In 2023, CDT Chinese published a series of year-end articles focusing on various special topics such as sensitive words, censored articles, “rollover scenes,” and people of the year. The Most Notable Reports of 2023, selected by CDT Chinese editors, are presented in this post. CDT Reports is a column that showcases reports related to freedom of expression and human rights, specifically those that are relevant to CDT Chinese readers. Here are some of the most significant and informative reports from 2023.
It is uncertain if China will surpass the United States.
Can Chinese Power Reach Its Peak? – The Economist (May 11)
The growth of China is slowing down as its economy reaches a mature stage, potentially leading to equal economic status with the U.S. This goes against earlier optimistic forecasts that were based on China’s historically high GDP growth rates.
Lowy Institute: 2023 Asia Power Index, by Susannah Patton, Jack Sato, and Hervé Lemahieu
The United States has a higher ranking in overall power compared to China, mostly because of China’s recent challenges, including its choice to isolate itself due to strict zero-COVID measures.
Factors Contributing to China’s Economic Slowdown
According to Lew Mon-hung’s article in Lianhe Zaobao on August 21, the root cause of the economy’s problems is politics.
Lew Mon-hung, a Hong Kong entrepreneur and former participant of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, asserted in a controversial (and subsequently, heavily restricted) piece for a Singapore newspaper that the primary factor behind China’s economic downturn is politics, specifically Xi Jinping’s cult of personality and the Chinese Communist Party’s inability to implement political changes.
The end of China’s economic miracle is discussed in the August 2nd issue of Foreign Affairs.
Adam S. Posen posited that Xi’s initiatives, specifically the zero-COVID approach, resulted in an economic downturn in China.
In October, Zongyuan Zoe Liu responded, stating that additional factors contributing to the issue include China’s depleted growth strategy, limited population growth, and failures in leadership by Xi.
1. High youth unemployment
“The Defeated Youth of China” according to The Economist on August 17.
The government’s communication about “strengthening” stands in contrast to the negativity experienced by young Chinese laborers who are facing a slow economy and elevated rates of youth unemployment.
According to a recent article by Tanner Brown in Barron’s, the struggles of young people in China to find employment has negative effects on the economy.
The Chinese educational system is a contributing factor to high levels of youth unemployment. This is because the skills taught do not align with the demands of the job market, resulting in a surplus of highly educated graduates with devalued degrees and limited job opportunities.
2. Intensifying labor conflicts
According to China Labour Bulletin on July 28, there has been an increase in worker strikes and protests in various industries in China after several years of unusual circumstances due to the pandemic.
The number of strikes and protests by Chinese workers significantly rose following the pandemic and hit a record high in the first half of 2023, with a total of 741 occurrences. This is a decrease from the 830 incidents that occurred throughout 2022.
China Labor Watch conducted an investigation on an Apple supplier, Pegatron Kunshan, and released their report on September 20, 2023.
Prior to the launch of the iPhone 15, a study was conducted on Pegatron Group, an Apple supplier, which uncovered ongoing infringements on labor rights. These infringements include compulsory overtime, mistreatment in the workplace, and bias, with little to no progress made in improving working conditions in the last ten years.
The U.S. Trade Representative has released the National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers for 2023 on March 31.
Although certain problems, like trade barriers and violations of intellectual property rights, are not exclusive to China, it is among the nations that most severely disregard labor rights.
The Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Stability of the CCP Government.
MERICS: “Shaky China: Five scenarios for Xi Jinping’s third term,” by Bernhard Bartsch (June 28)
The analysts at MERICS forecasted that Xi’s third term would be characterized by a persistent unstable situation: a rise in centralization of authority, slower economic growth, and mounting external challenges.
The Diplomat published an article titled “China’s Economy May Be Struggling, But Don’t Anticipate a Government Collapse” by Jinghao Zhou on September 9th.
- Poor economic performance may damage Xi Jinping’s reputation, but it will not fundamentally damage the regime, whose power and legitimacy are upheld by propaganda, coercive power, and pyramid-style political control.
The report titled “Running Out of Road: China Pathfinder 2023 Annual Scorecard,” authored by Rhodium Group and the Atlantic Council, was released in October.
The economic changes in China are being reversed, and there are underlying issues that suggest potential economic instability and a decrease in future economic growth.
The 2023 Human Rights Index for China as measured by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative.
China performed well in the “Quality of Life” section, which evaluates economic and social rights, but fared poorly in both the “Safety from the State” and “Empowerment” categories, which assess civil and political rights.
The “2023 Trafficking in Persons Report” was released by the U.S. State Department in June.
The government of China is among a group of 11 countries known for having a well-documented history of human trafficking and other related abuses.
The rights of women and individuals who identify as sexual minorities.
The Economist published an article titled “Chinese Feminists Using Stand-up Comedy in New York City” on December 5th.
A podcast episode from Drum Tower showcases NZZY, or Nvzizhuyi, a collective of Chinese feminists living abroad, who use comedy as a means of resistance.
NGOCN: “Overcoming Fear: Writing for International Day Against Homophobia” (May 16)
The internet platform that promotes volunteerism and public welfare shared a report exposing the number of Chinese LGBTQ+ community members who have been subjected to police harassment and online censorship.
The Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index for 2022.
China’s ranking in personal, civil, and economic freedom is 152 out of 165 countries, which is one rank higher than the previous index. Hong Kong’s ranking is 34th, two ranks lower than the previous index.
Freedom House’s report for 2023: Assessing Global Freedom.
China received a “Not Free” designation and was included in a group of 16 countries with the lowest overall scores for political rights and liberties, ranking it at the bottom among 195 countries that were evaluated.
The 2023 edition of Freedom House’s “Freedom on the Net” report.
China has continuously been ranked as the country with the lowest level of internet freedom for nine years in a row out of a total of 70 countries measured.
2023 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders.
China was placed at 179th position out of 180 countries, experiencing a decline of four places from the previous year. Hong Kong’s rank improved slightly to 140th place from the previous year.
Repression Against Uyghurs
The organization Human Rights Watch released a report titled “China: Continuous and Severe Crimes Against Humanity Against Uyghurs” on August 31st.
More than a year has passed since the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report stating that the Chinese government has engaged in severe violations of human rights against the Uyghur community, potentially amounting to crimes against humanity. Despite this, Chinese officials continue to enforce their oppressive “strike hard” tactics, while the U.N. and its member nations have chosen to stay silent.
The article “Coercive Labor in the Cotton Harvest in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Uzbekistan” by Adrian Zenz was published in the Journal of Communist and Post-Communist Studies in May.
Forced labor continues to persist and has increased in certain regions of Xinjiang, and the current measures used by the International Labor Organization do not fully address the systematic forced labor sanctioned by the state in Xinjiang.
Violations of Rights in Tibet
The article “Erasing Tibet” by Tenzin Dorjee and Gyal Lo was published in Foreign Affairs on November 28.
Boarding schools in Tibet, which are predominantly Chinese, have accommodated around one million Tibetan students and contribute to a cultural genocide that strips them of their mother tongue, religious beliefs, and heritage.
The research report titled “Mass DNA Collection in the Tibet Autonomous Region from 2016-2022,” written by Emile Dirks on September 13, was published by Citizen Lab.
From June 2016, the police in China have implemented a large-scale DNA collection initiative in the Tibet Autonomous Region. This effort resulted in the gathering of 919,282 to 1,206,962 DNA samples, with a significant number taken from individuals not involved in any criminal cases. This amounts to approximately one quarter to one third of Tibet’s entire population.
Restrictions on the internet and outside influence attempts
The research report “Missing Links: A comparison of search censorship in China” was authored by Jeffrey Knockel, Ken Kato, and Emile Dirks and published on April 26 by Citizen Lab.
A study revealed that there are more than 60,000 distinct censorship regulations being employed to partially or completely restrict search results on Baidu, Baidu Zhidao, Bilibili, Microsoft Bing, Douyin, Jingdong, Sogou, and Weibo.
DoubleThink Lab: “Unpacking the Power of Propaganda: The Factors in Shaping Overseas Chinese Communities’ Attitudes Towards Pro-CCP Narratives,” by Roy Ngerng, Eric Hsu, Cecile Liu, and Ai-Men Lau (June 20)
According to a survey in New Zealand and Malaysia, Chinese participants were more likely than non-Chinese participants to align with pro-CCP propaganda.
The article titled “Shadow Play” by Jacinta Keast was published on December 14 by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
A coordinated and AI-driven campaign on YouTube has been spreading narratives in favor of the CCP and against the U.S. in an attempt to sway the opinions of English-speaking viewers. This campaign has resulted in nearly 120 million views and 730,000 subscribers.
“Safeguard Defenders released a report titled ‘Trapped: China’s Increasing Utilization of Exit Bans’ on May 2nd.”
The Chinese government has been utilizing exit bans more frequently as a means of retribution towards activists fighting for human rights and their loved ones. This tactic is used to coerce individuals abroad to come back to China, exert power over certain ethnic and religious communities, engage in hostage diplomacy, and intimidate foreign reporters.
Safeguard Defenders released a report titled “Families in Fear: Collective Punishment in 21st Century China” on December 10.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is using collective punishment more frequently as a means of controlling human rights activists and making it more difficult for them to speak out in China. This includes restricting their ability to leave the country, using physical force, and depriving them of their freedom, access to shelter, education, and income.
Prisoners of Conscience
The Rights Defense Network, also known as Weiquanwang, has compiled a list of 1,666 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience currently detained in mainland China.
- These figures represent the lowest recorded data on December 31, 2023, and encompass individuals who have received suspended death sentences, life imprisonment or fixed-term imprisonment, are awaiting sentencing, and have been labeled as “mentally ill.”
Ding Jiaxi and Xu Zhiyong’s Court Statements from the Independent Chinese PEN Center
In April, Xu and Ding were both convicted of subverting state power and given sentences of 14 and 12 years respectively after undergoing trials that were not open to the public. Despite this, both remained strong in their statements during court proceedings. Xu declared, “It is our responsibility to bring about a democratic China in our lifetime, and we will not leave it for the next generation.” Similarly, Ding stated that it was his generation’s duty to “eliminate autocracy” and take on this “historic responsibility.”