Dear Secretary Blinken,
We write on behalf of 42 nongovernmental organizations that report on and advocate for human rights in China, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang regarding your forthcoming trip to Beijing starting on June 18.
At a time when the Chinese government is committing widespread and grave human rights violations both inside and outside China, it is crucial for you to use the opportunity of your visit to inform your counterparts that the United States intends to work alongside other concerned governments to seek accountability for Chinese government abuses.
In recent months, Chinese authorities have targeted many communities for repression, including ordinary citizens who participated in peaceful protests against draconian “zero-Covid” policies and Hui Muslims who try to practice their religion. Authorities sentenced prominent human rights lawyers and activists Xu Zhiyong to 14 years in prison and Ding Jiaxi to 12 years. The human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his partner, Xu Yan, were detained en route to meeting with European Union officials in Beijing. Hong Kong police detained over 20 people for commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre after banning the annual Victoria Park candlelight vigil.
In Tibetan and Uyghur regions, the authorities harshly punish people who communicate with those abroad to further prevent the outside world from learning about these highly repressive and surveilled regions. Instances of Chinese government transnational repression continue to occur around the world.
Decades of human rights diplomacy by foreign governments have failed to deter Chinese authorities, particularly President Xi Jinping, from deepening repression. The US State Department has characterized Chinese government policies in the Uyghur region as genocide and crimes against humanity. We appreciate US efforts to prosecute cases of transnational repression perpetrated by Chinese state actors, yet the existence of these cases reflect Beijing’s determination to silence peaceful criticism globally.
In this context we believe the standard approach of merely “raising” human rights issues, mostly behind closed doors, is unlikely to bring about positive change. We therefore urge you to deliver different messages and to deliver them in different ways.
We ask you to:
- Inform your Chinese counterparts of the intent of the United States to join with a diverse coalition of states to support international investigations into atrocity crimes in Xinjiang. In October 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Council fell two votes short of agreeing to a debate on the report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stating that alleged international crimes against Uyghurs and others “may constitute … crimes against humanity.” We are confident that determined international initiatives can prevail to challenge the Chinese government’s impunity and its efforts to undermine the international human rights system.
- Call on the Chinese authorities to immediately release all human rights defenders and end persecution of their families, including the economist and Sakharov Prize laureate Ilham Tohti, the human rights activists Zhang Zhan, Xu Zhiyong, Guo Feixiong, and Gao Zhisheng, the Tibetan monk and religious philosopher Go Sherab Gyatso, the Hong Kong publisher Jimmy Lai, and democracy activists Joshua Wong and Chow Hang-tung. Be clear publicly after your visit about which cases you identified so that the families and supporters of people know of your concern and effort. We believe that such public identification can bring better treatment for those in detention.
- Urge the Chinese authorities to account for and release family members of US citizens or legal permanent residents who are wrongfully detained or are feared to have been forcibly disappeared in China. After the trip, meet with family members in the US to brief them on Chinese authorities’ responses.
- Urge your counterparts to follow the recommendations of UN experts and bodies to immediately abolish the coercive boarding school system imposed on Tibetan children.
- If circumstances allow, meet with members of the Tiananmen Mothers. If this is not possible, privately and publicly communicate the continued commitment of the US to accountability for the killings of untold numbers of peaceful protesters and bystanders in June 1989.
- Inform your counterparts that the US authorities will vigorously investigate and appropriately prosecute acts of repression by Chinese officials and their proxies in the US that violate US and state law, including harassing, intimidating, and carrying out surveillance of critics of the Chinese government, and that the US government will work with allies to do the same in their countries.
- Demonstrate support for press freedom by having a media briefing while still in China, and do the same after you leave so that journalists barred from China and Hong Kong are able to participate.
We realize that your discussions in Beijing will concern a range of critical US-China issues, from the Taiwan Strait to the armed conflict in Ukraine. We understand the US interest in establishing “guardrails” in this relationship and reaching basic agreement on global crises such as climate change. But as you no doubt recognize, making progress on these pressing concerns may prove elusive so long as Beijing can continue to flout international human rights norms at home and abroad with impunity.
We hope you will put—and keep—the victims of Beijing’s repression and their families at the core of your approach.
Amnesty International, Carolyn Nash, Asia Advocacy Director
Article 19, Michael Caster, Interim Head of Asia Program
Campaign for Uyghurs, Rushan Abbas, Executive Director
China Aid, Bob Fu, Founder and President
Chinese Human Rights Defenders
Citizen Power Initiatives for China, Dr. Jianli Yang, Founder and President
Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, Mark Clifford, President
Free Tibet, John Jones, Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research
Freedom House, Annie Boyajian, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy
Front Line Defenders, Olive Moore, Interim Director
Georgetown Center for Asian Law, Thomas E. Kellogg, Executive Director
Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities, Tsering Passang, Founder and Chairman
Grupo de Apoio ao Tibete – Portugal, Alexandra Correia
Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley
Hong Kong Democracy Council, Anna Kwok, Executive Director
Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles
Hong Kong Watch, Benedict Rogers, Co-founder and Chief Executive
Hong Kongers in San Diego, Jennifer Tong
Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area
HongKongers United, Rex, Founder and Director
Human Rights in China, Fengsuo Zhou, Executive Director
Human Rights Watch, Sophie Richardson, China Director
Humanitarian China, Fengsuo Zhou, President
International Campaign for Tibet, Tencho Gyatso, President
International Society for Human Rights, chapter Munich, Adelheid Dönges
International Tibet Network
Judicial Reform Foundation
Lamp of Liberty
New Yorkers Supporting Hong Kong (NY4HK)
PEN America, Angeli Datt, Research and Advocacy Lead, China
Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong
Students for a Free Tibet, Pema Doma, Executive Director
Students for Hong Kong
Swiss Tibetan Friendship Association, Uwe Meya, Board Member
Tibet Action Institute, Lhadon Tethong, Director
Tibet Justice Center, Gloria Montgomery, UN Advocacy Director
Tibet Solidarity, Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren
Uyghur American Association, Elfidar Iltebir, President
Uyghur Human Rights Project, Omer Kanat, Executive Director
We The Hongkongers, Frances Hui, Director
World Uyghur Congress