WASHINGTON (BP)–A group of former political prisoners and human rights defenders from China joined four congressmen for a news conference Feb. 26 to protest the Obama administration’s retreat on the priority of human rights in China.
The gathering followed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments on a recent trip to Asia indicating that concerns over human rights violations in China would not interfere with the new administration’s efforts on the economic crisis, global warming and other issues.
Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said he and the three other congressmen, Mike Pence, R.-Ind., Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., were unifying to deliver a message to the people of China.
“There are many of us in Congress who will not let the United States government forget about their human rights. We will keep speaking out for them, and we will do everything in our power to urge the administration to do the same,” Smith said, according to a news release about the news conference at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington.
Bob Fu, president of China Aid, also spoke, urging the United States to appeal to the Chinese people, especially a new generation interested in increasing human rights in their nation.
“We do not need to be afraid to press human rights issues. If the Chinese government’s fist is closed to input now, we can go directly to the people within China — people whose hands are open to receive help, advice, encouragement and support,” Fu said. “In fact, they are the best investment for promoting China as friend and partner in years to come. I think it seems wiser than empowering a brutal regime.”
Even if the Obama administration will not emphasize human rights in China, Fu called on the American people to “support life and justice in China with your vote, your checkbook, your phone call to your government representatives and within your sphere of influence.
“While Secretary Clinton was visiting in China, Christians were sitting in their cold prison cells and working in labor camps around the clock,” Fu said. “What message were they expecting her to deliver from the leader of the free world? At the very least, they expected her to say, ‘Brothers and sisters, we are with you while you are suffering.'”
The U.S. State Department issued its annual worldwide human rights report, which was drafted largely during the Bush administration but approved by Clinton, Feb. 25. The report said China’s human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas, including “severe cultural and religious repression” which peaked around high-profile events like last year’s Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, Radio Free Asia reported Feb. 26 that during Clinton’s visit to China, many Christians and pro-democracy advocates were placed under surveillance and some were held by authorities. The news service said much of the clampdown surrounded Clinton’s visit to a government-sanctioned church.
“When Secretary of State Rice came here last time, they also took me away,” Qi Zhiyong, a Christian who was disabled during the Tiananmen Square student protest in 1989, told Radio Free Asia. “Whenever a U.S. president or a high-ranking official comes to Beijing, the authorities always get nervous and do not want me to be in Beijing.”
Zha Jianguo, one of the founding members of the China Democracy Party, told the news service that government officials fear that foreign reporters might interview the activists, or that they might stage a protest or demand to meet with the visiting dignitary.
Pence, the Congressman from Indiana, released a statement saying the United States must do all it can to deliver hope to those fighting for freedom in oppressive nations.
“I am deeply troubled by Secretary Clinton’s recent comments that state her willingness to place our own financial interests above the interests of freedom in China,” Pence said. “China has a long history of criminalizing political and religious expression and forcing the deaths of millions of unborn children.
“As Ronald Reagan once said, ‘We cannot diminish the value of one category of human life — the unborn — without diminishing the value of all human life,'” Pence added. “Our nation cannot diminish the value of human rights in our efforts to confront a financial crisis.”
He went on to say that the United States has a responsibility to declare that human rights violations such as those in China are unacceptable.
“We must not allow our economic challenges to undermine our moral courage. I call upon Secretary Clinton and President Obama to renew our nation’s longstanding commitment to personal and political freedom for the people of China and to prevent our economic interests from clouding our moral responsibilities,” Pence said.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.