China’s vice president Xi Jinping will visit the White House on February 14, providing a glimpse of the country’s presumptive next leader. US officials are likely to come under pressure to raise the regime’s deteriorating human rights record.
The Obama administration should make “absolutely, unambiguously clear” to Xi that human rights are central to US-China relations, said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch.
The White House is expected to raise the case of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, but activists believe senior officials should also meet and raise the cases of less celebrated dissidents such as Yu Jie (left) who was forced into exile this month after undergoing torture.
“The administration has to find a way to make its rhetorical commitment to supporting human rights more real,” Richardson said. “They should hear the views of the people the Chinese government tortures, in addition to those of the Chinese government itself.”
The growing use of disappearances is one of a number of human rights setbacks related to the ruling Communist party’s severe crackdown in the wake of the Arab Spring, according to World Report 2012, the rights group’s annual survey.
Growing domestic unrest is also fuelling the Communist authorities’ anxiety, the report suggests, prompting “a more hard-line response as the public increasingly demands the rule of law and respect for the freedoms of association, belief, and expression.”
The coming year could see further regression as the regime tries to legalize the practice of ‘disappearing’ dissidents like the celebrated artist and democracy advocate Ai Weiwei.
Xi is considered a pragmatist who straddles the terrain between reformists and neo-Maoist conservatives, analysts suggest.
Xi’s “red” family background and coming of age in the turmoil of Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-76) have prompted some observers to suggest he could take a harder line against Washington, Reuters reports, which would also reflect growing nationalist sentiment in China.
Some party factions recognize the need to modernize China’s model of export-driven growth and revamp the social compact underpinning one-party rule. But a “fundamental flaw” at the heart of the Market-Leninist project to clone a Communist-capitalist hybrid presents an insuperable obstacle to reform, writes analyst Minxin Pei.
“As long as pro-market reforms are used as a means to preserve the political monopoly of the CCP, such reforms are doomed to fail,” he contends:
First, since reform is crisis-driven, its achievements are bound to, paradoxically, reduce the pressure for continuing the reform. The moment the CCP’s rule is more secure due to improved economic performance, its ruling elites would lose incentives for further reform. That is why during the previous decade we observed the phenomenon of growth without reform.
Second, the CCP is no ordinary ruling party. It is a sprawling political patronage system filled with self-interested individuals eager to cash in their political investments. The conversion of political power into economic privileges and profits is far easier in an economy heavily controlled by the state than in a more market-oriented one. As a result, the interests of the ruling elites are in conflict with the imperatives of market reforms. Seen from the opposite angle, this logic illuminates the systemic cause of China’s “crony compitalism” – the marriage of power and wealth is made possible only when a post-communist autocracy is in charge of a half-reformed economy.