Principal Government Officials
Chief of State: President Xi Jinping
Head of Government: Premier Wen Jiabao
Chinese Communist Party
The estimated 78 million-member CCP, authoritarian in structure and ideology, continues to dominate government. Nevertheless, China's population, geographical vastness, and social diversity frustrate attempts to rule by fiat from Beijing. Central leaders must increasingly build consensus for new policies among party members, local and regional leaders, influential non-party members, and the population at large.
In periods of greater openness, the influence of people and organizations outside the formal party structure has tended to increase, particularly in the economic realm. This phenomenon is most apparent today in the rapidly developing coastal region. Nevertheless, in all important government, economic, and cultural institutions in China, party committees work to see that party and state policy guidance is followed and that non-party members do not create autonomous organizations that could challenge party rule. Party control is tightest in government offices and in urban economic, industrial, and cultural settings; it is considerably looser in the rural areas, where roughly half of the people live.
Theoretically, the party's highest body is the Party Congress, which traditionally meets at least once every 5 years. The 17th Party Congress took place in fall 2007. The primary organs of power in the Communist Party include:
* The Politburo Standing Committee, which currently consists of nine members;
* The Politburo, consisting of 25 full members, including the members of the Politburo Standing Committee;
* The Secretariat, the principal administrative mechanism of the CCP, headed by Politburo Standing Committee member and executive secretary Xi Jinping;
* The Central Military Commission;
* The Central Discipline Inspection Commission, which is charged with rooting out corruption and malfeasance among party cadres.
The Chinese Government has always been subordinate to the Chinese Communist Party; its role is to implement party policies. The primary organs of state power are the National People's Congress (NPC), the President (the head of state), and the State Council. Members of the State Council include Premier Wen Jiabao (the head of government), a variable number of vice premiers (now four), five state councilors (protocol equivalents of vice premiers but with narrower portfolios), and 25 ministers, the central bank governor, and the auditor-general.
Under the Chinese constitution, the NPC is the highest organ of state power in China. It meets annually for about 2 weeks to review and approve major new policy directions, laws, the budget, and major personnel changes. These initiatives are presented to the NPC for consideration by the State Council after previous endorsement by the Communist Party's Central Committee. Although the NPC generally approves State Council policy and personnel recommendations, various NPC committees hold active debate in closed sessions, and changes may be made to accommodate alternative views.
When the NPC is not in session, its permanent organ, the Standing Committee, exercises state power.
The government's efforts to promote rule of law are ongoing. After the Cultural Revolution, China's leaders aimed to develop a legal system to restrain abuses of official authority and revolutionary excesses. In 1982, the National People's Congress adopted a new state constitution that emphasized the rule of law under which even party leaders are theoretically held accountable.
Since 1979, when the drive to establish a functioning legal system began, more than 300 laws and regulations, most of them in the economic area, have been promulgated. The use of mediation committees--informed groups of citizens who resolve about 90% of China's civil disputes and some minor criminal cases at no cost to the parties--is one innovative device. There are more than 800,000 such committees in both rural and urban areas.
Legal reform became a government priority in the 1990s. Legislation designed to modernize and professionalize the nation's lawyers, judges, and prisons was enacted. The 1994 Administrative Procedure Law allows citizens to sue officials for abuse of authority or malfeasance. In addition, the criminal law and the criminal procedures laws were amended to introduce significant reforms. The criminal law amendments abolished the crime of "counter-revolutionary" activity, although many persons are still incarcerated for that crime. Criminal procedures reforms also encouraged establishment of a more transparent, adversarial trial process. The Chinese constitution and laws provide for fundamental human rights, including due process, but these are often ignored in practice. In addition to other judicial reforms, the constitution was amended in 2004 to include the protection of individual human rights and legally-obtained private property, but it is unclear how some of these provisions will be implemented. Since this amendment, there have been new publications in bankruptcy law and anti-monopoly law, and modifications to company law and labor law. Although new criminal and civil laws have provided additional safeguards to citizens, previously debated political reforms, including expanding elections to the township level beyond the current trial basis, have been put on hold.
The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom Reports noted China's continuing abuses of human rights in violation of internationally recognized norms, stemming both from the authorities' intolerance of dissent and the inadequacy of legal safeguards for basic freedoms. The government has increased its efforts to reign in civil society, particularly non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in rights advocacy and public interest issues, and has stepped up attempts to limit freedom of speech and freedom of religion and to control the press, the Internet, and Internet access. Abuses increased around high-profile events in 2010, such as the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to democracy activist Liu Xiaobo and the anniversaries of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Tiananmen Square incident, and the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The government continued its severe cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Tibetan areas. Other reported abuses included arbitrary and lengthy incommunicado detention, extrajudicial killings, executions without due process, forced confessions, torture, and mistreatment of prisoners as well as severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion, privacy, worker rights, and coercive birth limitation. China continues the monitoring, harassment, intimidation, and arrest of journalists, Internet writers, defense lawyers, religious activists, and political dissidents. The activities of NGOs, especially those relating to the rule of law and public interest work, continue to be restricted. The Chinese Government also seeks to regulate religious groups and worship. Religious believers who seek to practice their faith outside of state-controlled religious venues and unregistered religious groups and spiritual movements are subject to intimidation, harassment, and detention. Chinese Communist Party members are discouraged from participating in religious activities.
Since 1999, the Secretary of State has designated China a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for particularly severe violations of religious freedom.
China's economic growth and reform since 1978 have improved economic conditions for hundreds of millions of Chinese, increased social mobility, and expanded the scope of personal freedom. This has meant greater freedom of travel, employment opportunities, educational and cultural pursuits, job and housing choices, and access to information. In April 2009 the government unveiled its first National Human Rights Action Plan. The document outlined human rights goals to be achieved in 2009 to 2010 and addressed issues such as prisoners' rights and the role of religion in society.
The U.S. has conducted 14 rounds of human rights dialogue with China since the Tiananmen massacre. The most recent round took place in April 2011, led by Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner and Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for International Organizations Chen Xu. Discussion topics included, but were not limited to, freedom of expression, rule of law, religious freedom, labor rights, minority issues, and multilateral cooperation.
On July 5, 2009, ethnic violence erupted in Urumqi and other parts of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. The unrest continued in the following days, with Chinese state media reporting over 150 deaths and more than 1,000 injured. There was a significantly increased security presence in Urumqi and its surrounding areas and subsequently some mosques in Xinjiang were closed. Urumqi remains under a heavy police presence, and most Internet and international phone communication was cut off through early 2010.
On October 8, 2010 the independent Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." He was the first Chinese citizen awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China. Liu Xiaobo was arrested in China in December 2008 and convicted of “incitement to subvert state power” in December 2009. He remains in prison. Since the announcement of the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, there have been consistent reports that his wife, Liu Xia, has been under de facto house arrest, with her movements and communication controlled by the authorities. The United States has repeatedly called for the immediate release of Liu Xiabo, as well as other political prisoners in China, including those under house arrest, such as Liu Xia, and those enduring forced disappearances, such as Gao Zhisheng.
In late 2010 and early 2011, dozens of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, intellectuals, and activists were arbitrarily detained and arrested. Among them was the prominent artist Ai Weiwei, whose detention in early April 2011 signaled an expansion of the Chinese Government’s crackdown on the activist community. While Ai Weiwei was released on bail in late June, the trend of forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions and arrests, and convictions of dissidents and activists in China for exercising their internationally recognized human rights continues.
Since its establishment, the People's Republic has worked vigorously to win international support for its position that it is the sole legitimate government of all China, including Hong Kong, Macau, Tibet, and Taiwan. In the early 1970s, most world powers diplomatically recognized Beijing. Beijing assumed the China seat in the United Nations (UN) in 1971 and has since become increasingly active in multilateral organizations. Japan established diplomatic relations with China in 1972, and the United States did so in 1979. As of 2011, the number of countries that had diplomatic relations with Beijing had risen to 171, while 23 maintained diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
After the founding of the P.R.C., China's foreign policy initially focused on solidarity with the Soviet Union and other communist countries. In 1950, China sent the People's Liberation Army into North Korea to help North Korea halt the UN offensive that was approaching the Yalu River. After the conclusion of the Korean conflict, China sought to balance its identification as a member of the Soviet bloc by establishing friendly relations with Pakistan and other Third World countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.
In the 1960s, Beijing competed with Moscow for political influence among communist parties and in the developing world generally. Following the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and clashes in 1969 on the Sino-Soviet border, Chinese competition with the Soviet Union increasingly reflected concern over China's own strategic position.
In late 1978, the Chinese also became concerned over Vietnam's efforts to establish open control over Laos and Cambodia. In response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, China fought a brief border war with Vietnam (February-March 1979) with the stated purpose of "teaching Vietnam a lesson."
Chinese anxiety about Soviet strategic advances was heightened following the Soviet Union's December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Sharp differences between China and the Soviet Union persisted over Soviet support for Vietnam's continued occupation of Cambodia, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Soviet troops along the Sino-Soviet border and in Mongolia--the so-called "three obstacles" to improved Sino-Soviet relations.
In the 1970s and 1980s China sought to create a secure regional and global environment and to foster good relations with countries that could aid its economic development. To this end, China looked to the West for assistance with its modernization drive and for help in countering Soviet expansionism, which it characterized as the greatest threat to its national security and to world peace.
China maintained its consistent opposition to "superpower hegemony," focusing almost exclusively on the expansionist actions of the Soviet Union and Soviet proxies such as Vietnam and Cuba, but it also placed growing emphasis on a foreign policy independent of both the United States and the Soviet Union. While improving ties with the West, China continued to follow closely economic and other positions of the Third World nonaligned movement, although China was not a formal member.
In the immediate aftermath of Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989, many countries reduced their diplomatic contacts with China as well as their economic assistance programs. In response, China worked vigorously to expand its relations with foreign countries, and by late 1990, had reestablished normal relations with almost all nations. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, China also opened diplomatic relations with the republics of the former Soviet Union.
In recent years, Chinese leaders have been regular travelers to all parts of the globe, and China has sought a higher profile in the UN through its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and other multilateral organizations. Closer to home, China has made efforts to reduce tensions in Asia, hosting the Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program. The United States and China share common goals of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and North Korean denuclearization. The U.S. continually consults with China on how it can best use its influence with North Korea and discusses the importance of fully implementing U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, including sanctions to prevent North Korean proliferation activities.
China has cultivated a more cooperative relationship with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and actively participated in the ASEAN Regional Forum. China has also taken steps to improve relations with countries in South Asia, including India, with which it has a longstanding border dispute. Marking the 60th year of diplomatic ties between the two countries, Premier Wen visited India in December 2010 to further develop the bilateral relationship between the two countries; trade in goods between the two countries reached nearly $60 billion in 2010. In April 2011, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met President Hu on the margins of the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) Summit in Hainan.
China currently has warm ties with Russia, and President Hu chose Moscow for his first state visit after his assumption of office in 2003. China and Russia conducted a first round of joint military exercises in August 2005, and have since conducted regular joint exercises, often under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a regional grouping that includes China, Russia, and the Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Relations with Japan improved following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's October 2006 visit to Beijing, and have seen a gradual improvement under successive Japanese administrations. Tensions persist with Japan, however, on longstanding and emotionally charged disputes over history and competing claims to portions of the East China Sea, and relations suffered a new dip following Japan's September 2010 arrest of a Chinese fishing trawler captain for ramming a Japanese Coast Guard vessel in the vicinity of the Japanese-administered Senkakus (Diaoyu) islands. A pause in tensions followed the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, when China donated more than $4.5 million in humanitarian assistance and sent a 15-person search-and-rescue team to Japan--the first disaster team China had ever sent to Japan. In July 2011, Japan's then-Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto visited Beijing for the first time since he had taken office.
Since 2000, Beijing has resolved territorial disputes by demarcating boundaries with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. Land boundary negotiations continue with Bhutan and India. China established a maritime boundary with Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin in 2000 but has no maritime boundaries in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea, where it lays competing claims to islands and waters.
While it is one of Sudan's primary diplomatic patrons, China has played a constructive role in support of peacekeeping operations in the country and deployed 315 engineering troops in support of UN-African Union (AU) operations in Darfur. In January 2011, China sent a team of observers to Sudan to monitor the Southern Sudan referendum. In February 2011, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated China’s respect for the referendum results as announced by the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission and expectations for the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Following Southern Sudan's vote for secession, China maintained political relations with both Sudan and Southern Sudan, hosting the June 2011 visit of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to sign an oil and gas cooperation MOU. On July 9, 2011, after the official declaration of Independence by the Republic of South Sudan, China officially announced its recognition and its intent to promote peace and good relations between the north and south.
China has stated publicly that it shares the international community's concern over Iran's nuclear program and has voted in support of UN sanctions resolutions on Iran, most recently voting in favor of further sanctions on Iran in June 2010's UN Security Council Resolution 1929. The United States and China, both active participants in the “P5+1” process, called for Iran to fulfill its international obligations in a January 2011 joint statement. Set against these positive developments has been an effort on the part of China to maintain close ties to countries such as Iran, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Venezuela that are sources of oil and other resources and which welcome China's non-conditional assistance and investment.
Sources:CIA World Factbook (September 2011)
U.S. Dept. of State Country Background Notes ( September 2011)