US-backed NGO Freedom House released a report on Wednesday panning China for promoting economic growth at the cost of political and civil rights. In Hong Kong, it flagged Alibaba’s purchase of the South China Morning Post as a sign that Chinese businesses are buying up media to help promote the regime.

In the report entitled Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies: Global Freedom under Pressure, the organisation called China a “a role model, in the developing world and beyond, for combining political repression and economic growth, at the cost of human rights.”

It gave the county a freedom rating of six and a aggregate score of 16. The highest freedom rating awarded is one, on a ranking of one to seven. The aggregate score is calculated by adding scores, from a possible one to four, from a total of 25 indicators. The highest aggregate score possible is 100.

Xi Jinping. Photo:

It said that “modest reform measures in 2015—such as incremental judicial changes, relaxation of household registration rules, and a shift to a two-child policy—were more than offset by harsh campaigns against dissent and a renewed emphasis on the Communist Party’s leadership in political, social, and economic life.”

Pressures on the Chinese economy led to a nationwide round-up of political dissidents and prominent businessmen, coupled with aggressive interventions in the market, it said.

Graph showing GDP per capita in relation to freedom. Photo: Freedom House

The report said that South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan have the most freedom in Asia. These regions also have the highest GDP per capita.

Taiwan ranks the second most free in Asia with a freedom rating of 1.5 and a score of 89.

Hong Kong’s freedom rating remains the same at 3.5, with an aggregate score of 63. The report cited the sale of the South China Morning Post to mainland tech firm Alibaba as a sign that “favored firms would join the regime in promoting a rosier view of the country.” It noted that the English language daily owners intend “to improve China’s global image” with the paper. Hong Kong is rated, like last year, as “partly free”.

Tibet ranks among the worst for political rights and civil liberties, with a freedom rating of seven and a aggregate score of one.

Freedom House also said that 2015 marked the tenth year of a continuous decline in freedom around the world, noting that 72 countries fell in the freedom rankings in 2015 – the most in the last decade.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.