In his landmark visit to the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about a number of things including trade and security – except, of course, human rights.
Although not entirely excluded from his first speech on arrival, there's not much chance of him addressing the hot-button issue in the remaining six days of his tour since human rights usually comes in second to trade – as was proved earlier this year when President Barack Obama overlooked Malaysia’s slavery record to protect a controversial trade deal.
Over the past few months, China has seen some of the worst crackdowns on its lawyers, feminists, Muslims and, most recently, Christians.
In March, Chinese authorities arrested core members of the country’s modern feminist movement – Feminist Five – ahead of an anti-sexual violence protest the group had planned for International Women's Day.
The young women, known for their “guerilla-style” protests, were reportedly planning a public awareness campaign around sexual harassment on public transportation. However, they were accused of “provoking social instability” and taken into custody only to be released after aggressive interrogation.
Later on in July, it emerged that more than a hundred Chinese lawyers and political activists were arrested in what appeared to be a crackdown on growing public dissent in the country.
Meanwhile, the communist government continued a severe crackdown on Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, in an attempt to “weaken” Islam’s hold on local residents. Apart from prohibiting students and civil servants in the northwest from observing the traditional fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan, Uighur Muslim shopkeepers were forced to sell alcohol in “eye-catching displays” – a strategy that has exacerbated tensions in the region.
And it wasn’t just conservative Muslims who suffered the wrath of Chinese authorities. Most recently in August, a number of churches and their crosses were razed to the ground to counter the “too excessive and too haphazard” spread of Christianity.
People protested, demanding their fundamental right to believe, but to no avail. More than 100 people were arrested during multiple raids on churches across the country over “illegal gatherings.”
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So it’s not really a matter of persecution of just one community or social group – the Chinese government is ruthlessly silencing anyone it deems a threat to its communist foundation.
And that’s a problem – a big one.
North Korea is slammed for its pathetic human rights record, then why not China?
Unfortunately, when it comes to trade between economic giants like China and U.S., values like free speech and freedom of movement often take a back seat.
One can only hope it doesn’t happen this time when Xi Jinping meets his American counterpart at the White House on Sept. 25.