When Xi Jinping visits the United States next week, the Chinese politician-set to become the communist nation's next president-will have a full agenda, including visits to the White House, the Pentagon, a soybean farm in Iowa, and a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game in California.
Human rights groups hope that U.S. officials have another item planned for Xi: a frank discussion of human rights abuses in China, and a plea to release some of the most high-profile dissidents languishing in Chinese prisons.
Hudson Institute fellow Michael Horowitz said he's helping with an effort to urge President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to press the cases of six Chinese dissidents during meetings with Xi at the White House next Wednesday. The effort includes asking leaders of religious and human rights groups, as well as members of Congress, to urge the Obama administration to call for the dissidents' release.
Chinese officials have accused the six dissidents-including human rights lawyers and pastors-of crimes like "subversion of state power" for activities like criticizing government policies or conducting church services without state registration. Horowitz hopes that urging their release would open the possibility of freedom for scores of similar dissidents in prisons across China.
It's unclear whether Obama or other officials will initiate in-depth discussions of human rights with Xi. The Chinese leader's first trip to the United States as the presumed future-president of China would likely focus on issues like trade and economics, as Xi seeks to establish himself as a competent statesman. (Xi is set to assume leadership of China's Communist Party later this year, and take over the presidency from Hu Jintao next year in a once-in-a-decade transfer of power.)
Vice President Joe Biden met with a group of human rights advocates on Wednesday to discuss their concerns about Chinese abuses ahead of Xi's visit. After the meeting, a Biden spokesman said that human rights form "a fundamental part of our foreign policy," but didn't indicate whether officials would press the issue with Xi.
Earlier this week, Horowitz of the Hudson Institute released background information compiled by ChinaAid on the six dissidents he hopes the administration will mention to Xi:
- Gao Zhisheng, 45, is a human rights lawyer who has defended Christians and other religious minorities from government abuses. Authorities convicted Gao of "inciting subversion of state power" in 2006. The attorney is serving a prison sentence in a remote province in western China, and prison officials have turned away visiting family members worried about his condition.
- Chen Guangcheng, 40, is a blind human rights lawyer under brutal house arrest since finishing a four-year prison sentence in 2010. Authorities convicted Chen on charges related to his work exposing 130,000 forced abortions and forced tubal ligations in 2006. Chen, his wife, and their daughter remain under 24-hour surveillance in their home. Human rights groups report that Chinese officials have severely beaten the couple at least three times.
- Liu Xianbin, 43, has written articles and web postings critical of the Chinese government and has spent years in and out of prison. Authorities arrested Liu-one of the protesters in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations-again in 2010 for his writings and sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.
- Guo Quan, 43, has published articles critical of the Chinese government and called for political reform. Authorities detained Guo in 2008, and sentenced him to a 10-year prison sentence.
- Alimujiang Yimiti, 38, is serving a 15-year prison term for offenses related to his work as a Christian pastor. He and his wife have two young sons.
- Yang Rongli is a woman and a church leader serving a seven-and-half-year prison sentence for offenses related to her work at the 50,000-member Linfen house church in Shaanxi province. Authorities raided the church and ministry site in 2009, beating some Christians and arresting Yang. Her husband-also a church leader-is serving a three-year-term.