Human Rights Must be Center in America’s “New Relationship” with China

Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at the U.S.-China Summit  (June 7-8)

Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping at the U.S.-China Summit (June 7-8)

President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jingping met this weekend in Palm Springs, covering topics from North Korea, cybersecurity and cyber theft, to the environment, and the economy. But what about human rights? It was absent from the conversation as Xi and Obama develop a new model for U.S.-China diplomacy.

Gary Kasparov, famous chess champion and Russian human rights defender, said at our inaugural Human Rights First Summit last December that “if human rights does not come first, it doesn’t come at all.” We agree and this is why we’ve been pressing the United States to put human rights at the heart of U.S.-China diplomacy.

China’s human rights record is atrocious. Since Xi became president, 15 activists have been detained and arrested for calling to end corruption in the Chinese government and Tibetans have been sentenced to prison terms for self-immolations.  Nobel Laureate Lui Xiaobo received 11 years of prison sentence for advocating for a transition to democracy. His wife, Liu Xia, has been put on indefinite house arrest.

The day before the U.S.-China meeting, Chinese government gave Chen Guangfu, brother of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, and their mother passports. This is promising, yet this gesture came after over one year of judicial and physical threats against Guangcheng’s family. Guangcheng’s nephew, who was arrested under politically-motivated charges for protecting his family from government thugs, remains in jail.

We welcome the efforts by the United States and China to develop a new, stronger relationship with each other. But human rights must be at the heart of this effort.

Jan Jiangli writes in the Daily Beast that if human rights is not at the center of U.S.-China dialogue, “the Chinese government will be emboldened to continue their repressive policies” which will “ultimately be counterproductive to American security and Chinese stability.”

Crossposted from Human Rights First.

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