11/11/2009, 00.00
CHINA – UNITED STATES
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In China Obama to stress respect for “human rights”

Chinese Human Rights Defenders writes an open letter to the US president, criticising Washington’s failure to stand up to Beijing on human rights and censorship. The organisation calls on Obama to raise the issues in his meeting with Hu Jintao.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The organisation Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) has written an open letter to US President Barack Obama, calling on him to tell his Chinese counterpart to make a commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in China. The US leader has already said he wants to address these issues during his upcoming visit to Beijing. More specifically, the letter calls for the release of Chinese dissidents like Wu Lihong, Sun Xiaodi, Hu Jia, Tan Zuoren and Liu Xiaobo.

The two leaders are scheduled to meet on 15 November in Beijing. Their agenda will include climate change, nuclear proliferation and the economic crisis; however, Obama, although he did not meet the Dalai Lama during the latter’s US visit, will bring up the issue of human rights in his talks with Chinese leaders. His visit is set to end on the 18.

In their letter, CHRD activists, many of whom are based in China, warn that any pledges by the Chinese government to tackle climate change and other global challenges are likely to remain empty promises unless Chinese citizens are able to engage freely in the process of implementing these reforms without the fear of repercussions.

Addressing the US president directly, the CHRD letter said, “We have been concerned with the messages your administration has sent to the Chinese people and government since you took office.

“In February, during her visit to China Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would not prioritize human rights in its relationship with the government and, most recently, you broke with established precedent in not meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama”.

Still, the letter said it held “great expectations for your administration’s commitment to human rights. In your inaugural address, you spoke of ‘the rule of law and the rights of man’ as ideals which ‘still light the world,’ and which you promised not to abandon ‘for expedience's sake.’ We believe your upcoming trip to China presents an important opportunity to re-affirm this belief. “

Furthermore, “Civil society participation is critical to the United States’ interest in a genuinely productive partnership with China on cutting greenhouse gases,” said Renee Xia, CHRD’s International Director, “and one of the primary obstacles facing Chinese citizens hoping to monitor government actions is official censorship, especially on the internet. Mr. Obama,” she said, “should urge the Chinese president: ‘Mr. Hu, please tear down the Great Firewall!’”

By way of conclusion, the letter listed a number of practical requests the US leader should submit to Hu Jintao, including “stop punishing individuals for exercising their freedom of expression using Article 105 of the Criminal Code,” and provide “a specific timetable for the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

For his part, in an interview President Obama said, “I don't find the critics credible. If you look at my statements, they have been entirely consistent. We believe in the values of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion, that are not just core American values but we believe are universal values."

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