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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Obama's China visit leaves dissidents disappointed

November 20, 2009

By Francois Bougon
Agence France-Presse (AFP)
November 18, 2009

BEIJING -- Although US President Barack Obama
raised the thorny issue of human rights during
his first visit to China this week, he left many
political dissidents — those who were not locked up — disappointed.

Obama spoke about his belief in "universal
rights" during a town hall meeting with Chinese
youth in Shanghai on Monday and again Tuesday at
a press conference with President Hu Jintao, but
dissidents said it was not enough.

"At first, I had a lot of hope for human rights,
for Tibet and for Xinjiang," female Tibetan
writer Woeser, who goes by only one name and is a
vocal critic of China’s policies in the Himalayan region, told AFP.

"But President Obama only touched upon these
issues, without insisting on anything. Even if he
brought them up, he did it without force — it was very disappointing."

Outspoken artist Ai Weiwei, who says he was
beaten by police in August when he tried to
testify at the trial of an activist investigating
the collapse of schools in last year’s Sichuan
earthquake, said Obama could have done more.

"Many Chinese, especially the young, hope for a
more open and just society -- this needs the
support of foreign leaders," Ai told AFP.

Ai said the US leader should be aware that
China’s disrespect for the rule of law and human
rights and its refusal to allow freedom of
expression constitute a "threat" not only to the
stability of China, but also the world.

"If he is not aware of this, then his visit will
be a failure. Up until now I have not seen any
signs of success," Ai said just before Obama left the country.

"I agree with some of the people who see his
visit as a big Hollywood show. If he does not
make a greater effort, the Chinese will become
disappointed with these ’universal values’ as well as with the United States."

Obama did not have any meetings with human rights
activists or dissidents listed on his public schedule.

As always ahead of major political events,
Chinese authorities stepped up surveillance of
the dissident community during Obama’s visit from
Sunday to Wednesday, detaining some activists and interrogating others.

"I have been under house arrest and have not paid
much attention to this visit," Zeng Jinyan, wife
of jailed rights activist Hu Jia, told AFP in an email.

When reached minutes before by telephone, Zeng
had quickly hung up -- she said in the email that
it was due to the police presence.

The Tibetan writer Woeser said that several
police were also keeping an eye on her movements
from the doorway of her Beijing apartment building.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information
Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, more than
30 rights activists were either detained or under
house arrest during the Obama visit.

Ai lamented the lack of reaction from Obama.

"You come to China and a lot of people are
arrested due to your visit -- this is an issue
that you cannot ignore," the artist said.

"You cannot say that you will talk about this
next year or in two years because during this
time these people will be sent to jail."

Rights lawyer Li Fangping, who was also under
police surveillance and had a police escort while
doing daily errands, was less critical.

"Of course I had expectations, but these issues
are tied to the economic situation," Li said by telephone.

"He spoke of universal rights in Shanghai and
Beijing, which could be seen as a way to promote these ideas."

Ahead of the visit, rights groups and dissidents
had feared that Obama would sacrifice calls for
improvements in China’s rights record to make
progress on major issues like climate change and the economic crisis.

They also regretted that China did not release
any prominent dissidents from jail during the
visit, which has been done previously as a
gesture of goodwill ahead of trips by US leaders.
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