas funds (SC Article 57; XJ Article 45) with a few exceptions, which may impinge on the third pillar of Islam known as Zakat, or almsgiving). 

Similarly, other regions like Qinghai and the Tibet Autonomous Region have their own religious affairs regulations. Qinghai’s went into effect on October 1, 2021 and Tibet’s a month later on November 1, 2021. The Tibetan regulations also include some provisions specific to Tibetan Buddhist tradition and beliefs, such as reincarnation. The Chinese government’s insistence on controlling all aspects of religious practice, from what materials adherents can possess to transnational processes, reflect how national security and social stability concerns drive policies that demand adherence to the state above all.   

Dui Hua has compiled a side-by-side comparison of the XJ and SC regulations and provided comments where appropriate: Comparison of XJ and SC Regulations 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Surprise Success in Bridging the US & China is a Dialogue on Juvenile Justice

US-China relations are thought to be all-time low since the two countries resumed engagement in the 1970s. But in one surprising area, the United State and China are benefiting from open, cordial, and productive dialogue: improving juvenile justice. 

In an article for Civic Research Insititute’s Juvenile Justice Update Winter 2024 edition, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm details the Dui Hua Foundation’s work on juvenile justice with representatives from China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC). In 2007, Kamm and a Chinese legal expert visited with San Francisco Bay Area legal practitioners. Following this, Kamm, with the MacArthur foundation, organized an official exchange between a Chinese delegation to the United States. At each stop, Chinese legal experts gave presentations on juvenile justice in China and engaged in discussions with US experts about best practices and work to be done.  

The 2008 exchange marked the beginning of Dui Hua’s cooperation with the SPC. In the 15 years since, Dui Hua has facilitated eight other programs, most recently in April 2023. In the journal, Kamm describes some of the key changes that have occurred since these exchanges began. These include: 
  • There has been a continuous drop in juvenile convictions, which have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2013, according to statistics released by the SPC and Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) in 2022. 
  • In 2022, the number of juvenile convictions reached a record low, with only 27,757 juveniles tried nationwide.  
  • Following the first Dui Hua-facilitated Chinese-U.S. exchange, juvenile convictions continued to decrease year-by-year. Convictions fell below 5 percent for the first time in 2013.
  • The Chinese have incorporated restorative practices into its justice operations, reducing the number of juvenile arrests and prosecutions.  
    • Of particular significance is the wider use of conditional non-prosecution, known in the United States as diversion. In 2022, 26,161 juvenile cases were diverted. In 2013, diversion was incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Law. Since 2014, the number of juveniles offered conditional non-prosecution increased eightfold. 
    • Record sealing was incorporated into the Criminal Procedure Law in 2013. A total of 92,694 juveniles had their records sealed from 2020-2022. In 2022, 33,021 juvenile records were sealed, an increase from 28,163 in 2020 and 31,510 in 2021. 
Read the full article [PDF]

Thursday, January 11, 2024

From "Vineyard” to Prison: The House of Joseph

A photo of Kunshan, Suzhou, where the House of Joseph has been known to operate. Image credit: Song Sangroov / CC BY 3.0 DEED 

Dui Hua continues to uncover information on Chinese religious groups following the release of its report “The Persecution of Unorthodox Religious Groups in China” in March 2022. Three new groups have been identified including the House of Joseph, or yuesejia (约瑟家) in Mandarin Chinese, Xinling Famen (心灵法门), and Corporate Christ (团体基督). 

The House of Joseph is an indigenous Christian group whose members are at risk of arrest and imprisonment. Founded in 1992 by Wei Zhuxiang (魏柱祥) as an offshoot of the Spirit Church, or linglingjiao (灵灵教), the House of Joseph is sometimes called “the third generation” of the True Jesus Church (真耶稣教会) from which the Spirit Church was splintered in 1986. According to Chinese government sources, Wei predicted an apocalypse in 2000 and said that conversion to the House of Joseph was the only way to salvation. He allegedly “distorted” the Bible by proclaiming himself Joseph, son of Jesus. He claimed that the holy spirit had descended on him and his wife, and the couple became the new god after they united as one. He also stated that he was reincarnated as a shepherd in the earthly world in search of “another flock of sheep.” His goal is to launch an evangelizing mission which he calls “the 6,000-Year Project of the God.”  

Unorthodox religious groups often stand accused of illegally amassing a fortune from superstitious believers through “indoctrination” and “mind control.” The House of Joseph is no exception. The church allegedly asks adherents for donations to repent their sins, and it arranges marriages for male adherents who pay a fee from 5,000-20,000 yuan. Following Wei’s unfulfilled apocalyptic prophecy in 2000, Wei started calling on believers to join settlements or communities that he termed “vineyards” and described as swathes of paradise on earth. Believers were admitted after they paid a fee of 2,000 yuan. Chinese government sources reveal that he used the money to create economic entities in garment processing, engineering construction, planting and breeding, catering services, and trading. Violators of his church rules would be ordered to fast, suspended from employment, and even dismissed from his “vineyards.” 

Wei once claimed that his church had as many as 100,000 members. However, Chinese government sources suggest that the group only has a limited reach in China, with over 1,000 devoted members mostly in Huai’an and Kunshan (in Jiangsu Province), and Shanghai. It is unclear when the Chinese government started labelling the House of Joseph an “evil cult,” but a court judgment Dui Hua uncovered states that Wei was among the 12 leading members detained amid a crackdown in 2005. In 2006, the Kunshan City People’s Court convicted Wei of fraud and sentenced him to 10 years and six months in prison. Wei was released from prison in April 2014. His wife was also sentenced in the same case, but information about the criminal punishment she received is not available. 

Footage of a baptism conducted by the True Jesus Church, which the House of Joseph is thought to have splintered from. Image credit: True Jesus Church live stream 

Re-Indicted in 2020 

Wei continued to develop his church after he was released from prison. In May 2020, Wei was re-arrested in Suqian, Jiangsu, alongside another leading member Wang Shoucai (王守财) for “organizing a cult to undermine implementation of the law.” Six months later, Wei and Wang were among the 17 House of Joseph members who were indicted for violating Article 300. The procuratorate accused them of “disseminating propaganda materials all over the country to promote the cultic ideology of the House of Joseph, collecting donations from believers, and illegally amassing a fortune” since 2017. 

Dui Hua has not been unable to find a court judgment concerning this case. However, given China’s high conviction rates and that Wei reoffended, it is highly likely that Wei received a lengthy prison sentence and is serving a second prison stint in Jiangsu. 

Suqian, Jiangsu, where the House of Joseph leader Wei was arrested after serving his prison sentence. Image credit: Invercargill City Council 

Other Convictions 

    I.    Zhang X 

Besides Wei, Dui Hua found that two other House of Joseph members were convicted prior to his re-indictment in 2020. In the first case, Wei’s nephew surnamed Zhang received a three-year suspended sentence for violating Article 300 in December 2015. Zhang, a farmer, was initially placed under residential surveillance in March 2012. That same month, he was released on bail pending further investigation. He was indicted three years later, in April 2015. The following month, he was released on bail again until the Huaiyin District People’s Court resumed the trial on September 17, 2015. 

Zhang converted to the House of Joseph in 2001 and was appointed by Wei as the head of a Kunshan-based “vineyard” in 2011 while Wei was serving his 10 years and six months’ prison sentence. The court judgment states that Zhang “actively obeyed and earnestly carried out Wei’s orders through letters and verbal messages from prison.” Wei made another prediction of cataclysm which would take place on November 16, 2011 following a nuclear war. Adherents were told that they must seek refuge from three arks (like those used by Noah in religious texts), one of which was in Tibet. Individuals would be denied refuge unless they had been baptized by the House of Joseph by September 12, 2011. Zhang disseminated Wei’s prophecy and continued to help Wei to exert indirect control of church members. 

In preparation for the impending cataclysm, Zhang sold his Jiangsu vineyards and arranged for over a thousand church members to relocate to Xinjiang and Tibet where he intended to re-establish his organizational branch. In Xinjiang, Zhang organized about 60 missionaries to conduct overseas evangelization in Iran and Thailand. Zhang ordered one of the teams to travel to Iran for a religious exchange and requested that church members print 4,000 leaflets with Farsi translations of the church doctrines. In Tibet, Zhang formed four other teams of missionaries to preach domestically. All their activities were funded directly by the House of Joseph. 

In November 2011, one of the missionaries Zhang dispatched to China’s northeast was detained. Foreseeing an imminent risk of police investigation, Zhang deleted all correspondences with the missionary and dismissed all church members who had relocated to Xinjiang and Tibet. Before Zhang was able to transfer out the church funds, police seized over 54 million yuan, 2,100 grams of gold, and an apartment owned by the church in Jiangsu.  

Zhang’s punishment was lenient  because he turned himself in and disbanded his organizational branch in 2011. During the court trial, he claimed to have recanted his religious beliefs by questioning Wei’s unfulfilled prophecy concerning the nuclear war. He also pledged to not join any cult activities. Zhang’s three-year suspended sentence ended in December 2018. 

An image of Huai’an, one of the locations where the House of Joseph has been based. Image credit: Huai’an Economic and Technological Development Zone 

    II.    Chen X 

The House of Joseph continued to operate despite suffering a major blow after Zhang shuttered his Tibet and Xinjiang organizational branches. A court judgment Dui Hua acquired indicated another Jiangsu farmer surnamed Chen was sentenced to three years in prison on October 15, 2015, also for violating Article 300. Chen organized home gatherings with 15 other members despite “knowing full well that the church had been banned by relevant authorities” since February 10, 2010.  

Unlike Zhang, Chen does not appear to have been in close contact with Wei. Chen said all the 16 church members who took part in the home gatherings were God’s descendants and possessed powers to cure sicknesses and cast out demons. The judgment made no mention of Wei’s apocalyptic prediction in 2011. Chen was accused of printing 2,000 leaflets to spread claims that he possessed healing powers and had successfully cured more than 500 patients. Chen is believed to have been released from prison on December 10, 2017, assuming that he did not receive either sentence reduction or sentence extension. 

Dui Hua has been unable to find additional information about the House of Joseph beyond what is stated in the 2020 indictment and the two aforementioned court judgments. China’s Anti-Cult Association, which disseminates propaganda about the harmful nature of evil cults, is not known to have published a single article about the church. The House of Joseph has officially been designated as harmful on the grounds that it is both fraudulent and superstitious. However, as with many of the non-violent unorthodox religious groups in China, it is unclear if this opposition to the group is meant to protect the Chinese people from harmful superstition, or if it is another way to protect the Chinese government from a grassroots group with organizational capacity. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

APEC Summit Highlights Need for Stable Relations

An APEC banner promoting the San Francisco summit. Image credit: APEC press kit 

When US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco this week, they will have lots to talk about. 

As at every meeting between Chinese and US leaders in recent years, Taiwan tops the agenda. Wars in Ukraine and the Middle East will not be far behind.  

China has objected to the sale of weapons to Taiwan – a recent headline in a BBC story read “The US is quietly arming Taiwan to the teeth” – as well as multiple visits to the island by US officials touched off by then-Speaker Pelosi’s August 2022 visit. There have been numerous close encounters between US and Chinese warplanes and naval vessels in the South China and East China Seas in recent months. 

Issues relating to trade – market access, intellectual property protection, export and import restrictions imposed by both countries on products ranging from semiconductors to rare earths – will come up as will narcotics, especially the trafficking of deadly fentanyl. China’s anti-espionage law is causing considerable disquiet in the foreign business community in China. 

The United States wants to talk about the situations in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, but China does not. The United States considers Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang legitimate topics for discussion, but China will push back, stating that what goes on in those three places are China’s internal affairs and as such are none of the United States’ business. 

Human Rights 

Human rights will come up, though they are likely not high on the agenda. Here too the presidents have plenty to discuss. 

The Moscone Center, where APEC events will be held. Image credit: Sergiy Galyonkin / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Dui Hua estimates that there are around 200 Americans undergoing coercive measures in China, but the State Department refuses to release the actual number or even an estimate. The US State Department considers three Americans – Mark Swidan, Pastor David Lin, and Li Kai, all businessmen – to be “unjustly imprisoned” in China. 

The meeting between Biden and Xi will take place 11 years after Mark Swidan was detained in Guangdong Province. He has been sentenced to death with two-year reprieve. Multiple senators and representatives have called for his release. If Mark Swidan is released on medical parole and allowed to return to his mother in Texas, this will be viewed positively by the American people. 

The Chinese government also believes that Chinese citizens have been persecuted in the United States, but it has not publicly released their names. 

In addition to citizens thought by the Department of State to be unjustly detained, there is the nettlesome problem of exit bans. Dui Hua estimates there are more than 20 Americans under exit bans, including businessman Henry Cai, who has been forbidden to leave China for nearly seven years. 

The US government raises the names of relatives of US citizens who have been imprisoned in China, including Uyghurs. High priorities are Dr. Gulshan Abbas, Professor Rahile Dawut. and entrepreneur Ekpar Asat. 

On September 24, 2015, President Xi and then-Vice President Joe Biden stand during the US national anthem on Xi’s state visit. Image credit: Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant / US Air Force photo  

While the fate of prisoners is high on the list of human rights issues, it is also possible that the two leaders will talk about areas where the two countries can cooperate. These include the rights of juveniles, women in prison, and the disabled. Dui Hua has worked closely with China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) on juvenile justice reform and the rights of incarcerated women and girls in both countries. The foundation has partnered with the SPC on nine programs in this area since 2008, most recently in April 2023. In the past the United States and China have held a dialogue on the rights of the disabled. These programs have made a difference for those at risk in both countries. 

Number of Dialogues Declines Sharply 

When President Trump took office there were more than 100 dialogues between the United States and China covering a wide range of subjects. Now only a handful remain, including the dialogue on consular affairs where the fates of detained citizens are raised.  

The last human rights dialogue between China and the United States took place in 2016. The dialogue has been suspended since. Meanwhile, China is less interested in holding human rights dialogues with Western countries. There were once as many 10 such dialogues, and many consultations. Now they are few and far between. Instead, China is focused on dialogues and consultations with like-minded countries like Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. Several such events have taken place in 2023. 

Years ago, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm was told by a Chinese official that “When relations are good, your work benefits. When relations are bad, your work suffers.” This is as true today as it was those years ago. 

At APEC2022, Thailand passes the baton—a bamboo basket decorated in three colors symbolizing the values of openness, connection, and balance—to the United States as the next host of APEC2023. Image credit: APEC Thailand X account 

The drop in the number of dialogues between China and the United States has fueled a lack of trust between the two countries, and contributed to a situation where leaders are forced to discuss a long list of issues, some of which are complicated and contentious. 

It is quite possible that a result of APEC summit will be the resumption of suspended dialogues between the United States and China, including the human rights dialogue. If the rights dialogue is resumed, preparations need to begin as soon as possible, including agreement on guidelines. Washington is expected to insist on the right to submit prisoner lists and get responses in return. Hopefully Beijing will agree.