Breaking It All Down

      This week, as President Xi Jinping commences talks with the Prime Minister of Great Britain, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recalls the Obama-Xi Summit. On Tuesday the 20th of October 2015, host Bob Schieffer conducted an in-depth discussion with three eminent panelists: Kurt Campbell Chairman and CEO of Asia Group, Demetri Sevastopulo Washington Bureau Chief for the Financial Times, and Chris Johnson senior adviser and Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS.

(Left to Right) Kurt Campbell, Demetri Sevastopulo, Bob Shieffer, Chris Johnson, Washington DC, October 20, 2015 (LaoGai Research Foundation)

      The discussion was clear and informative covering a variety of issues. The panelists started by illuminating on President Xi’s character and tenure compared to his predecessors, while deftly outlining the myriad of topics covered in the summit as well as a few issues that desperately need more coverage.


President Xi: What the US learned about him and China

      President Xi entered talks with all the pomp and circumstance—twenty-one-gun salute, lavish dinner—that a powerful leader requires. Much of Xi’s visit was focused on economics. Most notably he started his US tour on the west coast speaking with major heads in the technology industry. Since the late 1970s this has been the case with US-China relations. Chinese leaders of the past have tried to put mechanisms in place to force collective decision-making; yet, Xi’s rule is greatly underappreciated. In two years time, Xi has dismantled this mechanism by going after corrupt officials, such as Zhou Yongkang, willing to accept a higher level of tension by making all the decisions.

Former security chief Zhou Yongkang is sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes, abusing power and revealing state secrets (Xinhua)

      Chris Johnson noted the Chinese president was determined with his views, self-confident, and although speaking in America and thus to the American people, he was more so speaking to the people of China. There was a particular cadence to the way the two heads-of-state conversed.  President Xi clearly articulated his hopes for China-US relations, which he aims to set above issues such as cyber security or human rights.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama meet with the press after their talks in Washington D.C., Sept. 25, 2015. (Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)

      Still, Kurt Campbell mentions China “played a steady hand” flashing a unique aura coupled with the leverage the US held. Xi avoided certain topics that would unequivocally weaken his domestic standing. Demetri Sevastopulo drew parallels to Deng Xiaoping proclaiming, “he’s the strongest leader since [Deng]…the way he’s amassed power.”


Comparing China’s Relationship with the US and UK

      The US has been critical of Great Britain’s recent relationship with China. Before the visit to the US, President Obama debated trade sanctions as a result of China’s commercial espionage. Inevitably, he held off, but the US announced publily, “You’d better watch out.”

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron (R) shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the UK-China Business Summit at Mansion House in central London, England, October 21, 2015 (Bloomberg)

      On the other side of the pond, Great Britain debated whether to name its relationship with China a “Golden Decade” or “Golden Era”. On issues the US deems important: human rights, currency manipulation, cyber espionage the UK has decided “everything is fine as long as trade and Chinese investments are rising…particularly in infrastructure”, notes Sevastopulo, where Britain desperately needs money.


Maritime Management

      Before former Chinese President Hu Jintao left office, he declared, “China is a Maritime Power,” a statement which had not been made in about 500 years. President Xi has reinforced this sentiment in many of his speeches. It’s no secret; China has been very clear, transparent and broad in its maritime strategy, most notably in the South China Sea with the development of artificial islands.

      Contrasted to the mid-1990s, US naval forces easily maneuvered freely during the Taiwan Straight Crisis. Today, the situation would be more complicated. China has encroached with impunity toward its neighbors such as Guam and into the Indian Ocean.

China claims a big back yard in the South China Sea. Neighboring nations stake their own claims. Sources: EIC, Middlebury College, National Geographic, CIA, Facebook

      Ten years ago, China lacked the capabilities to control the South Seas. Sevastopulo notices a trend: “There’s a direct correlation between how many ships China has, how far they can go and how assertive they are toward neighbors.”

      To China’s credit, they have been very methodical. The islands have grown quickly, but at a consistent pace. No one action is big enough to warrant a military response. At the same time, no one other than the US has the capability to act.

      Unfortunately, short of military action, there’s nothing that can be done to prevent China’s progress; both its neighbors and the US have to accept it.


Public Opinion in China

      Each of the panelists concluded that Xi acted “strong and determined,” but to the Chinese people they sometimes describe him as “impetuous and impatient,” a label not often given to former leaders. Here in the US, the Obama-Xi Summit collected very little attention as the Pope and the resignation of John Boehner took over the headlines. Naturally, Xi scored better in China. At the same time, Xi is very exposed. He’s favored by the ‘rank and file,’ and uses national credentials effectively. Other countries think approvingly of him as well, but he’s quickly becoming a global leader along with all its implications.

Chinese President Xi (3rd Left) toasts with high-ranking Chinese officials at a dinner marking the 64th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China at the Great Hall of the People on September 30, 2013 in Beijing, China (Getty)


The Good the Bad, and the Vague 

      China rarely admits any responsibility, so when solid progress toward reconciling commercial cyber threats took shape the Obama Administration was elated. Finally, a deal was made, yet a shadow of doubt always remains, ‘trust but verify.’ As of last week, China clamped down on the attacks, proclaiming it would make public statements and prosecute if evidence was presented.

      What’s more, there are broader talks on global economic-governance issues. While China has been more willing to recognize benefits of the Bretton Woods System, the US has supported China in gaining a stronger voice in the International Monetary Fund. 

      Unfortunately, an agreement on No First Use (Mutual Non-Targeting of Critical Infrastructures), which many US officials thought was guaranteed, did not come to fruition.  In addition, nothing was mentioned on the topic of maritime security, according to a White House fact sheet.  Both of these issues prove US-China relations still have deep divisions.

President Obama and China’s Xi Jinping shake hands at the end of their news conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 12, 2014, (Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

      The summit showed the US what President Xi was willing to compromise, like cyber security, and what he wouldn’t give in to, territory, activities in the South China Sea, and human rights issues. China is a real fact for the US. At the same time, the US has a strong presence in Asia and will continue to monitor the area with interest. Both countries are going to face more and more conflict; whether it’s security, military, business, attitudes and activities, every sector will be affected.

      Ultimately, the visit was a major success. If it wasn’t evident before, it’s now apparent there is a reordering of the global balance as President Xi’s style of politics aids China’s rise.


Laogai Research Foundation
The Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) was established in 1992 by Laogai survivor, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai—China's extensive system of forced-labor prison camps. LRF also works to document and publicize other systemic human rights violations in China, including executions and the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, the coercive enforcement of China's "one-child" population control policy, and Internet censorship and surveillance. LRF serves as an authoritative source for journalists, researchers, politicians, and other human rights organizations on human rights in China generally and the Laogai and forced labor in China specifically.
Harry Wu, Founder
Laogai Museum Front Desk

Harry Wu knows firsthand the atrocious conditions of the Laogai. In 1960, Wu was imprisoned at the age of 23 for criticizing the Communist Party, and subsequently spent 19 years toiling in the factories, mines, and fields of the Laogai.

He was released in 1979 and came to the US in 1985 with just $40 in his pocket. Since then, he has traveled back to China multiple times to further invesitgate Laogai camps and continue his call for human rights in China.

Wu founded the Laogai Research Foundation in 1992 to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Chinese Laogai.

LRF's mission is to document and expose the Laogai, China's vast and brutal system of forced labor prison camps, and to promote education, advocacy, and dialogue about China's human rights issues.
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Laogai Museum Front Desk

The Laogai Museum is the first museum in the U.S. to directly address human rights in China. It is the hope of the Laogai Research Foundation that the Laogai Museum will preserve the memory of the Laogai's countless victims and serve to educate the public about the atrocities committed by China's Communist regime. First founded in 2008 with the support of the Yahoo! Human rights Fund, the museum reopened in its present location in 2011, becoming a place for human rights victims and advocates to reach out to a larger audience.

The Laogai Research Foundation
1734 20th Street, Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

We are two blocks north of Dupont Circle Metro's North Exit on the Red Line (corner of 20th and S Streets).

Free 2-hour and metered street parking is available throughout the neighborhood.

Hours of Operation

Monday – Friday 10:00 AM – 06:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 05:00 PM

(202) 730-9308


The Laogai Archives are in the offices of the Laogai Research Foundation in Washington, DC.

Due to the suppression of free speech within China, much of the material housed within the Laogai Archives is not available to researchers in mainland China. Thus, the Laogai Archives are in a unique position to support academics, journalists, students, and activists in freely conducting research on human rights in China.

  1. What is the Laogai?
    The Laogai is the People’s Republic of China’s prison system. The name of the system is derived from the Chinese expression, laodong gaizao (勞動改造) meaning “reform through labor”. Generally referred to as labor reform camps (勞改隊), the prison system’s structure was developed by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Modeled on the Soviet Gulag, the prison forces prisoners to do hard labor and gives them “political reeducation” to reform their thoughts and behaviors. The PRC also uses the Laogai as a source of free labor for various work, from infrastructure construction and mining, to farming and manufacturing. Through a variety of prison enterprises, the Chinese government earns income off the backs of Laogai prisoners.
    The Chinese definition of the Laogai entails six components.
      “Reform through labor camps or brigades” house officially convicted and sentenced criminals.

      In 1994, the Chinese government stopped using the word of “laogai,” instead it restored the traditional name of jianyu (prison). But the nature of the laogai system as a tool of rerpression remains the same.

      “Reeducation through labor facilities” house prisoners under “administrative discipline,” meaning that they may be sentenced to up to three years of forced labor without ever having been charged or tried.

      Detention centers house prisoners who are awaiting trial or have gone through a trial but the sentenced prison term is less than one year. They too can be forced to labor.

      Juvenile offender facilities house adolescent convicts or reeducation through labor detainees. In 1983, a regulation was issued that decreased the age from 16 to 14 years old at which children can be sent to reeducation through labor camps.

      These facilities were for prisoners who had served out their sentences but were deemed “not completely reformed.” Such prisoners had to stay in the same prison facility, facing the same conditions, and performing the same work just as when they were formal prisoners. The CCP ceased the forced job placement system in the early 1980s.
  2. How is the Laogai different from other prison systems?

    Because of international attention to human rights violations in the Laogai in the early 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to create the impression that the Laogai is only a prison system for detaining, punishing, and reforming criminals. It was for this reason that in 1994, the CCP ordered that Laogai, meaning “reform through labor,” no longer be used in government documents. Instead, the system’s institutions were to be called jianyu, “prison.” However, contrary to CCP propaganda, the Laogai is different from prison systems in other countries. Laogai inmates are forced to labor and forced to do brain wash. What is more, they are unprotected by law, including laws against torture and abuse, as can be seen in the following section “Difference in Conditions.” The Laogai system also strengthens the CCP’S control by suppressing dissent among the Chinese people. The Laogai is an integral part of China’s economy, providing an abundance of free labor for manufacturing goods sold in both domestic and international markets.
    The conditions that persist in the Laogai constitute an additional distinction between it and other prison systems, with the Laogai perpetuating many of China’s most serious human rights abuses.

  3. Who has suffered in the Laogai?
  4. What is the political function of the Laogai system?
    Besides punishing criminals, the Laogai serves as a tool of political repression. China sentences outspoken critics of CCP policy to imprisonment in the Laogai to quell dissent. Suspects punishable by means of laogai or prison terms include the previous “anti-revolutionaries” and present-day “endangering state security” according to the Criminal Law. Suspects punishable by means of Re-education Through Labor according to the CCP’S “Measures for Reeducation through Labor (1957)” include, “counterrevolutionary and anti-socialist reactionaries, whose crimes are minor and not subject to criminal prosecution, and who have been dismissed by government offices, organizations, and enterprises, educational institutions or other units and have no way to make a living.”
    Fear and submission to CCP rule are also perpetuated by recurring “strike hard” campaigns. During these campaigns Chinese authorities implement various penalties, public trials, and previously, public executions, to intimidate its citizens and clamp down on political “crimes”. Trials and sentencing occur rapidly, and those accused of a crime are deemed guilty even before trial. It is under these circumstances that the CCP has continually silenced dissidents.
  5. What is the economic significance of the Laogai?
    Besides being important to China’s communist regime as a tool of repression, the Laogai is also an integral part of China’s economy. Chinese authorities use the millions locked in the Laogai as free labor. Totaling an estimated three to five million, they make up the world’s largest forced labor population. The CCP seeks to use the Laogai for profit.
    Forced labor is seen as another input for economic output. The deliberate application of forced labor by the Chinese government is codified in the Ministry of Justice Criminal Reform Handbook: “Laogai facilities…organize criminals in labor and production, thus creating wealth for society. Our Laogai units are both facilities of dictatorship and special enterprise.” The CCP hopes that by being forced to labor in the Laogai, prisoners will be molded into “new socialist persons.”
  6. Are Laogai goods exported?
    While much of what is produced in the Laogai is consumed domestically, Laogai-made goods also filter into foreign markets by way of third-party trading companies. Recently, rather than attempting to do business directly with foreign companies, Laogai prisons will find a government-owned trading company to act as a middleman and conceal the forced-labor origins of products from importers. Many Laogai prisons also have a second enterprise name; for example, Jinzhou Prison, where Nobel Laureate and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo is believed to be held, also operates under the name “Jinzhou Xinsheng Switch, Co.”, which it uses to market its products to foreign companies over the internet. LRF has evidence that shows Laogai goods repeatedly find their way onto American shelves, despite laws forbidding their importation. Notwithstanding the Chinese government’s claims to the contrary, the CCP encourages exporting Laogai goods.
  7. What is existing U.S. law regarding the importation of Laogai goods?
    Importing forced-labor goods to the U.S. is illegal according to section 1307 of the Tariff Act of 1930. In 1992, the need to confront China about this problem led to the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products.” However, China still exports prison labor goods to the U.S. To promote compliance with MOU’s terms, in 1994, the U.S. and China negotiated another agreement: the “Statement of Cooperation on the 1992 MOU between the U.S. and the PRC on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products” (SOC). The SOC defines a mechanism to ensure that China promptly cooperates with U.S. Customs on forced labor inquiries. However, China has done nothing to ensure compliance, and the U.S. never committed resources to enforce the agreement. According to the 1997 “State Department Country Reports on Human Rights,” U.S. Customs unsuccessfully pursued eight standing visitation requests, seven of which dated back to 1995. In all cases, visitation requests were refused or ignored, and allegations were denied without explanation. Cooperation was judged as “inadequate.” In State Department reports from 1999, authorities admit that the MOU has been “nearly impossible” to enforce because China has been “uncooperative.” Throughout the 1990s, only around 20 cases of forced-labor product importation were pursued under the U.S. customs ban. Since 2000, the U.S. government has not attempted to restrict the flow of Laogai goods into the country.
  8. How can I avoid buying products made in the laogai?
    Identifying goods that are made entirely or in part in the Laogai is increasingly difficult. Sub-contracting and complicated global supply chains make discerning the origins of a product daunting. For example, a U.S. clothing maker may contact a Chinese import-export company to find a Chinese plant to cheaply make its clothing. That company may then contract the account to a legitimate Chinese textile firm, which will further sub-contract a portion of the production process to a Laogai camp, where prisoners must fill quotas to earn their food rations, rather than money. Laogai prisoners, toiling in horrible conditions, may also have grown the cotton the clothes are made from. If a product is “made in China” then it is possible it could have been produced in a Laogai.
  9. Should consumers boycott goods made in China?
  10. Are organs harvested from executed prisoners in the Laogai?
  11. What is the "One Child Policy"?
  12. Why do so few know about the Laogai?
  13. What does international law say about the Laogai?
  14. Who is Harry Wu?
  15. What is the Laogai Research Foundation?