Senators urge Obama to press Xi on rights during visit

Ten senators said Obama (above) should make human rights “a key and public component” of his talks with Xi.
Ten senators said Obama (above) should make human rights “a key and public component” of his talks with Xi.EPA

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Leading US senators on Tuesday urged President Barack Obama to use the visit to Washington next month of Chinese President Xi Jinping to take him to task for an “extraordinary assault” on human rights.

Ten senators, led by Ben Cardin, top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and John McCain, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Obama should make human rights “a key and public component” of his talks with Xi. 

“Under President Xi, there has been an extraordinary assault on rule of law and civil society in China,” including the detention or harassment of more than 250 lawyers and activists since July 9, the senators said in a letter to Obama.

“We ask that you call publicly and privately for China’s immediate release of these detained lawyers and activists, or at the very least, that China grant them due process,” it said.

The Senators also criticized Xi’s draft law for foreign non-governmental organisations, saying it could force many US NGOs, educational and cultural institutions to pull out of China. 

“The rise of civil society in China has been one of the only human rights success stories of the past two decades, and it is imperative the US speak up to protect it,” the letter said.

It also highlighted denials of visa applications for US journalists, writers and scholars and expressed concern about Xi’s plans to introduce a “draconian” anti-terrorism law.

The senators said they hoped Obama would press China to respect religious freedom and release Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and other political detainees.

The letter said the senators expected Obama and Xi to also discuss China’s pursuit of territorial claims in East Asia, recent cyber attacks, economic and trade issues and climate change.

“While these issues deserve and full and robust exchange of views, so too do human rights,” they said.

Xi is expected to spend about a week in the United States in the second half of September. 

He will hold talks with Obama in Washington and also attend the UN General Assembly.

His administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing national security and stability. Its crackdown on civil society has alarmed Western rights groups and governments.

Washington has said it is “deeply concerned” at what appeared to be a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions, but has been accused of subordinating such concerns to economic ties with Beijing.