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February 16, 2012

Concerns Raised About Human Rights During Chinese VP Visit

Trade and security issues topped Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping's talks in the United States this week, but a wide range of concerns about human rights were raised during the visit as well.

It was a visit marked by contrasts.

Just outside the White House, protesters called for Xi Jinping's attention Inside, China's presumed next leader held talks with President Barack Obama.



Alim Seytoff with the Uighur American Association explained what the protesters want. "Our hope is that when President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, they would raise human rights issues, specifically the case of Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists," he said. "In addition to the Chinese dissidents and lawyers who have been locked up and disappeared."

That same day, the wives of two imprisoned Chinese rights advocates pleaded their husbands' cases before U.S. lawmakers hosted by the Congressional Executive Commission on China.

Li Jing's husband was a university professor. "My husband Guo Quan is currently in prison serving a 10-year sentence for peacefully expressing his opinions about democracy and human rights," she explained.

Geng He's husband is an attorney, Gao Zhisheng. She hasn't seen him in nearly two years and doesn't know if he is even alive. "In September 2007, authorities disappeared Zhisheng and held him for over 50 days after he wrote an open letter to the U.S. Congress exposing human rights abuses in China," she stated. "Policemen covered his head with a black mask and took him into a room where they stripped him naked and beat him."

Human rights advocate Jared Genser says Gao's case is a bellwether for the rights situation in China. "Mr. Gao is not a traditional dissident; he is a lawyer. A vanguard of the 'weiquan' or 'rights defending' movement, Mr. Gao attempted to promote the rights of his clients from working within the system. His case shows the government’s willingness to persecute those that promote the rule of law from within, but he is not alone," he noted.

In a meeting with Xi Jinping, U.S. lawmakers raised Gao's situation, and their concerns about protests in Tibetan areas of China, marked by a wave of self-immolations.

International concerns about human rights are a persistent problem for China.

Gao Wenqian is with Human Rights in China and spoke with VOA via Skype. "Chinese authorities do not even follow their own established laws," he said. "And when they arrest activists or dissidents, China uses the law to hide its shame and its legal framework to justify its actions."

During his White House visit, Xi defended China's human rights record, saying China is making progress at its own pace.  But that position fell on deaf ears outside.