Washington Wednesday: Human rights and foreign policy

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday, the 10th day of April, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today Washington Wednesday.

As China’s human rights abuses continue to worsen, pressure in the United States is growing.

Last weekend activist groups held two separate rallies in Washington in support of the persecuted Uighur community. Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic group the Chinese government has targeted for mass imprisonment.

Last month, a group of advocacy organizations formed the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China.

REICHARD: About that same time, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They called on the administration to take more decisive action against China to confront abuses.

Congressman Chris Smith co-authored that letter. He’s a Republican from New Jersey. He also co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, along with Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

WORLD Radio’s J.C. Derrick sat down with Congressman Smith in his Capitol Hill office to talk about the latest from China—and the U.S. response.

DERRICK: Well, Congressman, the trade war with China obviously has been well covered in the media. We’ve seen a lot of headlines about that. China’s worsening human rights record, not so much.

So, I think any conversation about the human rights record in China has to start with the Uighurs. Depending on the estimates, between 1 and 3 million Uighurs in these essentially concentration camps right now that they call “reeducation camps.” So can you give me the latest on that? What do we know about what’s going on there?

SMITH: Well, the latest is that it’s ongoing, pervasive. They are rounding up even more Uighur Muslims and they’re doing it simply because they’re Muslims. We had a hearing — Marco Rubio and I — last September, and we had a witness, a young woman who had been horribly tortured, arrested then re-arrested. They would let her out, then they would bring her back in. Mother of triplets. One of the triplets died.

But she told how there were 68 women in her cell. They could not lay down. They could only stand up and other cells were as equally packed. About nine women died. Others got horribly sick from the torture coupled with the horrible abuse that went on every day. She said she wanted to die.

When she asked one of her torturers, why are you doing this? The Chinese government torturer said, because you’re a Muslim Uighur. Simple as that: You didn’t commit any crime, it’s because of who you are.

So that’s what genocide is all about. To try to destroy a group in whole or in part simply because of their ethnicity or their religion. In this case, I think it’s both. And, you know, the Chinese have been trying to destroy the Uighurs and other people of faith, but under Xi Jinping it has hit a new low.   

DERRICK: So I think the obvious question to most people is what is the U.S., the Trump administration, doing to pressure China on this issue?

SMITH: Well, the Trump administration last summer held an important summit on religious persecution. China was front and center. They are a “Tier 3” country on human trafficking, on religious freedom. They’re a country of particular concern, CPC, which is the worst designation.

But I frankly think we need to seriously increase the visibility and the pushback on behalf of these victims who are of all faiths from Falun Gong to Tibetan Buddhist and Christians. Christians are being tortured, arrested, beaten, surveilled in their churches, even those that had been recognized, Three Self Movement and Patriotic Church, by the government.

It’s an all-out effort on the part of Xi Jinping and the dictatorship to force everyone to comport with Chinese communism. They call it sinicization. It even has a name. And that is a terrible process by which everything has to comport with the Chinese government, what they want you to do and when and where and how. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.

If you can’t destroy it outright, which they’re trying to do, then you’re co-opted so egregiously that we won’t even recognize the faiths in a matter of weeks, months and years.

DERRICK: Right, right. So what are the possibilities that we could see U.S. sanctions particularly I’m thinking like officials in Xinjiang province, where the reeducation camps are?

SMITH: Well, I have a bill that would call for a major analysis by our government and then hopefully the imposition of sanctions, including the Magnitsky Act sanctions, where individual persecutors can be singled out, including high government officials, and then sanctioned.

By that they would be denied visas, they and their families, to the United States and they also would no longer be able to do business here. And so many of the Chinese government high officials are also wearing another hat. They’re businessmen. For them not to be able to do business here in United States would be a major, major sanction against them.

DERRICK: So you mentioned Christians, and I wanted to touch on that as well. Obviously we’ve seen the disturbing reports about destruction of crosses, breaking up of churches, and specifically the Early Rain Church has received significant—I guess it’s emblematic of this trend.

So, what is the U.S. doing, for example, to pressure the release of Pastor Wang Yi and some of these other imprisoned leaders?

SMITH: Pastor Wang Yi has been raised by our government. Sam Brownback, who is our ambassador-at-large [for international religious freedom], has raised his case. I’ve raised it. We’ve all raised it.

DERRICK: With whom?

SMITH: With Chinese government officials in letters, in floor speeches, which we know they monitor, as well as in resolutions and hearings as well.

The problem is that it’s not aggressive enough on the part of the U.S. government. We have not done enough.

In my opinion, the trade issue has crowded out the necessary focus on human rights in general and religious persecution in particular. And my hope is that the administration and President Trump himself, will do more in all face-to-face meetings with high government officials.

Same goes for Secretary Pompeo—to say, enough is enough. You’ve agreed to universally recognize human rights. The UN charter is clear about the right of religion. You can’t do this to your own people.

Matter of fact, we won’t believe you, frankly, on copyright infringement, intellectual property rights infringements, if you don’t even treat your people, the Chinese people, with respect and dignity. So I think there’s a way of merging it with the trade issue.

We lost great leverage back in 1994 when President Bill Clinton delinked human rights with trade. The trade issue then was “Most Favored Nation” status.

And ever since then, the Chinese government it says profits trumps human rights.

In came George Bush, he raised religious freedom, did it vigorously, but there was no linkage to trade. Had there been linkage, he would have a tool in the toolbox to make a difference

DERRICK: Is there any chance the Trump administration would relink those two?

SMITH: On MFN, not likely, but I think it ought to be done. In my opinion, [it’s] the only way individual sanctions like Magnitsky Act sanctions can have a real impact on individuals who engage in egregious activity like torture. But if you really want to affect the government, you tell them, look, we’re not kidding. You continue down this path, you don’t reverse now, MFN is a goner.

DERRICK: You make it affect the bottom line, essentially.

SMITH: Yes, gotta affect the bottom line. And without exports their regime is in trouble. It could crumble.

DERRICK: So, I wonder to the average American hearing this, what can they do to advocate on this issue?

SMITH: I think they need to be in contact with their congressmen, their senators, contact the White House and say we need religious freedom to be front and center everywhere, but especially in China.

The sinicization is ominous for faith. It means that the Bible will get rewritten over the next several years and whole parts of it will be taken out. Children cannot go to church.

And then pastors, like we’re seeing with Pastor Wang, will have surveillance in their churches. They’ll be carted off to interrogations. 

So we have to speak out against it because in a matter of, like I said, weeks, months and years, particularly years, we will not recognize these faiths. They will be so co-opted.

Mao Tse Tung tried to destroy faith, he failed. And now there’s an attempt to rewrite it in the image of Xi Jinping, who was the worst dictator since Mao Tse Tung. He’s in a competition, if you will, with Kim Jong Un on how bad he can persecute Christians and others.

Xi Jinping and his cronies, in my humble opinion, ought to be at the Hague for crimes against humanity for what they’re doing inside their gulags, inside their prisons to people of faith.

(Photo/Timothy A. Clary, AFP, Getty Images) Protesters at a rally in front of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Feb. 5 call on the State Department to fight for Uighur rights in China. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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