Xi Jinping’s US Visit During Escalating Crackdown on Dissent in China Sends Wrong Signal

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(Chinese Human Rights Defenders, February 9, 2012) – The visit to Washington next week of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (习近平), the presumptive next president of China, comes during an escalating crackdown on political and religious dissent in China. The visit also takes place on the heels of China’s veto of the UN Security Council resolution last week condemning the ongoing killing of civilians by the Syrian government. 

“This seems a strange time for the US to engage in diplomatic niceties or goodwill overtures to China’s likely future president,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s international director. “The US should instead hold Xi and other Chinese leaders to account for the Chinese government’s escalating human rights violations at home and its heartless position towards the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Given that the Obama administration is proceeding with Xi’s visit, it is critical that President Obama and Vice President Biden, who is hosting Xi, speak publicly and frankly about the worsening human rights situation in China. Sending such a strong public message during Xi’s visit is to hold the Chinese government up to the same universal standards that apply to all governments, whether it is the US itself, or Iran, Syria, or China.
Raising human rights issues in public and private meetings, however, is not enough. It has had little effect on the deteriorating human rights conditions or vanishing political and legal reforms in China in the past few years. More has to be done. In the President and Vice President’s meetings with Xi, it is important that the administration articulate a set of benchmarks with reference to China’s commitments under international human rights law and China’s own constitution to serve as a clear guide for future US-China engagement. These benchmarks should include the release of political and religious prisoners, ending the violent suppression in ethnic minority regions, and lifting media censorship, including cyber-policing on the Internet.
Since information about Xi’s visit is likely to be censored by official Chinese media when broadcast back in China, it is crucial to reach out directly to the Chinese people via social media such as Twitter and Chinese weibo and overseas Chinese-language media. During Xi’s visit, the administration should set up an online chat during which Vice President Biden could speak directly with Chinese netizens and engage in a dialogue about the worsening human rights situation in China.
Xi Jinping is expected to become the next president of China when the 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress meets this fall. Xi, the son of Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋), a “revolutionary elder” who was a founding member of the Chinese Communist Party and former vice premier, was for many years groomed for the top leadership position. While his father was himself persecuted during the Cultural Revolution and considered by many Chinese activists to be an open-minded reformist, it is uncertain what Xi’s ascendancy will augur for the country’s human rights situation or prospects for political reform. However, his track record does not bode well.
Between 2002 and 2007, Xi was Communist Party Secretary in Zhejiang during one of the worst periods for democracy and human rights activists in that affluent coastal province, where rampant violations occurred for which he has never been held accountable. While Xi held a position with the highest authority in the province, the Zhejiang government stood out in its zealous persecution of political dissidents, writers, underground Christians, and human rights activists.
In October of 2007, Xi Jinping was appointed to the nine-member Standing Committee of the Politburo, China’s most powerful political body. At the time, CHRD expressed concern that Xi was bringing with him a poor human rights record from his previous positions. But more was to come. Xi was put in charge of the preparations of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, which were beset by human rights abuses. In the run-up to the Games, petitioners continued to be rounded up and detained in black jails, and activists continued to be relentlessly harassed.    
The rise of Xi through the ranks of China’s political hierarchy has coincided with the deterioration of the human rights situation in China. Since 2008, the government’s suppression of political dissent and free expression was epitomized by its far-reaching response to Charter 08, a manifesto issued in late 2008 outlining a vision of a more democratic China. In December 2009, the writer and well-known dissident Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波) was given an 11-year prison sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his role in drafting and collecting signatures for Charter 08. The awarding to Liu of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010 led to an even harsher reaction by the government.
The ongoing unlawful house arrest of activist Chen Guangcheng (陈光诚) and the repeated disappearances of the human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) exemplify increasingly extreme forms of deprivation of rights. One year ago, the Arab Spring inspired online calls for citizens in China to take “Jasmine Strolls” in several cities. Authorities responded resolutely by taking into custody many activists and making widespread use of enforced disappearance and torture. Lengthy sentences for speech crimes, unusual in the last decade, have recently become the norm. Violent suppression in Tibet and Xinjiang has intensified in the past few years.
“A severe crackdown followed the January 2011 state visit to the US by Chinese President Hu Jintao,” said Renee Xia. “The administration should not host another visit by a top leader without registering ‘disgust’—as it did over China’s veto of the UN Security Council’s resolution on Syria last week—about the Chinese government’s own abysmal human rights record.” 

Media Contacts:

Renee Xia, International Director (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 6937 or +1 240 374 8937reneexia@chrdnet.com

Wang Songlian, Research Coordinator (English and Mandarin), +852 8191 1660, songlianwang@chrdnet.com

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