Standing with the Oppressed
By Congressman Joe Pitts
Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit to Washington had all the trappings of a major diplomatic event: a 21 gun salute, red carpet treatment at the White House, and a flurry of international press coverage.
It was a meeting of world leaders, and official Washington turned out with great fanfare to mark the occasion.
The scene was much different five months ago when Kim Chun Hee arrived in a coastal Chinese city, seeking a new life.
Far from being a head of state or traveling dignitary, Kim was nothing more than a North Korean commoner, desperate to escape her country's brutal dictatorship.
She had hoped to find asylum by entering a Korean international school in China. As a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, China is obligated to provide basic protections for refugees like Kim. Instead, Chinese officials tracked Kim down and forced her to return to her native North Korea, as they've done with many other North Korean refugees.
Sent back into the belly of one of the most closed societies on earth, Kim hasn't been heard from since. Given that the North Korean dictatorship forbids any of its citizens from leaving the country, many fear that Kim has been silenced forever. Her sole crime being the pursuit of a better life.
The welcoming atmosphere surrounding Hu's visit with President Bush was meant to express goodwill toward a visiting head of state. But hanging over all of the official pomp was the pall of China's record on human rights.
Because of China's recent implementation of more liberal economic policies, President Bush and President Hu shared some common ground from which they could discuss issues like trade and currency values. When it comes to human rights, however, the chasm between our countries continues to be wide.
Since the days of its founding, America has been a stalwart advocate for personal freedom, democracy, and human rights around the world, while China's devotion to a bygone system of communist authoritarianism continues to make it a standard-bearer for human rights abuses.
Kim Chun Hee is certainly not the first to suffer at the hands of the brutal Chinese regime, and, without reforms, she won't be the last.
The State Department's most recent human rights report on China lists 22 major rights issues, a list few other nations on earth can claim to match.
The systematic denial of free speech and ability to petition the government for change means millions of Chinese find no recourse in the face of daunting oppression. Who can forget the bloodshed of the Tiananmen Square massacre? Hundreds of Chinese citizens were killed, and thousands more injured by their own military. Their crime? Demanding reform within the repressive communist Chinese government.
Government crackdown on religious liberties means those who wish to worship peacefully in the manner they choose must do so in secret. If discovered, worshipers risk facing government harassment, imprisonment, or worse.
Perhaps most abhorrent of China's many abuses are its coercive one-child policy resulting in forced abortions and sterilizations, and its barbaric practice of harvesting the organs of prisoners and dissidents.
These are just some of the most egregious examples. The full list of Chinese abuses is long and includes violations such as forced labor in prison camps, trafficking in women and children, restriction on travel, censorship of the press, restriction of labor rights, denial of judicial due process, and the use of torture and coercion to obtain prisoners' confessions.
As the world leader on issues of freedom and human rights, America must continue to engage China as we did by inviting President Hu to our country for an official visit.
But, as we become more open to the economic changes happening in China, we must not turn our back on the 1.3 billion Chinese who live each day under the iron fist of communist Chinese oppression.
As always, the U.S. must continue to stand with the oppressed and insist on change from the oppressors. Our longstanding role in the world as the leading promoter of liberty demands nothing less.