Thursday, as a preparation to the Washington Summit, Obama met with 5 greater civil liberties and human rights in China advocates few days before the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao. It was the first incident that Obama spoke with advocates for human rights in China.
The U.S. president reiterated the human rights, U.S. foreign policy focus in his UN General Assembly address in September although the raising this issue with China was done cautiously. China has taken rights record criticism badly. An administration official said that in the meeting Obama asked the advocates how the arbitrary power exercise is felt by the Chinese people. Obama remembered his dictatorship-governed Indonesian childhood.
The unidentified official said that Obama kept coming back to how the state, how the corruption, affect the lives of people and asked how and where should U.S. leverage be used. The official added that there was a lot of talk about how to reach into China to be heard and that the president was very, very interested in that.
The center of Hu’s visit is likely to be economic and securities but how Obama directs the human rights topic highly defines the summit. It could give hints to how the president plans to speak about the touchy subject with China in the coming years.
Hosting Hu will earn Obama the distinction of being the 1st U.S. president to host a head of state who is currently holding a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in prison. The prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo in October. In 2009, Obama won the prize and ‘welcomed’ the choice of the Nobel Committed to award Liu the prize which China condemned.
Obama and Hu are anticipated to continue U.S.-China ‘human rights dialogue’ after about a year’s pause. Issues may include specific political prisoners’ issues, a subject that could disrupt what Hu sees as important to his legacy as he is to vacate the presidency position in 2012.
Another admin official present on Thursday meeting said Obama will speak about human rights in his public appearance with Hu and also during their private meetings. They will take questions too at a news conference as insisted by U.S. officials.
The official added that the president’s style in talking about human rights is different. His convictions come through strongly, but he is not interested in hectoring, lecturing, or embarrassing them but in affecting how people think.
Admin officials said the president also wanted the human rights advocates’ evaluation of the rising nationalism spoken by China’s young people and its effect on outside efforts for civil liberties expansion in China.
The advocates who attended the meeting were Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan; Chinese writer and youth culture expert Zha Jianying; Yale University’s founder of China Law Center Paul Gewirtz; Chinese-born writer and democracy advocate Bette Bao Lord who’s U.S. Ambassador to China Winston Lord’s former wife; and Li Xiarong, a Chinese human rights advocate since the 1980s now living in exile in the United States.
They have all worked inside China at length. Zha happens to be a signer of Charter 08, greater civil liberties appeal and a constitutional democracy that Liu helped write and pass.