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Three IFEX members and four other organisations urge U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make censorship, human rights abuses key issues in state visit to China

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is a 12 February 2009 joint letter by Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders and four other organisations:

CHINA-US: Open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Human Rights Watch
Freedom House
Reporters Without Borders
International Campaign of Tibet
Human Rights in China
Human Rights First
Amnesty International USA

February 12, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton,

As you prepare to make your first trip to the People's Republic of China as Secretary of State, our organizations strongly urge you to make human rights issues a prominent topic in your public and private discussions with the Chinese leadership and people.

Your visit will set the tone for the US-China relationship in the new Obama administration. This will be the crucial moment to signal to the Chinese government that the quality of its relationship with the United States will depend in part on whether it lives by universally accepted human rights norms in its domestic and foreign policies. Sending such a signal in Beijing will be especially important given the United States' unfortunate absence from China's Universal Periodic Review on February 9 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Most important, the Obama administration has pledged to return the United States to a position of leadership in defending human rights; doing so with a rising power such as China will be a key test of that commitment.

Thirteen years ago in Beijing, you spoke eloquently about the duty of all governments to respect the fundamental human rights of women and men. Respect for human rights, you said, means "not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions."

In recent years, however, human rights concerns have been pushed progressively further to the margins of the US-China relationship. The Chinese government's growing financial, diplomatic, and military strength, coupled with its hostility to reforms that challenge the Chinese Communist Party's grip on power, make China a difficult country in which to effect change.

But the advancement of human rights in, and with, China is arguably more central to US interests than ever before. Press censorship in China makes it possible for toxic food and public health crises to spread globally. Suppression of dissent removes internal checks against environmental damage that has global impact. Abuses of low-wage labor implicate international firms operating inside China and compromise goods that come into the US. The government's control of mass media and the internet allow it to stoke nationalist anger against the United States in moments of crisis. The export from China of internet-censoring technologies and its provision of unconditional aid to repressive regimes increases the US's burdens in fighting censorship and human rights crises worldwide.

As much as the Chinese government appears to resist outside pressure to improve its record, experience suggests that it does respond to such pressure. American interventions on behalf of jailed government critic Hu Jia contributed to his being moved to a prison closer to his family; sustained international pressure on the Chinese government to permanently relax rules on foreign journalists in China resulted in success.

Ordinary people in China will also appreciate hearing the United States raise human rights issues in ways that echo their own day to day concerns about rule of law and government accountability. And we urge that you be mindful of the converse: that the Chinese government and people take careful note when the US is silent.

To read the full letter, click here:

Reporters Without Borders

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