Prisoners' Relatives Call for Reform Ahead of US-China Talks

china-xi-obama-feb-2012.jpg Barack Obama and Xi Jinping hold their first talks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Feb. 14, 2012.

The relatives of prominent Chinese political prisoners have called for political reform and for the release of their loved ones ahead of a summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

"I have hope that when President Obama and President Xi Jinping meet ... that they will reaffirm these universal values of freedom, democracy, and justice," said Lisa Peng, daughter of political activist Peng Ming, a U.S. resident who is currently serving a life sentence in a Chinese jail after being seized by secret police while in Thailand.

"We have a new change of leadership in China at the moment, and every time we have this switch of leadership I feel like every Chinese citizen and every American citizen feels hopeful that there will be change, and that China will progress in a more universally friendly way in terms of respecting human rights," said Lisa Peng, whose planned summer visit to her father in 2004 was suddenly called off when he was kidnapped by Chinese state security police.

This week's "shirt-sleeves" informal talks between Obama and Xi at California's Sunnylands ranch are the first time the two are meeting in person since Xi took over as China's paramount leader.

Aimed at establishing a stronger personal relationship than currently exists between the two men, the visit is likely to be dominated by North Korea's nuclear program, cybersecurity, and the economy.

However, rights activists, democracy advocates and lawyers say political reform is crucial to success in many other areas of governance.

Campaigning for political prisoners' release

Peng, along with the relatives of veteran democracy activists Wang Bingzhang, Zhu Yufu, and Liu Xianbin spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service on a trip to Washington to campaign for Chinese political prisoners ahead of the presidential summit.

Wang's daughter Wang Tian'an said she was still in contact with her father by mail, but had been prevented from visiting him for the past five years.

"The last time I saw my father was in December 2008 when I went to visit him in the jail in Shaoguan," she said. "I was only able to spend about 30 minutes with my father."

"We talked about some of the activities I'd been involved in to advocate for my father, and about what was going on at home, and my education, what my plans were for the future," said Wang, who has been refused permission to return since the visit.

"I want to call on the Chinese government to release my father and to allow him to come home," she said. "I also want to thank everyone for their care and concern for my father."

Father's sacrifice

Chen Qiao, daughter of democracy and rights activist Liu Xianbin, said she didn't appreciate the magnitude of her father's sacrifice until she moved to the U.S. to attend school.

"I want to talk about the influence my father had on me, and how my opinion about him changed," she said. "Back in China, it's hard to find out the truth of these things, but after I came to the U.S., I came to recognize what my father is, and changed my opinion and my feelings about him."

But she added: "It's a source of great regret to me, that he and I never shared a father-daughter relationship like other people have."

"I was never able to mess around with him in a familiar sort of way, nor to tell him my innermost thoughts and feelings. It's a real shame. I know that my dad is a great person, but I have no way to be with him."

Meanwhile, Zhu Qiaofu, brother of jailed opposition party founder Zhu Yufu, called on both presidents to put human rights at the top of their agenda.

"Human rights is more important than the economy," Zhu said. "The U.S. got to be the way it is today because of its very free and democratic system."

"If the economy is now more important than human rights, then the U.S. won't stay the way it is now in the future," he said.

Sunnylands summit

The summit talks this week between Obama and Xi will be based on an unprecedented informal setting allowing for what the White House calls "real conversation and some candor."

But the sheer complexity of political, security, economic, and trade issues dogging the two governments could mean that human rights and political reform are sidelined, analysts say.

Obama, who is likely to send a strong message to Beijing on cyberespionage, is currently facing growing questions around the U.S. government's use of the telephone records of millions of Americans for counterterrorism purposes.

The Washington Post reported that the National Security Agency and the FBI are also tapping into the central servers of leading U.S. Internet companies to examine emails and photographs, although major service providers have denied giving the government direct access.

During his last meeting with Xi in February last year—before Xi took over the presidency—Obama pledged to "continue to emphasize" the importance of human rights and democracy.

But rights groups say there is a lack of information about precisely which individual cases have been raised between U.S. and Chinese officials.

Aside from Zhu, Peng, Liu, and Wang, there are a number of high-profile dissidents serving time for subversion in China, simply for calling publicly for political change.

Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo is serving a 13-year jail term while his wife Liu Xia is under unlawful house arrest in Beijing, while top rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been returned to prison after being repeatedly disappeared and tortured by the authorities.

And the family of blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng, now in the U.S. following his daring escape from house arrest last year, continues to be targeted by local officials for harassment and retaliatory action by police.

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


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