Trump Arrives in China Amid Chorus of Human Rights Concerns

US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, China's President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan look at the Forbidden City in Beijing, Nov. 8, 2017. AFP


U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in China on Wednesday to be greeted by his Chinese counterpart with a lavish and personal tour of Beijing's imperial palaces, as the human rights community called on his administration to put pressure on the ruling Chinese Communist Party over its treatment of peaceful dissidents and activists.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping and first lady Peng Liyuan took the Trumps on an informal tour of Beijing's Forbidden City, where the emperors once held sway over the Middle Kingdom, prominent dissidents were calling for action on human rights.

Liu Xia, widow of late Nobel peace laureate and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo, has been a focus of the campaign ahead of Trump's visit, according to Beijing activist Hu Jia.

"Actually, one of the easiest issues to solve is the case of Liu Xia ... and her brother, because they are very keen to go overseas to improve their health and seek medical treatment," Hu said. "This shouldn't take too much in the way of diplomatic pressure from Trump and the U.S. government."

"The U.S. was deeply involved in this case back in June and July, to the extent that China promised to discuss it again after the 19th party congress [in October], which is now," he said.

He also called on the U.S. to put pressure on Beijing for the early release of jailed Uyghur scholar Ilham Tohti.

"Chinese policy is Xinjiang is very hard line, but handing down such a heavy sentence to this moderate intellectual leaves the Uyghur people with no hope," Hu said. "It leaves them with no options other than the most extreme measures."

Tiananmen Mothers

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers victims group urged Trump not to overlook the issue of human rights in China.

"Human rights should be the concern of everyone," You Weijie told RFA on Wednesday. "Our loved ones were innocent, and yet they were killed in 1989 [during the Tiananmen massacre]," she said.

"This was a huge violation of human rights, and yet there is no sign of any resolution since it happened 28 years ago," You said. "As a head of state, I don't think Trump should overlook it."

Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon called on the U.S. president to take the opportunity to raise human rights in face-to-face meetings with Xi.

"Face-to-face meetings are definitely the most useful," Poon said. "It should send a strong signal to human rights activists in China about how many people are concerned about these cases."

He added: "It's very hard to imagine the Chinese government releasing any of these people in the absence of pressure from the international community."

Instead, Trump appeared to be focused on small talk, showing Xi a video of his granddaughter Arabella Kushner singing in Mandarin and reciting classical Chinese poetry, drawing compliments from the Chinese president, state media reported.

Following a ceremonial welcome on Wednesday, complete with flag-waving children and marching bands, Trump's official welcome at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday will be broadcast live on state television.

Activists under house arrest

Meanwhile, authorities in the Chinese capital have placed a number of prominent rights lawyers and veteran activists under house arrest for the duration of his trip.

"[Tiananmen Square victim] Qi Zhiyong, [banned opposition party co-founder] He Depu, the wife of a lawyer detained in July 2015 Li Wenzu ... all of them have police guards at their doors watching them," Beijing activist Zha Jianguo told RFA.

"The police called me up and told me that I should take care not to cause any trouble in the next few days," Zha said.

Video footage sent to RFA on Wednesday showed a number of unidentified men preventing Li Wenzu from leaving her home.

He Depu confirmed Zha's report.

"All political dissidents are under surveillance right now, with the police watching them, including those lawyers who protected people's rights," he said. "The relatives of the lawyers detained since July 2015 are also all being watched."

"I will have police officers and vehicles downstairs from my apartment watching me for three days, I think," he said. "That's how long Trump's going to be here."

"I'd like to take a walk round the Forbidden City, on the off-chance I'd run into him and get to talk with him, that would be great," He said. "But I don't think that's going to happen now."

A Beijing academic who asked to remain anonymous said similar treatment had been meted out to him.

"They have me stuck here at home, and if I want to go anywhere I have to go in their car, and there are some places I'm not allowed to go," the scholar said. "Definitely not the U.S. Embassy. I have a police escort 24 hours a day."

Reported by Gao Shan and Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Lok-to for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.