National Security

Rubio, Cruz: Obama Must Confront Chinese President About Human Rights Abuses

Xi Jinping
Xi Jinping / AP

Sens. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R., Texas) urged President Obama in recent statements to confront the Chinese president on human rights abuses and other security concerns during a state visit on Friday.

Obama is expected to discuss a number of U.S. concerns about China’s actions with Xi Jinping, including Beijing’s violations of citizens’ rights, cyber theft of intellectual property from U.S. companies, and militarization of the South China Sea. Chinese dissidents say Xi, who has initiated a sweeping crackdown against human rights lawyers, activists, and religious and ethnic minorities, is the most repressive Communist Party leader since Mao Zedong.

In an op-ed for, Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, wrote that Obama "must be forceful and direct about U.S. concerns" with Xi:

President Xi’s visit represents President Obama’s perhaps final opportunity to reverse course. He should encourage China’s emergence as a peaceful and prosperous nation. But he must be forceful and direct about U.S. concerns.  If he fails to do this, as President, I will ensure that U.S. policy toward China better reflects the full range of concerns we have with Beijing's actions.

This would begin with highlighting China’s repression of ethnic minorities, religious believers, and dissidents and human rights defenders who desire nothing more than the realization of their most basic human rights.  This is true of course for the people of Hong Kong who have seen Beijing attempt to subvert their autonomy and thwart their democratic aspirations.  This worsening crackdown on the rights of the Chinese people is not only immoral but threatens the long-term vitality of Chinese society. Without free people and the free exchange of ideas, China cannot have truly free markets and a healthy economy.

Cruz, another GOP presidential aspirant, also called on Obama to "put President Xi on notice that for America, human rights are no longer ‘off the table,’" during a floor speech on Thursday. He introduced a resolution that would rename the square in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., as "Liu Xiaobo Plaza," after the prominent Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner who remains in prison. Congress passed a similar measure in the 1980s for Andrei Sakharov, the famous Soviet dissident.

Cruz remarked:

"Dr. Liu’s enormous courage and willingness to voluntarily sacrifice not only his own freedom, but also that of those most dear to him, poses a challenge to the free world.  Will we be silent, eager to enjoy the economic benefits of cooperation with the PRC?  Or will we put President Xi on notice that for America, human rights are no longer ‘off the table,’ and that we are listening to the truth about Communist China.

"I believe that the freedom championed by Dr. Liu is possible for all the Chinese people.  I believe that from Tiananmen Square to Taiwan the evidence is clear that the Chinese desire—and are capable of—democracy.  I believe that we have a moral responsibility not to marginalize Dr. Liu and his brave fellow dissidents, but to make their plight central to all our dealings with the PRC.