Activists urge Barack Obama to press Hu Jintao on human rights

US president called on to ‘publicly and privately’ demand release of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo
Obama Hosts Chinese President Hu Jintao For State Visit At White House

Barack Obama welcomes Hu Jintao to the White House at yesterday’s arrival ceremony Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Tania Branigan in Beijing
Wednesday 19 January 2011 09.45 EST Last modified on Saturday 4 October 2014 10.32 EDT

Campaigners for human rights in China today called on Barack Obama to press Hu Jintao on the issue during the Chinese president’s state visit.

They also urged the US president to “publicly and privately” demand the release of the jailed dissident and Nobel peace price laureate Liu Xiaobo and other activists.

The Chinese Human Rights Defenders network urged the US government to live up to its own promises, citing Obama’s speech to the UN last autumn, which stressed that “part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others … this belief will guide America’s leadership”.

Shang Baojun, Liu’s lawyer, said: “I hope [as a result of the visit] the Sino-US relationship can be more stable and develop in a better direction.

“I also hope changes and improvements can be made in certain areas, including human rights and the situation of prisoners of conscience, at least to create opportunities which will introduce a different voice to President Hu.”

Feng Zhenghu, a dissident who was not allowed back into China at the time Obama visited in 2009, although he has since been able to return, said: “I don’t really have many expectations of his trip to the US this time. It is not pessimism, just realism.

“I think the topics will mainly be about economic and trade issues. As a citizen of the country, I care more about other things. It is not realistic to hope that a state visit can bring much change in those areas, so I don’t have high expectations.”

However, although Hu and Obama are scheduled to have one to one talks in the Oval Office later today, human rights and other concerns, which have made relations between the two nations delicate, will be sidelined for most of the first full day of a four-day state visit.

The US is putting out the flags for the major visit by the head of an equal – and by some measures greater – superpower.

Hu formally welcomed with an arrival ceremony, lunch at the State Department and a full state banquet at the White House, reciprocating the formality of Obama’s state visit to Beijing in 2009.

Human rights activists are determined that the plight of China’s dissidents must not be ignored amid the diplomatic niceties.

Placard-carrying protesters turned up outside the White House, although their presence was cut from news reports shown in China.

On his last visit, in 2006, Hu had a working White House lunch with President George Bush – something seen by the Chinese as a grave insult.

Since then, China’s economy has grown to the extent that Hu and Obama now meet as equals. According to some analysts, China may already have overtaken the US in terms of the absolute size of its economy.

It is lending more to developing countries than the World Bank, according to the Financial Times, and its armed forces – the 2.2 million soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army – are the biggest in the world. US exports to China, at $81.8bn (£51.17bn), are dwarfed by the $344.1bn the US imports.

China is mounting a public relations offensive coinciding with the visit, including an image of the Chinese basketball star Yao Ming towering over Times Square on a giant advertising screen.

From: The Guardian

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