Chinese President to Visit U.S.Smith: Sidelining Human Rights a Strategic Mistake the U.S. Cannot Afford to Make
U.S Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) today joined other human rights leaders on the eve of the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping slated for Thursday, imploring President Obama not to forget the victims who suffer from basic human rights at the hands of the Chinese government.
“If human rights are sidelined again this week in the Obama-Xi meeting—it will not only be an unconscionable abandonment of China’s best and brightest who today suffer jail, torture, and death for freedom, but it will be a colossal strategic mistake, as well,” Smith said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “The U.S. cannot meekly ‘raise’ human rights concerns when it is increasingly clear that our security and economic interests with China will not be ensured without dramatic human rights improvements and advances in the rule of law.
“Mr. Xi comes to Washington in a time of growing bilateral tensions. In addition to cyber theft, economic slowdowns, and strained relations with China’s neighbors, Mr. Xi has also presided over an extraordinary assault on the rule of law and civil society. The scope of Mr. Xi’s repression is immense with more arrests, censorship, and control now than at any time since Chairman Mao ruled China. The people of China deserve better.”
Smith is the Chairman of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), and also chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s global human rights subcommittee.
“A government that does not respect the rights and basic dignity of its own people cannot be assumed to be a responsible actor in the global arena,” Smith said. “A government that brutally crushes the yearning of its citizens for fundamental freedoms cannot be a trusted partner able to work on a number of pressing bilateral and global issues.”
Smith said that under Xi’s leadership, the Chinese government has pushed through new laws and draft legislation that would legitimize political, religious, and ethnic repression, further curtail civil liberties and civil society, and expand censorship of the Internet. Draconian population control policies remain in place and gendercide—the extermination of the girl-child through sex-selection abortion— is a massive, festering problem that has catastrophic social and economic consequences. Civil rights lawyers and labor organizers are jailed, Hong Kong booksellers disappear; journalists and religious leaders are harassed and detained and family members of overseas journalists who print information critical of President Xi—are targeted, Smith said.
“The Obama Administration cannot continue to engage in the fantasy that avoiding human rights will somehow bring about a change of heart in Beijing. It will not,” Smith said. “The U.S. must raise human rights because U.S. interests and better U.S.-China relations depend on it. President Xi’s shift toward a hard authoritarianism is a disturbing development. More than any time in recent memory, China is becoming a garrison state, with security forces empowered by new laws to silence dissent and drive a wedge between the Chinese people and the international community.”
In the shadow of the Capitol Building, accompanying Smith was a group of human rights activists: Dr. Yang Jianli, President of Initiatives for China (IFC), and Ma Yongtian and Li Huanjun victims of China's forced eviction policy and working with IFC; Dr. Wang Tiancheng, Columbia University scholar; Pastor Guo Baosheng of ChinaAid and religious freedom commentator; Bhuchung Tsering, Vice President of the International Campaign for Tibet, and; Wei Jingsheng, former political prisoner and President of the Wei Jingsheng Foundation.
Smith was incredulous that China’s Nobel Prize-winner Liu Xiaobo remains imprisoned.
“It is appalling that Liu Xiaobo remains in prison—particularly given that a fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureate resides in the White House,” said Smith, who has held numerous hearings on Liu’s plight. “I do not believe the President has done enough to seek the freedom of Liu Xiaobo or his wife Liu Xia. If President Obama remains silent when China’s human rights lawyers are tortured, jailed, and disappeared—what message does that send to all those in China seeking rights and freedom?: Do not depend on U.S. leadership.”
Smith said until the release of Liu Xiaobo, and until many other rights defenders are a clear and consistent priority of U.S.-China relations, the Chinese government will continue to believe that it can act with impunity and without any consequences.
“President Xi’s shift toward a hard authoritarianism is a disturbing development. More than any time in recent memory, China is becoming a garrison state, with security forces empowered by new laws to silence dissent and drive a wedge between the Chinese people and the international community.”
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 appointees by Congress and the White House.