Authorities in Beijing blocked several Chinese dissident lawyers from meeting a pair of visiting U.S. congressmen. As Stephanie Ho reports, the congressmen presented a list of more than 700 Chinese political prisoners on whom they want information.
Congressman Chris Smith is the ranking (Republican) member of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China, which was set up in 2000, after then-President Bill Clinton permanently renewed Most Favored Nation trade status for China. Smith is an outspoken critic of China, what he had to say to reporters in Beijing, Tuesday, was no surprise.
"Tragically, the Olympics has triggered a massive crackdown designed to silence and put beyond reach all those whose views differ from the official 'harmonious' government line," he said.
As an example, Smith said Chinese authorities thwarted one of the goals for his three-day trip.
"On Sunday night, three human rights lawyers with whom we had scheduled to have dinner, were threatened, then taken away or placed under house arrest by the police," said Smith.
Two of the Chinese dissidents who could not meet the American legislators were lawyers Li Baiguang and Li Heping. The two Chinese activists had met President George Bush in the White House, earlier this month, after receiving awards from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.
The third was lawyer Teng Biao, who Smith says still had four police guards outside his house as of Monday.
Congressman Frank Wolf, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accompanied his colleague to Beijing. He says they presented a list of 734 Chinese political-prisoner cases to Li Zhaoxing, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China's legislature.
"No list of Chinese political prisoners is ever likely to be complete, but I think this is the most extensive and most complete list around," said Wolf.
When asked about the lawmakers' comments, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said they were in Beijing at the invitation of the U.S. Embassy.
Liu says he is not aware of the political prisoner list presented by the two U.S. congressmen. But he says, if they did indeed submit such a list, that is not consistent with the official purpose of their visit.
The American lawmakers spoke to reporters in Beijing, one day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with China's top leaders. She raised human rights issues in her meetings, but stressed friendship rather than disagreement.