Clinton under fire for softening human rights stand with China

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — On her first trip to China as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton downplayed the Asia giant's human rights record and instead emphasized concerns over global warming and the world economy.

Virginia Republican Congressman Frank R. Wolf has drafted a stinging letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton chiding her for diminishing the importance of human rights when dealing with China.

Clinton, while stopping in Seoul, South Korea as part of a four-country tour to Asia, told reporters Feb. 20 that other issues were more pressing than human rights.

"Successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these issues, and we have to continue to press them," Clinton said. "But our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis."

Clinton's remarks drew intense criticism from human rights advocates including Amnesty International and some members of Congress.

In a letter dated and made public Feb. 23, Wolf called Clinton's comments "deeply troubling" and "disheartening." He said that past history indicates that bold, public proclamations on the importance of "liberty, freedom, and the absence of repression are cause for great hope to those political prisoners who languish behind bars.

"In short, words have power," the congressman said. "They have the power to inspire, or deflate; they have the power to give vision or to stifle hope. But for words to inspire the hope for a day when the Chinese people can worship freely, where the press is not censored, where political dissent is permitted—they must first be spoken.

"Silence is itself a message. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.' America has always been a friend to the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten. Has our allegiance changed?"

Congressmen Chris Smith, R.-N.J., Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Joe Pitts, R.-Pa., held a news conference at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 24 to call for the Obama administration to take a stronger stance on human rights violations.

"In a shocking display of pandering, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear in Beijing that the Obama administration has chosen to peddle U.S. debt to the largest dictatorship in the world over combating torture, forced abortion, forced labor, religious persecution, human sex trafficking, gendercide and genocide," Smith said, according to a news release.

About half a million people each day endure the cruelty and humiliation of labor camps in China, Smith said, noting that the Obama administration is "poised to lavishly fund" the U.N. Population Fund with $50 million in U.S. taxpayer money. The UNFPA, he said, "has shamelessly and systematically aided and abetted the Chinese government's one child per couple forced abortion policy."

"That cruel, anti-family policy has made brothers and sisters illegal in China and murdered tens of millions of children and wounded countless Chinese women," Smith said.

Clinton's stand also brought a terse response from the more liberal Amnesty International, which demanded that she "repair the damage caused by her statement" that human rights was not be on the agenda during her Beijing visit.

"The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues," said T. Kumar, Amnesty International U.S. advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific. "But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China."

Clinton's stand is a significant reversal from her days as first lady when, in 1995, she angered the Chinese government by raising the issue of human rights during a trip to Beijing.

It also comes as Christian groups are reporting increased incidents of persecution in China. The China Aid Organization reported Feb. 20 that all 60 church leaders who had been detained after the raid of a seminar in Nanyang, Henan have been released, although two South Korean pastors were deported with orders not to return to China for at least five years.

The arrested pastors, all evangelicals, came from four different provinces and represented numerous house church groups. Their release came after an intense campaign by Christians and foreign journalists who placed calls and sent faxes and e-mails.

According to China Aid, police took away all their personal belongings, including money, cell phones, books, bags and daily necessities.

In another incident, officials from China's officially sanctioned church the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, plus the Religious Affairs Bureau and the Public Security Bureau, seized the home of the widow of a longtime preacher.

"During the 2008 Olympic Games, I was detained in a black prison (prison cells privately established by government officials) where I was injured in my arms," said Cheng Fenying. "In January 2009, the TSPM took away my housing property by making use of the court. During this time, we could not have normal meetings."

At one time, 200 people attend the house church.

It is instances like these that prompted Congressman Wolf to speak out about Clinton's policy.

"This administration is young and finding its sea legs," Wolf said in his letter to the secretary of state. "My hope is that the solid rock of freedom will be your foundation, rather than the sinking sand of repression."