WASHINGTON – Members of Congress and activists for Chinese human rights called on President Barack Obama to discuss China’s rampant human rights abuses during Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States.
“We are here to call on President Obama to raise human rights issues publicly and vigorously during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington,” said Rep. Christopher Smith,R-N.J.,a member of the Congressional Executive Commission on China.
At a press conference Tuesday,the leaders implored the president to urge Hu to release political and religious prisoners,including Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo,and alter discriminatory laws targeted at women. The push followed a letter sent by 32 members of Congress to the president calling for serious discussion on Chinese human rights during Hu’s visit.
“China showed its puniness by not allowing Liu Xiaobo to receive the Nobel Prize,” Smith said.
Hu received an official welcome ceremony at the White House Wednesday morning and will be the guest of honor at a state dinner Wednesday night.
Geng He,the wife of imprisoned Chinese human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng,called on Obama to help with the release of her husband so her family could be reunited. Geng’s daughter has attempted suicide multiple times since her father’s disappearance.
“President Obama,please remember what it felt like to not have a father and help my children so they can be with him again,” Geng said.
Rebiya Kadeer called for Obama to discuss oppression faced by Uyghurs,a Muslim minority group that lives in Northwestern China. Kadeer,a former political prisoner and president of the World Uyghur Congress said she believes her two sons and thousands of Ugyhurs are imprisoned because their family members criticize the Chinese government.
Kadeer’s call for religious freedom was echoed by Rep. Frank Wolf,R-Va.,a coauthor of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
“Chinese house Christians,Catholics,Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong have seen their rights plundered,” said Wolf,co-chairman of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
Women’s rights advocates called for drastic reforms of China’s one-child policy and overall treatment of women. The policy limits women to having one child,levies steep fines for having more than one child and gives the government authority to monitor women’s reproductive cycles.
“The one-child policy is the largest crime against women and has been an unending holocaust lasting 30 years,” said Chai Ling,president of All Girls Allowed,an organization promoting women’s rights in China. Chai said 100 million girls have died because parents would prefer boys if they are allowed only one child and there are more than 35,000 forced abortions every day in China.
Despite the pressure,experts believe Hu will not seriously consider any meaningful changes in China’s human rights policies.
“China will only change its human rights when it realizes its true economic prosperity requires universal freedom,and those left behind by the economic boom demand change,” Georgetown University Professor Mark Lagon said in an interview.
Smith said the U.S. government’s fear of Chinese retaliation and China’s growing global influence are obstacles to achieving serious changes in China’s human rights policy.
“No one on the U.N.-Human Rights Council gives China a slap on the wrist because China is silencing critics with aid to European,African and Latin American countries,” Smith said.
Smith insisted that honoring Hu with a state dinner was inappropriate,just as he did when Bill Clinton hosted former Chinese President Li Peng,known as “the butcher of Beijing” for his role in quelling the Tiananmen Square riots.
“We need to look China in the eye and hold them more accountable. A Nobel laureate hosting a head of state for dinner and not demanding the release of his fellow Laureate is almost unthinkable,” Smith said.