Activists to Obama: Name China 16 in Xi Meeting

Obama meeting with Chinese President in California

Xi Jinping, Barack Obama / AP
June 6, 2013

Activists convened Thursday in Washington to urge President Barack Obama to "raise by name" the subject of 16 Chinese political prisoners being held during his Friday meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The list of 16 dissidents is part of an effort by advocacy groups to bring focused attention to Chinese human rights violations. Obama will meet with Xi at an "informal" summit in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and activists hope he will take this time to address human rights issues with his Chinese counterpart.

"It’s time for our president, a democratically elected president, President Obama, to tell Mr. Xi Jinping, as long as the children of these prisoners are still being separated from their fathers, husbands separated from their wives, their parents are separated from their sons, the so called China dream will only be a broken one," said Bob Fu, president and founder of China Aid Association.

Xi recently called on the Chinese people to tenaciously pursue a "Chinese dream."

Officials from Amnesty International, the International Campaign for Tibet, and the family members of five prisoners who are a part of the "China 16" appeared Thursday at a press conference about the effort. According to Fu, the group is representative of "the tip of the iceberg" of many other prisoners.

Obama has faced criticism from some on his human rights record. Unlike his predecessors, they contend, he has failed to adequately address human rights violations.

"It’s poor bargaining on our part," said Michael Horowitz, of the 21st Century Initiatives, speaking at the conclusion of Thursday’s event.

"History has shown that every time … the United States raises human rights issues, it gives us more leverage, not less," he said, "to deal with all the other issues on the agenda. It then becomes important for China to change the agenda as it did with the Soviet Union."

"China is a country which operates on a costs benefit basis," Horowitz added. "And we want to make it clear as I think Reagan did over the issue of the Soviet Jews, if you want an improved relationship with the U.S. at no significant risk to you … you need to begin hearing these moving stories and finding ways to release the 16 and others like [them]."

One day prior to the China 16 event, a bipartisan group of congressmen wrote Obama with the same request.

Reps. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), James McGovern (D., Mass.), Chris Smith (R., N.J.), and Karen Bass (D., Calif.) wrote the president to request that he "raise the cases of the ‘China 16’ by name during your upcoming bilateral summit with President Xi Jinping of China and … call for their immediate and unconditional release. This letter speaks for itself and leads us to call upon you to advocate for the rights of prisoners of conscience, as your predecessors have done."’

Ti-Anna Wang, the daughter of Dr. Wang Bingzhang, the "most prominent Chinese democracy leader," was one family member who came Thursday to urge action and tell her father’s story.

Bingzhang was arrested in June 2002 and, according to his daughter, remains in solitary confinement today. He was a permanent resident of the United States before founding the "first overseas pro-democracy organization," the Union of Chinese Democracy Movement.

"Having went through the Chinese Communist Party’s culture revolution and other horrible campaigns and purges," she said Thursday, "he felt the Chinese people deserved a democracy ruled by law … My father gave up his promising career in medicine to devout his life to the democratic confirmation plan. So for 20 years my father dedicated himself to this ideal."

Wang added that she and her family came to Washington, D.C., on this occassion because they were hopeful "that one more visit, and one successful request by the president … might finally result in [her father’s] freedom" and that "human rights will find a place on the president’s agenda in the upcoming meeting."

Dr. Wang Bingzhang is one of the "China 16," the group also includes Chen Kegui, Tenzin Delek, Gao Zhisheng, Guo Quan, Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xianbin, Peng Ming, Yang Rongli, Alimujiang Yimiti, Yang Tianshui, Zhu Yufu, Wang Zhiwen, Lobsang Tsering, Li Chang, Gulmira Imin.