Office of the Vice President



February 9, 2012

Readout of the Vice President’s Meeting on Human Rights and Reform in China

The Vice President and senior Administration officials met yesterday with four experts and advocates on human rights and legal reform in China: Dr. Xiaorong Li, Professor Benjamin Liebman, Mr. Kenneth Roth and Ms. Jianying Zha. They discussed the deterioration of China’s human rights situation, prospects for reform, and recommendations for U.S. policy. The Vice President underscored the Administration’s belief in the universality of human rights and its commitment to human rights as a fundamental part of our foreign policy. He reiterated his view that greater openness and protection of universal rights is the best way to promote innovation, prosperity, and stability in all countries, including China.


This smooth, succinct missive from the White House suggests the Obama administration’s treatment of human rights during the visit of First Secretary Xi Jinping of the Chinese Communist Party to Washington on February 14, will be brief, bland, and meaningless.

The guest list. It includes admirable scholars and advocates, but tells the Chinese that the vice president is willing to steer clear of Chinese, Tibetans, or Uyghurs whose struggles for human rights have landed them in Chinese jails – people like Harry Wu, who leads a campaign against forced labor in Chinese prisons, Yu Jie, the writer and Christian, just allowed to leave China for exile, the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, or Ngawang Sandrol, the Tibetan nun who suffered torture in jail for secretly recording songs about the Dalai Lama. Their reception in the White House would have sent a powerful signal of solidarity to the people of China, and especially human rights and democracy activists. We know from former political prisoners that such news reaches has an impact, boosting their morale as well as improving their treatment.

The language. The statement is almost entirely non-China specific and contains only one negative word applied to China itself – "deterioration." The word does not adequately convey what has been happening in China, Tibet, and East Turkistan: The drastic lowering of the threshold of tolerated dissent resulting in sentences of 9 and 10 years on subversion charges for peaceful expression of ideas by individuals; the deadly December attack on Uighurs, including children, attempting to flee Chinese territory, and a life sentence for a Uighur repatriated from foreign countries under Chinese pressure; the string of 20 self-immolations by Tibetans and the shooting deaths of unarmed demonstrators by Chinese police. What do Chinese officials understand by the word "deterioration" amid other language designed to assure them that they are not being signaled out? That the vice president is not willing, even the week before the visit of First Secretary Xi Jinping–I simply refuse to call him Mr. Biden’s counterpart—to say what is going on in China and what he thinks about it.

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