Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said he will soon introduce a new proposal to hold China accountable for its human rights violations, while pushing forward stalled legislation to stop Beijing’s state-sanctioned practice of harvesting organs from prisoners of conscience.
The proposal would see China lose its permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status unless the communist regime shows “serious and sustained efforts to, or record of, human rights protections,” Smith said in a recent interview with EpochTV’s “American Thought Leaders” program.
“We have leverage. They’re [China] an export economy. Without that, the economy grinds to a halt,” Smith said. “If that’s what it takes to protect their people from the slave-like conditions, then we have to do it.”
In 2000, Congress approved legislation to give China permanent most-favored-nation status, now known as PNTR, which paved the way for China’s accession to the World Trade Organization. The status opened the U.S. market to Chinese products with trade advantages such as reduced tariffs.
Stripping China of its trade status would deeply hurt the Chinese economy, as the United States is China’s biggest trade partner.
“I think if we implement the Xinjiang law well, and if we do my bill, I think we are going to see reform,” Smith said, referring to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was enacted late last year and bans all imports from China’s far-western Xinjiang region because of forced labor concerns.
In Xinjiang, more than 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are currently being detained in internment camps, where they’re known to be subjected to abuses including torture, forced labor, and forced sterilization. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have designated Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.”
“The Chinese Communist Party [CCP] is vicious. It is cruel. It uses torture as an element of ensuring people’s compliance,” Smith said. “Torture is the means by which they do everything. … It’s absolutely pervasive.”
Smith recalled in 1995 when Tibetan monk Palden Gyatso brought a cattle prod to a congressional hearing, telling lawmakers how such a device was forced into his mouth as one of several different tortures he was subjected to while being imprisoned in China.
At that hearing more than 20 years ago, Gyatso said (pdf) he was also tortured by being suspended in the air while being beaten with rifle butts, pierced with bayonets, and burned with hot water.
Gyatso was arrested in 1959, the year of the Tibetan Uprising, before spending the next 33 years in Chinese prisons. He was released in 1992 and then went into exile in India. He died at the age of 85 in 2018.
“They put those cattle prods on the genitals, in the mouth, under the arms, all places where there’s extreme sensitivity, and they torture people to the point of brokenness and death,” Smith said. “And they use it against the Falun Gong, the Christians, the Buddhists, the Uyghurs, any political dissidents.”
Minghui.org, a U.S.-based website that monitors the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China, documented the horrifying death in 2000 of Chen Zixiu, who lost consciousness and died after being tortured—including repeated jolts from a cattle prod—for two days in a Chinese prison.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual discipline involving meditative exercises and moral teachings. Since 1999, millions of Falun Gong adherents have been detained inside prisons, labor camps, and other facilities in China, with hundreds of thousands tortured while incarcerated, according to estimates from the Falun Dafa Information Center.
“It’s a nightmarish abuse to think that you could be losing major parts of your body with the intent that you die at the end,” Smith said.
“Organ harvesting became not just a way of repressing, but also a way of making huge amounts of money for the dictatorship by literally stealing their organs and selling them.”
China has been a top destination for transplant tourists because of Chinese hospitals’ ability to find matching organs for patients in days or weeks, much faster than developed countries with established organ donation systems. The Chinese regime has dismissed allegations of its engagement in organ harvesting as “rumors” and said the country has a national donation system for organ procurement.
In 2019, a London-based people’s tribunal concluded that the state-sanctioned practice of forced organ harvesting was happening on a “significant scale” in China, with Falun Gong practitioners being the main source of organs.
U.S. lawmakers in March 2021 reintroduced legislation in the Senate and the House to stop China from sourcing organs from prisoners of conscience. Smith was the prime sponsor of House bill H.R.1592, while Senate bill S.602 was introduced by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).
“So at the core of it [the bill] is that idea of personally sanctioning the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. And we have not been able to get the bill marked up or voted on, which is unfortunate. We’re trying. We’re going to keep trying,” Smith said.
Smith said nobody expects China to improve its human rights overnight, but China is heading in the wrong direction.
“Now it is worse, and it gets worse and more worse, more victims, more victims, more victims. We need to turn that ship around and use every lever if possible, and trade is our most potent means to try to get them to change.”