|Protesters hold photos of Chinese prominent artist Ai Weiwei
© AFP/File Mike Clarke
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US lawmakers and activists urged pressure on China to end its sweeping crackdown on dissent, fearing that authorities were trying to permanently narrow the boundaries of criticism.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee called a hearing to throw a spotlight on human rights in China, where authorities have rounded up dozens of lawyers, artists and other perceived critics.
“In recent months, the human rights situation in China has gone from abysmally bad to worse,” said Representative Chris Smith, a longtime human rights advocate who led the hearing.
Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, referred to Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part Two” in which a character hatching up a plot for an authoritarian takeover says, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
“It is no different in China today,” Smith said, calling the clampdown on dissent the worst since authorities crushed the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square.
Representative Donald Payne, a Democrat from New Jersey, saluted the “courage” of lawyers, civil society and religious minorities in China who put themselves at risk by speaking out.
“I firmly believe that a nation that pursues growth by silencing its citizens is building a foundation in sand which cannot resist the tides of civilian unrest,” Payne said.
China launched the clampdown after a wave of uprisings against authoritarian leaders swept through the Middle East. Internet postings have urged Chinese residents to go on mass “strolls” to challenge authorities.
Among those detained has been Ai Weiwei, a world-renowned avant-garde artist whose criticism of the government had been begrudgingly tolerated in the past.
Wei Jingsheng, who spent nearly 20 years in prison and is often considered the father of China’s modern democracy movement, told the hearing that Beijing was setting a new precedent by openly resorting to disappearances rather than going through court procedures.
“The Chinese Communist Party has lost confidence in its own ruling capacity,” said Wei, who was allowed to go into exile in the United States in 1997 after intervention by then president Bill Clinton.
“The Communist Party does not have a method to control the social crisis other than returning to a lawless state of extreme dictatorship,” he said.
Phelim Kine, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that while China in the past has relied largely on short-term detention of critics, it is now using harsher tactics such as beatings and threats against family members.
“The current crackdown is more than a routine weeding-out of critics; it is an effort to redefine the limits of permissible expression and roll back the advances made by Chinese civil society over the past decade,” he told the hearing.
“The lesson Beijing has taken from the Middle East uprisings is that the Internet can be the starting point of large-scale popular protests and that it has indeed contributed to the spread of ‘global values,’ such as freedom of expression and human rights,” he testified.
“In the minds of the leadership, these factors generate an urgent need to reassert control.”
President Barack Obama’s administration has criticized the crackdown. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently told The Atlantic magazine that China was pursuing a “fool’s errand” by trying to stop the course of history.
But the US administration also sought cooperation with China on the economy, climate change and other issues during wide-ranging talks that ended Tuesday.
The Pentagon next week will roll out the red carpet for China’s military chief, General Chen Bingde.
The United States has been seeking to build trust with the People’s Liberation Army, seen as one of China’s institutions most suspicious of the West.
© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license