Is Rights Advocacy Civil Society in China Dead? How the U.S. Should Navigate People-to-People Exchange in a New Era
Since Xi Jinping took power in 2012, advocacy-oriented civil society— those that press for rights associated with liberal democracies—in China has been placed under immense pressure. Based on synthesizing publicly available media articles and reports, this essay assesses whether rights advocacy civil society in China is effectively “dead” under the Xi Administration (2012-2022) and if and where opportunities still exist for people-to-people exchange.
The essay argues that a key to analyzing the party-state’s response to advocacy civil society is to disaggregate two facets of threat: mobilizational and ideological. The former refers to civil society’s potential to threaten social stability through collective action while the latter refers to their ideas and values that threaten orthodoxy. In both Mainland China and in Hong Kong, rights advocacy organizations and networks have been amputated, but they are not “dead” in the sense of being permanently demolished. At the same time, the party-state has been actively re-molding educational and cultural institutions to ensure that the future generation of youth—a key pillar of civil society will be pro-CCP in their ideologies. Despite these developments, the essay identifies key issue-areas, actors, and institutions through which U.S. policymakers, U.S. civil society, and educational institutions can continue to engage with Chinese counterparts in a tense period and beyond.