Smith Delivers Historic Speech on Human Rights at NYU-Shanghai CampusIn China, Smith discusses religious & academic freedoms, China's population control policies, female gendercide, harassment/detention of human rights leaders
U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) today returned to the United States from a five day human rights mission to China that was marked by an historic speech at the New York University (NYU) campus in Shanghai and several meetings with government officials and representatives from religious communities.
Smith, Chairman of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), pulled no punches during his speech— the first public speech by an elected Member of Congress since the campus opened there in 2012—which was open to NYU faculty and students with a standing room only crowd.
During his NYU-Shanghai remarks Tuesday entitled "A Duty to Defend Universally Recognized Rights” he boldly and frankly condemned a number of ongoing human rights abuses committed by China’s brutal dictatorship—denial of religious freedom and free speech, use of forced abortion, female gendercide and ongoing labor abuses— issues that have also been explored in Smith’s over 50 hearings on human rights abuses in China.
“Over the past several years, I’ve heard the same thing—human rights conditions have gotten worse,” said Chairman Smith who has been to China four previous times but has been denied a visa from the Chinese government since his last trip in 2008 until this year.
“The space for freedom and human rights advocacy is shrinking in China. It is my sad conclusion that a deteriorating human rights situation hurts U.S.-China relations and the Chinese people. At the moment of China's emergence as a global power, new laws and efforts to silence dissent are hurting China's international prestige and driving a wedge between the Chinese people and the international community,” stated Smith during his remarks.
On the plight of human rights activists and lawyers who have been beaten, unjustly imprisoned or simply disappeared Smith said, “Even those making modest calls for reforms, in areas prioritized by the government—anti-corruption, public health, legal reform, and environmental concerns—have faced increased harassment, detention and arrest.”
“Human rights lawyers are ‘disappeared’ for simply trying to represent the poor and vulnerable. Labor rights advocates are targeted, academics and students muzzled, civil society and ethnic minorities increasingly are viewed as a security threat.”
“Religious freedom—the universally recognized human right to peacefully exercise faith in God—has not yet improved in China and I join with many around the world and in China in an appeal to President Xi to safeguard this internationally-recognized human right,” said Smith, while noting that his own Catholic faith motivates his work in Congress including promotion of universal human rights in the United States, China and elsewhere.
“Caring for the 'least' of our brethren has meant seeking to protect innocent unborn children and mothers from the violence of abortion in the U.S. and elsewhere,” said Smith, who is also the Co-chairman of the bipartisan prolife caucus in the Congress. “It has also moved me to work against China's draconian and catastrophic population control policies, which have led to forced abortions, forced sterilization, and the incalculable loss of human potential.”
Smith also delved into the female gendercide crisis in China—a direct result of the government’s forced abortion policies and the preference for a male child in Chinese society. Only two weeks ago Smith chaired a hearing on gendercide, and in his speech he noted the work of one of the witnesses, 1989 Tiananmen Massacre survivor Chai Ling, who testified about the work of her organization called All Girls Allowed.
“The tens of millions of missing girls of China today, however, are in and of itself catastrophic yet preventable now and into the future,” he said. “I believe that the equality of women and men can only be achieved when women and men are equally valued and that starts with the girl-child in the womb.
“One of the many devastating consequences of female gendercide is the historic, unprecedented, skewed male/female ratio in China and the incentive it serves for an ever-expanding magnate for human sex-traffickers,” said Smith, who wrote America’s first landmark anti-human trafficking law, Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and three additional anti-human trafficking laws. “Today, pimps are making fortunes selling women as commodities because of the missing girls. I am deeply concerned that unless the Chinese government ends coercive abortion and gendercide, human sex trafficking will exponentially worsen in the foreseeable future.”
Smith spent Tuesday on the NYU-Shanghai campus at the invitation of Vice-Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman, who extended the invitation during a June 2015 hearing Smith chaired last year exploring the impact China’s repression of free speech may have on academic study at U.S. universities hosting programs there. Smith said Vice Chancellor Lehman and the Shanghai campus faculty are operating in a challenging environment, but are dedicated to providing a free and dynamic campus for Chinese and international students. The NYU program was entitled "A Life Serving His Constituents and Human Rights."
While in Shanghai, Smith also met with members of the government-sponsored Catholic (Catholic Patriotic Association) and Protestant (China Christian Council) organizations and Chinese government officials. He expressed concern about expanding restrictions on religious practice in China and the government's church demolition and cross destruction campaign in Zhejiang province were 1,500 crosses and 35 churches have been destroyed over the past two years.
Smith also drew attention to the imprisonment of religious leaders and human rights lawyers who protested the church demolitions, including the case of lawyer Zhang Kai, who has meet with Smith previously in Washington DC and was detained the night before he was to meet with David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador-At-Large for Religious Freedom.
The Congressman again raised the case of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo and human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who have been unjustly imprisoned because they peaceful sought universally-recognized rights; and Cheng Guangcheng who famously escaped house arrest eventually make his way to the United States, and; Bishop Su Zhimin who was imprisoned the day he said Mass attended by Smith on a previous trip. Bishop Su has been harassed and imprisoned since the mid-1990’s and his current whereabouts—if he is still alive—are unknown.
Smith soundly criticized China’s draft Overseas NGO Management law which will dramatically curtail the international exchanges that have been the foundation of progress in US-China relations for decades.
The CECC, established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 as China prepared to enter the WTO, is mandated by U.S. law to monitor human rights, including worker rights, and the development of the rule of law in China. Its members are a bipartisan combination of Congress and White House appointees.