WASHINGTON — Representatives of diverse faith groups have called on President Obama to press Xi Jinping on religious and other human rights issues during the Chinese president’s visit to the United States capital.
Xi will be in Washington for a White House state visit tonight (Sept. 24) and Friday (Sept. 25). His visit will culminate in a state dinner in his honor. Some human rights proponents have criticized the Obama administration’s decision to grant Xi a state visit.
In less than three years as head of the Communist Party that rules the world’s most populous country, Xi has overseen a repressive campaign against Christians and other religious adherents that close observers say has been unrivaled in China since the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s.
Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said on the eve of Xi’s visit, “China’s government, both past and present, has a well-documented history of trespassing on the religious liberty of its citizens. The United States must be crystal clear that freedom of conscience is a fundamental human rights issue.”
He is pleading with the president and Secretary of State John Kerry “to make the religious freedom of our Chinese neighbors, including millions of our brothers and sisters in Christ, an urgent point of leadership within the international community,” Moore said in written comments.
Christian, Buddhist and Muslim leaders gathered at a Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday (Sept. 23) to urge Obama to raise human rights issues in his meetings with Xi.
Obama “can forcefully, strongly take up the cause of religious practitioners” in China, said Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), at the news conference.
“Religious freedom is fundamental to American values,” he said. “It’s part of the American DNA.”
The Obama administration should raise human rights every time it engages China and in every forum, whether public or private, said Kody Kness, vice president of China Aid. “I don’t think we do that enough.”
Tina Mufford, policy analyst for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), said, “If we can’t say these things now when [Xi] is in our backyard, when can we?”
Speaking through an interpreter, Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress, told reporters and others at the news conference, “If President Obama and his administration do not raise the human rights violations and the religious repression of all ethnic and religious groups under the rule of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, then Xi Jinping will see the silence of the U.S. as agreement” with maintaining the persecution.
China Aid is a Christian organization based in the United States that promotes religious freedom and serves the persecuted church in the Asian country. ICT and the World Uyghur Congress advocate for Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims, respectively, in China. All the religious groups have prisoners of conscience in China, Kness said.
The last 18 months of Xi’s regime have been especially repressive, the religious freedom proponents said. Among indications of the crackdown:
- More than 1,500 crosses on church buildings or churches have been destroyed;
- Government-registered churches have been closed and members arrested;
- About 250 lawyers were arrested in July alone.
In addition, thousands of religious adherents have been imprisoned and some killed extrajudicially.
During Xi’s nearly three years as president, the number of “religious practitioners, civil society actors and dissidents that have been arrested, convicted and jailed far exceeds the number” during the 10-year rule of Hu Jintao, the previous Chinese president, Kness said.
The Obama administration could call for the following actions by the Chinese government that would aid religious adherents in that country, Kness said:
- The immediate release of prisoners of conscience;
- The ending of the religious registration process;
- The shutting down of black jails, China’s extra-legal, secret detention centers.
Other speakers at the news conference were Jonathan Liu, a house church pastor who formerly served as pastor of a registered church, and Guo Baosheng, a house church pastor in exile who was imprisoned in China for four years.
The organizations are uniting with other human rights advocates for a mid-day rally outside the White House Sept. 25.
The U.S. State Department has designated China as one of its “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.