Obama Administration Opens the Door for Human Rights Questions During China Trip
Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First applauds the Obama Administration for insisting on conducting a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping that included questions from reporters during President Obama’s trip to Beijing. Although Chinese state media reportedly did not air the press conference due to concerns that reporters would raise tough human rights issues, conducting a real briefing with questions allowed President Obama to speak directly to the Chinese people on key human rights issues, including U.S. support for freedom of the press and pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.
“It is important that the United States continue to speak out about human rights issues even as it works to secure important cooperative agreements with China on issues like the environment, which it did so effectively today,” said Human Rights First President & CEO Elisa Massimino, who last week attended a White House meeting where civil society leaders urged the administration to raise human rights concerns during this week’s talks.
“President Obama rightly prioritized speaking directly to the Chinese people in an open press conference with questions, even as he was trying to build common ground with his Chinese counterpart. President Obama should continue to publicly press China to release political prisoners, end its persecution of human rights defenders and the lawyers who represent them, respect the rights of the Chinese people to freely express themselves, including on the Internet, and allow all people to worship freely.”
Ahead of this week’s trip to China, the Obama Administration said that human rights would be high on its agenda and it is reported that the presidents’ meeting included a frank discussion about U.S. concerns. Freedom of the press, China’s tighter control over elections in Hong Kong, and its crackdown on dissenters were among the topics discussed during the presidents’ private meeting and at a public joint press conference in Beijing.
Last week, Human Rights First was among a group of nine human rights organizations who sent President Obama a letter asking him to use this week’s trip as an opportunity to condemn the crackdown on civil society in China. The signatories of the letter urged the president to publicly speak out against the detention of human rights defenders, including 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo and his wife Liu Xia, Uighur economist Ilham Tohti, human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, and Tibetan Buddhist leader Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. The letter also noted that the crackdown on dissent has seen an uptick since President Xi Jinping came to power in March 2013.
Massimino concluded, “China’s society and economy—as well as its international standing and influence—will achieve its full potential only when its policies are rooted in respect for human rights and the rule of law.”