WASHINGTON — US lawmakers took Beijing to task Wednesday for its "deplorable" human rights record, while advocates called on President Barack Obama to personally engage with the Chinese on rights cases.
Four human rights defenders, including Chinese Uighur rights defender Rebiya Kadeer, testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about what they said are deteriorating conditions in China and Tibet.
But as an example of what committee chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen called the "tentacles of Chinese security" extending beyond that country's borders, the most prominent witness due to testify, dissident Chen Guangcheng who was recently allowed to move to the United States, declined to appear, apparently out of fear of reprisal against relatives back in China.
"We're all aware that the Chinese record on human rights and the rule of law remains deplorable," Howard Berman, the committee's ranking Democrat, told the hearing.
"Chinese authorities remain hyper-vigilant about tamping down anything that smacks of political or social dissent, including criticism of the government and exposure of official wrongdoing."
The hearing comes after this week's annual US-China talks on human rights, and while some of the advocates said such a dialogue was vital to keep pressure on Beijing, they all called for the White House to do more.
"At the highest levels it has not been a priority," Jared Genser, founder of US-based non-profit group Freedom Now, told lawmakers.
"President Obama and Secretary (of State Hillary) Clinton must personally engage on Chinese human rights cases and make full use of the bully pulpit, something they have only done to date on rare occasions," he added.
"China's backsliding on rights should have long since merited a change in tactics and a more proactive and public approach."
He said Obama could send a strong message by meeting with detained Chinese dissident Gao Zhisheng's wife, who has been given US asylum, and organize a group of foreign leaders to call publicly for the release of Obama's fellow Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
"We believe the US Congress and administration... need to be more proactive," Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet, told lawmakers.
Conditions "from a Tibetan perspective have certainly worsened."
Representative Chris Smith, a fierce human rights defender and China critic, said he has helped enact legislation proscribing various sanctions on Beijing, including a law that bars anyone found to be complicit in forced abortions in China from entering the United States, but that the laws are not being enforced.
Kadeer said such lack of enforcement is interpreted by China "as a green light to implement its own laws like family planning."
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