Radio Free Asia
Chinese President Xi Jinping faced a mixed reception on Wednesday as he was welcomed by business leaders in Seattle, but was dogged by protesters determined to express their anger over his human rights record back home.
On the second day of his week-long U.S. state visit, Xi spoke to a group of American and Chinese executives, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and investor Warren Buffet, at a U.S.-China business roundtable, pledging to loosen restrictions on foreign investment and protect intellectual property rights.
|Xi Jinping speaks at a US-China business roundtable in
Seattle, Sept. 23, 2015.
Xi also touted China’s economy and the benefits of a bilateral investment treaty he said would “further ease market access” and increase investment transparency, in addition to providing a level playing field for domestic and foreign companies—an agreement American CEOs expressed support for.
But during the address, dozens of protesters gathered outside calling on Xi for the immediate release of rights activists in China and for an official apology and reappraisal of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, which ended in bloodshed when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) sent troops to clear Tiananmen Square in the capital Beijing with tanks and machine guns.
They also called for the release of lawyers detained in a nationwide police operation targeting the country’s embattled legal profession since July 10, as well as jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and veteran Chinese journalist Gao Yu.
“We want Xi Jinping to release all democracy activists, rights activists and religious believers,” protest organizer Jin Xiuhong told RFA.
“The [ruling] Chinese Communist Party is a one-party dictatorship that spreads disaster wherever it goes,” Jin said. “They can do whatever they please, and nobody can tell them what to do.”
San Francisco-based democracy activist Fang Zheng said he had traveled to Seattle to join the protest because China’s human rights situation had deteriorated since Xi took power in November 2012.
“We are calling here for an end to human rights violations, and for the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience,” he said.
Protester Han Jing, who traveled from Vancouver to join the protest, said many people had hoped Xi would take China into a new era, only to be disappointed.
“We all lived through the June 4 [crackdown on the 1989 pro-democracy movement], and if Xi Jinping really wants his Chinese dream to be realized, he will have to reappraise June 4 and admit the crimes committed by the Communist Party,” he said.
Wang Zaigang, a tourist from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, said he had come to join in the protest as part of his trip.
“I came here today to listen to a different voice. We came here to protest,” Wang said. “We are concerned with a reappraisal of June 4, and the question of judicial fairness.”
He also called for the release of jailed activists including ailing democracy activist Wang Bingzhang, veteran journalist Gao Yu and rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang.
Protesters also gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington as part of demonstrations ahead of Xi’s visit to the U.S. capital on Thursday following his three-day tour of Seattle.
Forced evictee Ma Yongtian, from the northeastern province of Jilin, said she has been part of a group staging a sit-in outside the embassy since last week in a bid to win compensation from Chinese authorities for the loss of their homes to development.
“We are getting ready for Xi Jinping’s visit to Washington … and we will probably stage a protest outside the hotel where Xi is staying,” Ma told RFA.
“We will follow Xi for the entire length of this visit, until he goes back to China,” she said.
Ma said some of the petitioners in her group have been pursuing complaints against the government over forced evictions for the past 15 years, to no avail.
“They haven’t given us a cent,” she said. “That’s why we are putting all of our energy into this; we’ll do anything to make our problems known to Xi Jinping himself.”
Veteran U.S.-based dissident Yang Jianli said a raft of new laws aimed at bolstering “national security” is putting increasing pressure on activists and non-government groups in China.
“They will probably run into a lot of trouble when trying to carry out their work,” Yang told RFA. “They could even be styled as carrying out overseas sabotage operations or even espionage under national security laws and regulations.”
“This is going to put a huge obstacle in the way of social progress and civil society in China.”
Yang said U.S. officials have expressed concern about the expansive new NGO laws, because the State Department funds some civil groups in China.
While the topic of human rights is unlikely to dominate Xi’s visit to the White House, National Security Adviser Susan Rice met Tuesday with representatives of NGOs to discuss the new “national security” legislation in China.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Wednesday with relatives of several Chinese dissidents and civil society activists, though Geng He, the U.S.-based wife of prominent rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, refused to attend, citing a letter from her husband who said little would come of the talks while officials wine and dine Xi in Washington. Geng also complained that Washington had neglected her husband’s plight for years before this week’s invitation.
Also on Wednesday, Washington-based Freedom Now released a letter signed by a dozen Nobel Peace Prize laureates and addressed to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to pressure Xi to free jailed fellow laureate Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia, who has been held incommunicado at the couple’s home without being accused of any crime.
“We are writing as your fellow Nobel Peace Prize Laureates to ask that you call publicly on the Government of China to release from house arrest Liu Xia, the wife our imprisoned fellow Laureate Dr. Liu Xiaobo, and to allow her to travel abroad for medical treatment as she has requested,” said the letter addressed to Obama, who also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
“We also ask that you urge his immediate release as well … All attempts to resolve their detentions through private diplomacy have failed. We believe that unless leaders like you take urgent action, both publicly and privately, that China will continue to believe it can act with impunity and without consequence for its behavior.”
A literary critic and former professor, Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China” in a decision that infuriated Beijing, which says he has broken Chinese law.
Liu was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for “incitement to subvert state power” after helping to draft Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping changes in China’s government that was signed by thousands of supporters.
Although China claims Liu Xia is under “no legal restriction,” her apartment is under 24-hour police supervision and her movement restricted. Liu suffered from a heart attack in 2014 and is currently experiencing severe back pain and depression, according to Freedom Now.
Reported by C.K., Yang Fan and Kou Tianli for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing, Hai Nan and Pan Jiaqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.