(New York) - US President Barack Obama should use the upcoming state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao as an opportunity to demonstrate the US's commitment to human rights in China, said a group of human rights advocates and China experts in a letter released today.

The letter was sent by Amnesty International, the Foreign Policy Initiative, Freedom House, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the International Campaign for Tibet, Project 2049, Reporters Without Borders, and the Uighur American Association.

The letter congratulates President Obama for his strong statements of support in October 2010 and December 2010 to imprisoned Chinese government critic Liu Xiaobo on his winning the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. But the letter also urges Obama to demonstrate that he takes seriously the multiple challenges posed by the Chinese government's stand on human rights, and will prioritize human rights issues during the remainder of his presidency.

Specific recommendations to Obama include:

  • Personally meeting with prominent Chinese, Tibetan, and Uighur critics of Beijing's human rights violations in the White House in advance of the summit;
  • Speaking frankly and publicly about the deteriorating human rights environment in China, ideally with reference to Tibet and Xinjiang, tightening restrictions on the freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, a profoundly politicized judicial system, and the death penalty;
  • Countering the restrictions placed on his comments and activities in November 2009 by finding ways to speak directly to the people in China, such as through internet discussions and with independent Chinese-language media, rather than through the Chinese government;
  • Publicly and privately reiterating his call that Liu Xiaobo and others imprisoned for doing nothing more than peacefully criticizing the Chinese government immediately be freed; and
  • Enabling the media here to have the access they are denied in China.

"It is crucial that the Obama administration publicly demonstrate during this visit - which should not be subject to the same constraints as last year's meeting in China - its concerns about freedom of expression, the rule of law, and about political prisoners," said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "If the President fails to do so, it will have let the Chinese government off the hook, and undermined one of its own stated goals."