- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

The United States must step up efforts to support media freedoms in China and curtail human rights violations against journalists, a panel of experts said this week.

"U.S. officials should raise the issue of press freedom in China with Chinese leaders at every given opportunity," said Kavita Menon of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based watchdog group.

"The U.S. has clear commercial and political interests in promoting greater transparency and the rule of law in China," Ms. Menon said at a round-table discussion organized Monday by the Congressional Executive Commission on China.

The commission, created in October 2000, has lawmakers and administration officials as members. It monitors human rights in China and reports annually to Congress and the president. The recommendations for this year will be issued in October, commission spokesman Chris Billing said.

"The human right of freedom of expression included in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not a right that the 1.3 billion people in China are allowed to enjoy," said James Mann of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Article 25 of the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press, but Beijing exercises a stranglehold over the media and censors any information critical of the political machinery, Ms. Menon said.

"Journalists who manage to express critical views risk harassment, dismissal from their jobs and even imprisonment," she said.

A recent CPJ study found 35 journalists have been imprisoned in violation of Chinese and international law.

The Communist Party of China wants the media to act as the mouthpiece of the government and forbids them from reporting on sensitive issues such as Tibet, labor unrest and corruption in the leadership, Mr. Mann said.

"When I was editor at the [Shenzhen Legal] Daily, I often received phone calls from the party asking to censor news," said He Qinglian, a former editor. "In a free country, the media are expected to criticize the government, but in China the government criticizes the media."

The communist regime also views the Internet as a threat and blocks politically sensitive Web sites, the speakers noted.

"The underlying problem is deep-rooted. Chinese news media are not viewed as independent sources of information but rather as instruments of political and social control," Mr. Mann said, urging the U.S. government to increase international awareness about the restrictions.

Since the September 11 attacks, U.S.-China relations have remained stable, and Beijing has supported the U.S.-led war on terrorism. While Washington continues to condemn human rights violations in China, it is now mostly through private channels, said Derek Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States sees China less as a strategic competitor and more as a cooperative partner to combat the forces of international terrorism, Mr. Mitchell told The Washington Times.

With the focus shifting to the war on terrorism, the Chinese government has considerably dampened anti-American sentiments, he said.

"It is an opportunity for China to work constructively with the U.S.," he said.

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