- - Wednesday, September 23, 2015


Washington will roll out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping this week. The honor is unwarranted. While President Obama offers toasts to the Chinese leader, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo continues to languish in a dark prison. While President Xi partakes in a lavish reception, human rights lawyers, such as Li Heping and Zhang Kai, are disappeared, detained somewhere in China without access to their families or legal counsel.

Mr. Xi comes to Washington in a time of growing bilateral tensions. In addition to cybertheft, economic slowdowns, and strained relations with China’s neighbors, Mr. Xi has also presided over an extraordinary assault on the rule of law and civil society. During congressional hearings I’ve held over the past two years, most recently on Sept. 18, Chinese dissidents all offered similar testimony: the scope of Mr. Xi’s repression is immense with more arrests, censorship, and control now than at any time since Chairman Mao ruled China.

Mr. Xi also comes to Washington on the 35th anniversary of China’s “One Child Policy.” China’s controversial population control policies are a failed and brutally enforced social experiment that most experts agree has had damaging economic and social consequences. For the last 35 years, the Chinese government coercively managed the size of Chinese families, rounding up pregnant women who did not have the necessary permit to undergo forced abortions or sterilizations or both. The draconian policy is hated by Chinese families, it is condemned globally, and it should be ended immediately. Mr. Obama should raise this issue with President Xi on the day he arrives.

Mr. Obama should take a tougher and more vocal stance overall with China. Raising human rights concerns, however, is not enough. There is a Chinese proverb that says “talk doesn’t cook the rice” and the administration should not get credit for occasionally talking about human rights. Talk has not changed China’s behavior nor will it unless the United States adopts new ways of thinking about U.S.-China relations and tougher policy approaches that intertwine our values and interests.

U.S. diplomacy is stuck with policies that no longer match Chinese realities, based on the belief that China would become a “responsible stakeholder” in the U.S. led international system through trade, investment, and people-to-people exchanges.

Over the past 25 years, U.S. policy was calibrated to engage China’s leaders, focus on shared economic interests, and make sure that human rights concerns did not derail the overall progress of the relationship.

The policy of “engagement” did not work and continues to be cold comfort to China’s repressed human rights lawyers, religious groups, journalists, and civil society leaders. We cannot keep doing the same things repeatedly and expect a different result.

Mr. Obama has nothing to lose in taking a tougher stance toward China and it may even become a legacy issue for him. As a start, he should be meeting with Chinese dissidents and their families in the White House. I have tried for years, without success, to get him to meet with daughters whose fathers are unjustly detained in China. Such meetings may be symbolic, but they powerfully signal U.S. interest in the persecuted.

Secondly, the administration needs to adopt a “whole-of-government” approach to human rights with China. Appropriate human rights issues must be pursued at every level of engagement, by every cabinet agency that regularly engages with China. For example, the Chinese need to hear about Internet freedom and labor rights from the secretary of commerce, and torture and due process protections from the attorney general. Pentagon officials should be discussing ways to protect civil liberties in any counterterrorism strategy. Such discussions should not be left to occasional interventions of the secretary of state and annual human rights dialogues.

Ensuring the free flow of news and information should be a top priority of U.S. policy because it is as critical to businesses operating in China as it is to China’s own freedom advocates. We should help Chinese citizens circumvent the “Great Firewall of China,” fund organizations that preserve and recirculate censored Internet content, and take active steps to protect U.S. journalists in China who face harassment, surveillance, and even threats of violence. The administration should pursue Internet and press freedoms as essentials to any U.S.-China bilateral investment treaty or as part of any future trade pacts pursued with China. Arbitrary censorship and restrictions on foreign journalists constitutes inappropriate market interference that unfairly penalizes American companies, saps investor confidence, and protects Chinese companies, who often operate in the U.S. without restrictions, from competition.

Finally, we must also hold Chinese officials accountable, not only for cybertheft, but also for instances of torture, arbitrary detentions and disappearances, forced abortions and sterilizations, organ harvesting for transplant and mass trafficking in persons. We hold Russian officials accountable through the Magnitsky Act. Chinese officials complicit in gross human rights abuses should not profit from access to the United States or its financial institutions.

We owe a new approach to Liu Xiaobo and Li Heping and the thousands of other suffering prisoners of conscience. And, we owe it to future generations of Americans, whose security and prosperity will depend on a U.S.-China relationship that is open and transparent, free of censorship and persecution, based in adherence to universal standards and, hopefully; increasingly democratic.

Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, is a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and is the chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the House global human rights subcommittee.

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