Wall Street Journal: Xi Jinping’s Visit and Human Rights

The Wall Street Journal
Sept. 3, 2015 7:39 p.m. ET

U.S. officials stress that human rights will be on the agenda when Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Washington for a state visit this month. Mr. Xi is making sure there’s plenty to talk about.

Chinese authorities last week detained human-rights lawyer and Christian activist Zhang Kai, along with his two assistants, a day before he was scheduled to meet U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom David Saperstein. Mr. Zhang is accused of endangering national security and disrupting public order, but his real crime was helping Chinese Christians resist a state campaign that has demolished more than 1,200 church crucifixes. Colleagues at Mr. Zhang’s law firm say he faces at least six months of detention, during which he’ll likely be pressured to confess in return for leniency.

The timing of this latest in a series of arrests of human-rights lawyers suggests that Chinese officials don’t fear U.S. pushback. That’s unsurprising given the Obama Administration’s reluctance to speak up for dissidents such as Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo; his wife, Liu Xia; lawyers Gao Zhisheng and Xu Zhiyong and others.

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

(Photo: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

Beijing has a record of testing U.S. resolve ahead of high-profile meetings. In March 1994 it arrested several dissidents while then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher was in Beijing to press for improvements in human rights. President Bill Clinton had linked the issue to normalized trade relations but soon caved, setting the tone for China policy for the rest of his presidency.

It’s true that Mr. Obama needs to focus on Chinese misbehavior that more directly affects U.S. national interests, from cyberhacking to the South China Sea. But he should have learned from his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that toughness on a range of matters gets respect in Beijing. If Mr. Obama wants to make any headway with his Chinese counterpart, he should make him pay a price in international prestige by raising publicly and prominently the shameful treatment of lawyers like Mr. Zhang.

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