China's Human Rights Record Dogs Hu's U.S. Trip

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NY) has said President Obama has an obligation to call on China's President Hu Jintao to take specific action on human rights. Renee Montagne talks to Smith, who has been a vocal critic of China's human rights record.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Chicago is President Hu Jintao's last stop in the United States and there he will mostly focus on the business ties between the U.S. and his country, China.

But one thing has dogged Hu's trip here to the U.S., China's human rights record.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday, Congressional leaders spent about an hour with the Chinese leader and broached the subject. Afterwards, House Speaker John Boehner said the Chinese have to do better on human rights and the U.S. has to hold them to account.

Congressman Chris Smith, Republican from New Jersey, is a long-time and vocal critic of China's human rights record. He joins us from his home here in Washington D.C. Welcome.

Rep. CHRIS SMITH (Republican, New Jersey): Thank you very much, Renee. Great to be on.

MONTAGNE: And Congressman Smith, you were not at that meeting yesterday, but you stood with Speaker Boehner afterwards. What is your understanding of what happened?

Rep. SMITH: Well, Speaker Boehner was very clear that violations of religious freedom, the persecution of people simply because of their faith, is totally unacceptable, and that people ought to have freedom to practice, whether to be Falun Gong, Catholics, Uighurs, Muslims or Buddhists in Tibet.

He also very strongly raised the problems with the one child per couple policy which, since 1979, has rendered brothers and sisters illegal in China and has relied on forced abortion and forced sterilization to achieve its end. It is the worst violation of women's rights ever.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Smith, you are a very fierce opponent of abortion rights here in this country, so this would be of great concern to you. But aside from that, give us another example of how you see the Chinese government abusing human rights.

Rep. SMITH: Sure. The use of torture against political prisoners, against democracy activists and human rights promoters is endemic.

If you're arrested for a trumped up charge, you will be tortured - sometimes to death - but often to extract confessions and the names of other people. And it's pervasive. It's not the exception, and this has been documented by the U.N. and by others. It is the rule.

And in the area of reporters, unfortunately, whether it be the internet or public or print media, everything is censored, and they actually go into people's emails to find out who's talking to who about religious freedom or human rights or the Dalai Lama, and they arrest them as well.

MONTAGNE: When pressed, Congressman when pressed at a news conference, President Hu did acknowledge the issue and he spoke of China being a developing country with a huge population and at a crucial stage of reform. And I'm quoting him: "A lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights."

To you and those who are concerned, how important is it that he can see it even that much?

Rep. SMITH: Well, frankly, you know, you got to look at the people's deeds. His deeds, right up until the moment he's got onboard an airplane to come to the United States, has been to continue to incarcerate Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Not only does Hu Jintao persecute the individual activists, he also goes after the families of the dissidents, the families of those who pursue peaceful democratic change.

So, to make that kind of statement, you know, we need deeds. It's a dictatorship.

MONTAGNE: But with all respect, there are those who make an argument, and considered a strong argument, for working with China, helping it emerge as a country with more respect for human rights. What is the Republican Party - now that it is in the majority in the House - what efforts will you and the leadership make to influence U.S. policy towards China on human rights, and also without hurting other concerns of the Republican majority in the House, which has to do with creating jobs in the economy - all of which are tied in to China?

Rep. SMITH: Well, unfortunately, we've been losing jobs to China, particularly the manufacturing area. But I would argue that promoting human rights for people first, profit second, you're more apt to see a matriculation from this dictatorship to a democracy.

But we need to reassert, as Republicans and democrats yesterday's meeting with Speaker Boehner, was matched with good comments by Speaker - former Speaker -Pelosi. There is bipartisan support for human rights in China. Unfortunately the White House, they didn't get the memo.

MONTAGNE: Congressman Chris Smith, Republican from New Jersey: A vocal critic of China's human rights record. Thank you for joining us.

Rep. SMITH: Thank you very much, Renee.

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