U.S. lawmakers decry Olympics after dissidents blocked

China Aid Association

By Chris BuckleyTue Jul 1, 8:05 AM ET
Two U.S. Congressmen on Tuesday urged President George W. Bush to rethink attending the Beijing Olympic Games after they were prevented from meeting Chinese human rights activists.
Republican Congressmen Frank Wolf from Virginia and Chris Smith from New Jersey said they had come to Beijing to meet Chinese citizens pressing for greater political and religious freedoms, including two who recently met the U.S. president.
But Chinese authorities pressured or forced nine activists from meeting them at a dinner on Sunday or subsequently, according to a document handed out by the lawmakers.
They said such actions, and other repressive steps taken by the Chinese Communist Party, have cast a shadow over the Games and over Bush’s vow to attend them.
“Tragically, the Olympics has triggered a massive crackdown designed to silence and put beyond reach all those whose views differ from the official ‘harmonious’ government line,” Smith told a news conference held in the U.S. embassy in Beijing.
The friction between the visitors and wary Chinese authorities has underscored the political tensions of the Games, with Beijing under criticism from Western politicians and international rights groups over Tibet, censorship and restrictions on religion and political dissent.
Wolf, who with Smith presented Chinese officials w)th a list of 734 Chinese prisoners they said were jailed for dissent, said Bush should not attend the Games unless there were big changes.
“I personally believe that unless there’s tremendous progress over the next few weeks whereby they release some of these prisoners, I personally do not believe the president should attend. Nor do I think the Secretary of State should attend,” said Wolf.
China later hit back, saying the politicians’ attempted meetings violated the claimed purpose of their visit.
“The two U.S. Congressmen came to China as guests of the United States Embassy to engage in internal communications and consultations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.
“They should not engage in activities incompatible with the objective of their visit and with their status.”
Speaking by telephone before leaving Beijing, Wolf called China’s explanation “simply ridiculous” and said he expected the U.S. ambassador to Beijing to take up the issue.
Two of the Chinese citizens who could not meet the lawmakers, Beijing-based lawyers Li Baiguang and Li Heping, met Bush at the White House on June 23 after receiving awards from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.
Li Heping said security officers had ostentatiously tailed him and told him not to meet the U.S. politicians. He said by telephone that he was surprised the audience with Bush had not given him and Li Baiguang some immunity.
“He said he was very concerned about human rights and the rule of law in China, especially religious freedom and the freedom of the press,” Li Heping said of the meeting.
“He also said that when he comes to Beijing for the Olympics he will raise these issues with President Hu.”
Li Baiguang, an evangelical Christian who has now met Bush twice, could not be contacted. His mobile telephone was cut off and other activists said he has been held by state security police on the outskirts of Beijing.
Wolf said the U.S. government should apply more public pressure to seek the release of jailed Chinese dissidents.
“I think you need to do it publicly,” he said. “Frankly, they have to be done the way we used to do it with regard to the Soviet Union.”
(Editing by David Fogarty)
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