Call for Trump to press Xi on human rights issues at summit

US Congressional-Executive Commission says Trump has ‘historic opportunity’ to urge release of Chinese dissidents

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 2:19pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 April, 2017, 11:22pm

US President Donald Trump is under pressure to push President Xi Jinping for the release of dissidents in China when they meet this week, following a statement by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China that cites human rights protection as integral to economic relations and security.

The bipartisan commission said Xi should not “get a pass” on addressing human rights issues when the leaders from the two countries meet for a two-day summit in Florida.

“As President Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi to Florida, we cannot forget the men and women who languish unjustly in prison, the family members who do not know the fate of their loved ones, and the professionals who have disappeared for simply doing their job,” commission chairman Marco Rubio said in a statement.

Trump sees ‘very difficult’ meeting with Xi Jinping

“These people are not statistics, they are booksellers and pastors, writers and Nobel laureates, lawyers and rights defenders. While recognising the broad scope of US-China bilateral relations, it is unacceptable for President Xi to get a pass on human rights. Not only is there a moral imperative to press for dissidents’ immediate and unconditional release, it also aligns with our national interests.”

But doubts remain if President Trump will indeed press the Chinese leader on his country’s human rights records, with one analyst saying the US is more keen on trade matters.

And when President Trump met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Washington earlier, he made no public airing of US concerns about human rights in Egypt despite saying both sides had “a few things” they do not agree on.

The commission cited a number of “political prisoners” in China in its statement, including bookseller Gui Minhai and jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Gui is the co-owner of the Mighty Current publishing company in Hong Kong, which specialises in books critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

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The commission’s co-chairman Chris Smith said Trump had an “historic opportunity” to make a difference.

“We too easily forget that behind the trade deficits and security concerns, real people pay a huge price for standing up for freedom. For this they are heroes and their unconditional release should be a prominent part of this week’s summit,” Smith said.

“The president has the historic opportunity to change the failed policy assumptions of the past. Increased trade and prosperity have not brought political liberalisation to China. He should be consistent and strong on human rights protections and rule of law development because China’s failures in these areas critically impact economic relations and regional security.”

China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu believed that both sides would focus on trade. Even if Trump did raise concerns on China’s human rights records, Lau said, China as a strong power would not necessarily back down.

“Both countries do not want to intensify or harm their relationship,” Lau said. “The US would rather press China on trade matters and China’s co-operation against North Korea than human rights.”