Rights Groups Up Pressure on White House Ahead of Chinese Presidential Visit

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china-xi-jinping-barack-obama-nov12-2014.jpg U.S. President Barack Obama (L) walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 12, 2014.

U.S.-based rights groups have called on President Barack Obama to invite activists, lawyers and other members of the country's nascent civil society into the White House ahead of a visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping.

Efforts by Obama's administration aren't enough to change the behavior of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which has stepped up its crackdown on lawyers, rights activists and peaceful critics of the regime since Xi took power in 2012, a letter signed by nine organizations said.

"In light of the high-level reception that will be given President Xi, whose leadership is responsible for this human rights crisis, inviting representatives of China’s persecuted rights advocates to the White House continues to be essential and appropriate," the letter said.

"We believe it imperative that you now quite literally visibly stand with independent Chinese civil society by inviting members of that community into the White House in advance of President Xi’s visit," it said.

The letter comes after rights activists inside China called on Obama to cancel the trip altogether, saying that Xi stands to gain far more in terms of political legitimacy back home from the symbolic trappings of a state visit than does Washington.

It said China is now seeing a "human rights crisis" sparked by the government's targeting of an increasingly vocal civil society.

"In the face of risks ranging from arbitrary detention, torture, harassment of family members, and being disappeared, members of these groups have pushed for urgently needed transparency at national and local levels," the letter said.

"It is these individuals who have reported courageously on official wrongdoing," it said. "Yet the Chinese government under President Xi has launched an assault against this community with a ferocity unseen in the past two decades."

The letter cited the continued detention of 22 lawyers or legal activists, 15 of them in unknown locations, the closure of nongovernmental organizations, the prosecution of writers and journalists, and the jailing of religious practitioners and the demolition and closure of places of worship.

New and forthcoming legislation means that nongovernmental groups will likely also see their funding curtailed, while peaceful criticism of the government will be framed as a threat to state security, it said.

"President Xi cannot leave Washington without having received a clear, public message from you that his government must end its persecution of civil society," said the letter, which was signed by nine groups including the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders.

‘Send out a clear signal’

Hong Kong-based Amnesty International China researcher William Nee said the Obama administration needs to send out a clear signal amid a worsening human rights situation in China.

"If they were to invite Chinese lawyers, NGO people, or civil society activists together, this would let the Chinese government known that the U.S. takes human rights in China seriously," Nee said.

"A lot of people in the U.S. have become increasingly concerned by the ongoing persecution of religious believers," he said.

HRW China researcher Maya Wang agreed, suggesting that Washington has become too cozy with Beijing lately.

"Ties between the U.S. and Chinese governments have become closer over the past few years, but opinion polls have shown that there is strong public concern in the U.S. over the human rights situation," she said.

"The U.S. government ... would do well to listen to its own public opinion."

Beijing has billed the trip as marking a new era in the relationship with Washington, one of relations between two "major countries."

In a commentary published this week, the state news agency Xinhua quoted Communist Party international relations analyst Chen Jimin as saying that the U.S. still harbors a "cold war mentality" in dealing with China.

"The United States needs to change their attitude, recognize and adapt to the new characteristics of the times," the agency quoted him as saying.

"Uncomfortable as China's rise is for the United States, there is nothing unnatural about an increasingly powerful China demanding more say and greater sway in relations among nations," Chen said.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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