Chairs Call on President Obama To Prioritize Human Rights Concerns in Meeting with Xi Jinping

Chairs Call on President Obama To Prioritize Human Rights Concerns in Meeting with Xi Jinping

Say President Xi must not visit Washington again without “accounting” for severe erosion of human rights and rule of law

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March 30, 2016

(Washington DC)—In advance of a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of this week’s Nuclear Security Summit between President Obama and Chinese President Xi, Representative Chris Smith and Senator Marco Rubio, the Chair and Cochair respectively of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), today sent a letter to President Obama urging him to press the Chinese President on the marked deterioration in human rights and rule of law conditions since Xi Jinping took power.  

The Chairs highlighted the arrest and disappearances of human rights lawyers and the expanded use of televised confessions as trends that “defy any notion of the rule of law in China.”  They expressed concern about the unexplained disappearances of the Hong Kong booksellers and the arrest of foreign citizens, particularly U.S. citizen Sandy Phan-Gillis, as issues that raise questions about the durability of China’s promises to ensure “a high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong and the safety of Americans doing business in China.  The Chairs raised several prominent cases of prisoners of conscience, including Ilham Tohti and Liu Xiaobo, and urged President Obama to present the Chinese President with a “priority prisoner list.”   

The full text of the letter is included below.   In addition, see remarks by Representative Smith, made at a March 29, 2016, press conference on the Obama-Xi meeting entitled, “Sidelining Human Rights a Strategic Mistake the U.S. Cannot Afford to Make.”


March 30, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama

The President

The White House

Washington, DC 20050


Dear Mr. President:


As you meet on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping we urge you to prioritize human rights in your discussions.  As you know, President Xi is overseeing an extraordinary assault on civil society, the rule of law, and the freedoms of religion, association, and assembly.  President Xi must not be permitted to again visit Washington without any accounting for the severe erosion of human rights and rule of law which has taken place on his watch and with his authorization.


As the Congressional-Executive Commission on China documented in its most recent Annual Report, human rights and rule of law conditions in China have markedly deteriorated since Xi Jinping took power—in fact the Communist Party’s efforts to silence dissent, suppress human rights advocacy, and control civil society are broader in scope than any other period documented since the Commission started issuing Annual Reports in 2002.


Over the course of the last year we have seen scores of civil society actors, including lawyers and legal advocates, arrested, detained, and disappeared.  Some are facing criminal charges categorized as endangering state security, accusations the Chinese government typically uses against dissidents. Nearly all of those still being held have been denied access to a lawyer. Of those who have been released, roughly 30 have been restricted from traveling abroad. Meanwhile, we have witnessed a troubling increase in televised, presumably coerced, “confessions” on state television, in direct violation of Chinese law and international human rights norms. Such “confessions,” on the rise since President Xi took power, defy any notion of rule of law in China. Among the individuals who have been paraded on television for public humiliation are Hong Kong bookseller, Gui Minhai and rights lawyer Huang Liqun.


These cases should all be raised with President Xi, as should the plight of prominent political prisoners such as Uyghur scholar Professor Ilham Tohti and seven of his students from Minzu University in Beijing and Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, who continues to languish unjustly in prison while his wife, Liu Xia suffers under illegal confinement at home.  Many such cases are featured in the CECC’s Political Prisoner Database—we commend the database to your attention and urge you to present President Xi with priority political prisoner lists and press him for the immediate and unconditional release of these individuals.


We are also deeply concerned by a series of unexplained disappearances of Chinese and foreign citizens extending beyond mainland China—to include most notably the Hong Kong booksellers. A troubling pattern is beginning to emerge in these cases involving disappearances and arbitrary detention, sudden returns to Hong Kong and the eschewing of assistance by Hong Kong authorities, followed by sudden returns to the mainland. Beijing’s reach is growing and threatens the “high degree of autonomy” which it pledged to the people of Hong Kong.


There is no shortage of other concerns to include in your discussions with President Xi: The draft overseas non-governmental organization management law; the continued harassment, detention, and other mistreatment of individuals who seek to peacefully practice their religion, express their views, or seek legal redress; the draconian anti-terrorism law being used to crack down on Tibetans, Uyghurs, and broader civil society, at the very time that China’s internal security apparatus is expanding and remains largely unaccountable; the crackdown on labor advocates and further restrictions on labor NGOs and the continued use of coercive population control policies and forced abortions.


Additionally, we remain deeply concerned that U.S. citizen and businesswoman, Sandy Phan-Gillis, has been detained without charge for more than a year. She has been denied access to lawyers and at various points held in solitary confinement and interrogated. This abusive treatment raises serious concerns about the safety of Americans doing business in China—this should be made clear to President Xi.


There is a growing consensus that the pillars upon which U.S.-China policy were built are crumbling. Trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges have not brought political reforms or ensured human rights or made China a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. Rather, Beijing seems emboldened in its repression both at home and abroad. We believe that a full and frank discussion about human rights and civil society is vital during every encounter with President Xi and senior Chinese leadership, particularly during the NSS as well as the G-20, which China will host later this year.


We urge you to start addressing this challenge by prioritizing these issues in your discussions with President Xi this week.




Chris Smith                                                                                                          Marco Rubio

Chair                                                                                                                           Cochair