Human rights groups urge Obama to press Chinese president on abuses
By Marianne Medlin
Chinese president Hu Jintao speaks with President Obama during a 2009 visit to China
Chinese president Hu Jintao speaks with President Obama during a 2009 visit to China

.- As the White House welcomes President Hu Jintao of China this week, critics are decrying China for its record of human rights abuses and urging the Obama administration to “vigorously” address the issues during the Chinese president's visit.

Protests, press conferences and even an arrest have taken place in the build up to Jintao's visit in Washington, D.C., which began on Jan 18.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) cited China's one-child policy, forced abortions and sterilizations, the arrest and torture of political dissidents and the current imprisonment of recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo as major human rights abuses committed against the Chinese people by the communist government.

In remarks to a press conference held in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18,  Rep. Smith stated that President Hu “gave the world unmistakable proof of his government’s moral puniness and fear” when he wouldn’t let Liu Xiaobo – “a proponent of gradual democratic reform” – out of his prison cell to receive the prize at the ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

The Chinese president even had Liu’s wife and friends placed under house arrest for fear they would come to receive the prize for him, the congressman added.

Rep. Smith argued that as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama has a particular obligation “to call for Liu’s release publicly and vigorously” as well as condemn the torture and imprisonment of political prisoner Gao Zhisheng, who in recent years drew the attention of the international media to a massive forced abortion campaign in the country's Shandong province.

He also called on President Obama's support for others in the country who face discrimination, including “Falun Gong practitioners – also victims of the most brutal torture practices – for underground Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, whose native lands Hu’s government treats like militarily occupied territory, for democracy advocates, labor organizers, North Korean refugees, for Internet users, subject to censorship and surveillance.”

Rep. Smith cited the struggles of Chinese women in particular, condemning the country's one-child policy as a “massive and cruel system.”

“The price for failing to conform to this system is staggering,” he said, adding that “out-of-plan”  children are denied education and health-care and that fines for bearing a child without a birth permit can be 10 times the average annual income of two parents.

Families that “can’t or won’t pay are jailed, or their homes smashed in, or their young child is killed. If the brave woman still refuses to submit, she may be held in a punishment cell, or, if she flees, her relatives may be held and, very often, beaten,” he said. “If the woman is by some miracle still able to resist this pressure, she may be physically dragged to the operating table and forced to undergo an abortion.”

“Her trauma is incomprehensible,” Rep. Smith underscored. “It is a trauma she shares, in some degree, with every woman in China, whose experience of intimacy and motherhood is colored by the atmosphere of fear created by the government, by government threats and determination to intrude itself, in deadly fashion, into the most private aspects of her life.”

Rep. Smith then criticized the Obama administration, arguing that over the last two years  it “has made nothing but weak, pro forma responses to human rights abuses, in China and around the world.”

“Our country can’t afford to continue doing this,” he said. “We need to challenge human rights abuses publicly and in language that shows we mean business – and we need to do this above all in China.”

The New Jersey congressman joins the list of human rights leaders in the U.S who've been unimpressed with the current administration's lack of effort in speaking out against abuses in China and other countries around the world.

Ellen Bork, director of Democracy and Human Rights for the organization Foreign Policy Initiative, wrote on Jan. 16 that the current administration continually “avoids confrontation and refuses to impose consequences for egregious Chinese behavior at home and abroad.”

“The president’s determination to avoid using the weight and prestige of his office to support democratic opponents of authoritarian regimes in China, Iran, Belarus, and elsewhere is quickly becoming a hallmark of his administration,” she said, adding that it's “a dispiriting trend.”

In protest of President Hu's visit, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, demonstrated in front of the White House on Tuesday, leading to his arrest.

Rev. Mahoney had demonstrated on the sidewalk near a photo of Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, an empty chair signifying Liu's vacant seat at the recent Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway and a picture of a Christian woman who had been brutally beaten by the Chinese government.

"We are calling upon President Obama to publicly, passionately and boldly speak out against the human and religious rights abuses by the Chinese government against their own people when President Hu Jinato visits the White House this week,” he said.

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