Political Chill in Beijing: Xi Turns Back the Clock on Women’s Rights in China

vintage-chinese-clock

An emboldened Beijing clamps down on civil liberties

Andrew Browne writes: Although it would be almost unthinkable today, as a political chill descends over Beijing, two decades ago close to 30,000 women from around the world converged on a muddy tent village outside the Chinese capital to
promote a host of social and political causes.

“Even though the so-called ‘Feminist Five’ were released from custody in April, they say they are still being treated as criminal suspects.”

The carnival-style NGO Forum on Women made the authorities nervous, but it was part of the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women, which China agreed to host as a way to polish its international image still tarnished by the army’s brutal suppression of student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989. Hard-liners in charge at the time evidently figured the political discomfort was worth the gains to China’s global prestige.
xi-propaganda-mashup

“Just as President Xi Jinping prepares to attend a U.N. summit in New York in September to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark women’s conference, his administration has begun to clamp down on independent women’s groups for the first time since the NGO Forum.”

Tibetan activists set up stalls. Amnesty International, in China for the first time, rebuked the Chinese government over its human rights practices at a news conference. Then U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, one of the celebrity attendees, made herself popular with the women by lecturing her Chinese hosts about free speech and assembly after they withheld visas for some of the delegates.

Fem-Five-WSJ

The event became a watershed moment for the Chinese women’s movement. Because foreign NGOs would be there, Chinese authorities had to allow local NGOs to set up and participate.

They never looked back—until now.

Ironically, just as President Xi Jinping prepares to attend a U.N. summit in New York in September to mark the 20th anniversary of the landmark women’s conference, his administration has begun to clamp down on independent women’s groups for the first time since the NGO Forum.

The restrictions underscore just how far Mr. Xi is turning back the clock on civil liberties in China—all the way to the days of harsh political repression that followed the crushing of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations.

[Read the full story here, at WSJ]

They also reveal a transformation in the mind-set of the government, still fearful of organized political opposition but so confident in China’s elevated place in the world that it no longer feels much compulsion to make concessions to its international critics.

One of the first signs of trouble came when police detained a small group of activists on the eve of International Women’s Day in March for planning events to draw attention to sexual harassment on public transport.

AFP Photo/Peter Parks

Even though the so-called “Feminist Five” were released from custody in April, they say they are still being treated as criminal suspects…(read more)

WSJ

Write to Andrew Browne at andrew.browne@wsj.com

 



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