In an open letter, Human Rights in China joins eight NGOs in urging Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to clearly voice their concern, during the Strategic and Economic Dialogue next week, over human rights deterioration in China, and to stress that such deterioration hampers bilateral cooperation on a broad range of issues.
The joint letter underscores developments over the past two years that have severely constricted civil society space, including imprisonment of individuals for peacefully exercising their rights and expressing their views, as well as the issuance of draft laws on counterterrorism, national security, and foreign NGO management that threaten to undermine international human rights standards. The NGOs point out that the Dialogue, which precedes the September visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States, “affords particular leverage to press the Chinese government to release unjustly imprisoned individuals, abandon problematic proposed laws, and roll back abusive policies.”
The letter was signed by Amnesty International, China Aid, Freedom House, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, International Campaign for Tibet, Project 2049, Reporters Sans Frontières, and the Uyghur Human Rights Project.
Click here to download a PDF version of the open letter.
June 17, 2015
The Honorable John F. Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St NW
Washington, DC 20520
Via Fax: 2026472283; 2026477350
The Honorable Jacob J. Lew
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220
Via Fax: 2026220073; 2026220073; 2026220417
Re: The 2015 US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue
Dear Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew,
We write on the occasion of the June 22-24, 2015 US-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue, to urge that this important bilateral meeting include an unequivocal message about China's deteriorating human rights situation and lay the groundwork for human rights to be a significant component of the visit later this year of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Since President Xi came into power the Chinese government has redoubled efforts to criminalize online speech, silence journalists, and to insist that university lecturers, academic researchers, and Communist Party members adhere to the leadership’s line. Urgent legal reforms have stalled, and the legitimate underlying grievances of ethnic minorities, religious groups, and other vulnerable communities have been exacerbated through repression rather than addressed. Draft legislation on counterterrorism, national security, and the management of foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reflect Beijing’s growing hostility domestically and internationally towards independent civil society, the freedoms of association and expression, and the rule of law. The worsening human rights environment and the extraordinary damage done to China’s civil society should be given greater prominence in the bilateral relationship.
We share the US government’s assessment that the human rights environment in China is deteriorating. We appreciate US advocacy in pushing back against the draft foreign NGO law and in support of human rights defenders in China, including the five feminists detained this past spring for their planned advocacy around sexual harassment.
We question, however, whether the US is fulfilling its stated “whole of government” approach on human rights. If well-executed, we believe such an approach could be highly effective. Yet we know that multiple Cabinet members have met in the past year with their Chinese counterparts, and there is little evidence to suggest forceful advocacy by those US officials in support of human rights, sending decidedly mixed messages about the importance the US places on this issue. For example, on the same day in April, Secretary Kerry issued a statement calling on Chinese authorities to release the five feminists, while Department of Homeland Security Secretary Johnson, in a speech to China’s elite police academy in Beijing, “saluted” them despite their well-documented role in systemic human rights abuses. Such a lack of consistency makes it easy for Beijing to choose only the messages it likes to hear.
The Strategic and Economic Dialogue presents an opportunity for the US to visibly demonstrate its “whole of government” approach—and use a tone as tough as recent US commentary regarding the South China Seas, cyber, and trade issues—leaving no Chinese official uncertain about the importance of human rights to the US. Given its proximity to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned visit in September, this Dialogue also affords particular leverage to press the Chinese government to release unjustly imprisoned individuals, abandon problematic proposed laws, and roll back abusive policies.
To that end, we urge that you:
The US seeks a China that can be a responsible partner. That country is one in which basic human rights are protected, peaceful dissent is tolerated, and a legal system that operates according to law rather than political whims is entrenched. We urge that you seize this opportunity—one almost universally denied to people in China—to achieve those goals.
Human Rights Watch
International Advocacy Director
Amnesty International USA
Human Rights in China
International Campaign for Tibet
Head of Asia-Pacific Desk
Reporters Sans Frontieres
Uyghur Human Rights Project