U.S. China Commission Marks Tiananmen Massacre 26 Yrs. LaterCan Dream of Human Rights & Democracy in China Survive Current Crackdown?
Smith introduces legislation to prohibit entry visas or U.S. financial investments for Chinese officials who commit or enforce torture, forced sterilizations & forced abortions, or the harvesting of organs from prisoners
The Chinese government’s harsh oppression of its citizens’ basic human rights and its denial of the brutal repression of the Tiananmen Massacre 26 years ago this week was the focus of a hearing today held by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).
“The Tiananmen massacre had a profound and lasting effect on U.S.-China relations and public discussions of the event are still censored in China,” said Smith. “In addition, individuals who hold commemorative events are detained or arrested, almost 144 last year. We remember Tiananmen each year because it is too important an event to forget and too dangerous to commemorate in China.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.
Witnesses at the hearing, entitled “China in 1989 & 2015: Tiananmen, Human Rights, and Democracy,” testified about how the Tiananmen massacre shaped their advocacy for greater human rights and democracy in China, the Chinese government’s current efforts to silence and jail rights activists, and offered recommendations for U.S. policy. Witnesses included Dr. Yang Jianli and Ho Pin who witnessed the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 and Dr. Teng Biao and Lisa Peng, a human rights lawyer and a political prisoner advocate representing a new generation of rights advocates, respectively. Ms. Peng previously testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at a 2013 subcommittee hearing Smith chaired about her father, imprisoned democracy activist Peng Ming.
“Sadly, the human rights issue is one that is easily ignored in light of pressing economic concerns,” testified Ms. Peng, whose father was lured to Myanmar (Burma), kidnapped by Chinese secret police, and sentenced to life in prison. The United Nations Working Group for Arbitrary Detention has determined that the deprivation of her father’s liberty is in contravention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “China has become the world’s second largest economy and a major trading partner of the United States. Powerful economic interests want us to turn a blind eye to China’s human rights record. Respecting America’s values and standing up for human rights has never been easy. And it is not easy now. But isn’t this what the promise of America is really about?”
Also testifying was Michael Horowitz, CEO of 21st Century Solutions, a Washington D.C. think tank, who said the core U.S. strategic issue of the 21st century revolves around China.
“This is an important hearing because it sends a signal that efforts to cast the Tiananmen Massacre into the memory hole may not, hopefully will not, succeed, keeping the flame, the candle, flickering,” Horowitz said. “The twenty-first century will largely be defined by one question: Will China become a democracy. If the answer is yes, then we will compete in terms of who builds better cars and computers. If the answer is no, particularly in the nuclear age, the risks are so extraordinary.”
Ho Pin noted that Beijing keeps a tight grip on freedom of the press, noting it could cut off Google and Yahoo anytime, and refuses visas for international journalists, and blocks access to Twitter and Facebook, all with impunity.
“The reason that I'm standing here today is that the scene I saw 26 years ago in Tiananmen Square still has not faded from my memory,” he said. “I share the pain of those who lost friends and relatives in Tiananmen square. I firmly believe that things could change if America were to wake up from its vacant and passive view of China. America is not a narrow-minded nationalist empire. America represents the values established by people who pursue the dream of freedom. This means that America is destined to be responsible for people who are pursuing similar dreams in other countries.
“I hope that America will become the driving force for democracy and human rights in China,” Ho Pin said. “The very least we can do is to take actions that will not encourage the continued growth of a dangerous political virus in China that values cash more than freedom and human rights. We can, and should, work to assure the Chinese people their dignity, to assure a long-term friendship between the US and China, and to assure that freedom is the cornerstone of security for the whole world.
Dr. Yang Jianli told the commission that while some believe that the United States cannot press China on human rights because it seeks Chinese cooperation on economic and national security issues, Washington has negotiated arms-control and trade agreements with other countries, including the Soviet Union, while pressing for human rights reform.
“The lessons are clear,” he said. “Americans of conscience cannot simply wait for economic growth and revised government structures to end China's barbaric torture, extra-legal killing, and jailing of those who would speak their mind, practice their faith, preserve their ethnic culture, or defend the legal rights of others. Americans of conscience should insist that their Government confront China. They should demand that their Government openly condemn China's violation of basic human rights and demand release its ‘prisoners of conscience.’ They should express support for those in China bravely asserting or defending human rights. And they should support concrete action, including sanctions like those that the so-called "Magnitsky Law" now imposes on Russian human rights abusers. That is how the American people, and the U.S. Government, can truly honor the heros and victims of Tiananmen Square.”
Smith said the human rights situation has worsen under the new government in China.
“The domestic screws on dissent have tightened considerably since Xi Jinping assumed the Presidency,” Smith said. “Over 230 people have been detained for their human rights advocacy or peaceful efforts of political reform over the past two years. It may be the largest crackdown since Tiananmen.”
“The U.S. must be a leader, advocating for greater freedom and democracy, no other nation can assume that role with China,” said Smith. “A more democratic China, one that respects human rights, and is governed by the rule of law, is more likely to be a productive and peaceful partner rather than strategic and hostile competitor. Our moral and strategic interests coincide when we strongly advocate for greater freedoms.”
Prior to the hearing, Smith introduced, with Representative Dan Lipinski (D-IL), the China Human Rights Protection Act of 2015, HR 2621. The bill would allow the President to deny U.S. entry visas and access to U.S. financial markets to any Chinese official who was responsible for torture, prolonged and arbitrary detention, forced abortions and sterilizations, psychiatric experimentation or organ harvesting from prisoners.
“The U.S. must send a strong message,” said Smith. “Our two nations must work together on many issues, but the worst violators of the rights of the Chinese people, those who abuse universal freedoms with impunity, should not prosper from access to the U.S. and our economic or political freedoms.”
Smith closed his opening remarks at the hearing today with an optimistic note saying: “I am not pessimistic, but hopeful…about China’s future and the future of U.S.-China relations. I believe that someday China will be free. Someday, the people of China will be able to enjoy all of their God-given rights. And a nation of free Chinese men and women will honor, applaud, and celebrate the heroes of Tiananmen Square and all those who sacrificed so much, and so long, for freedom.”
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, established by the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 as China prepared to enter the WTO, is mandated by 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 Congressional and White House appointees.