The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist imprisoned in China will attend President Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, hoping to raise awareness of her husband’s plight and Beijing’s growing persecution of non-Chinese citizens. She is calling on Trump and all Americans to help confront China’s exporting of its authoritarianism around the world.
Chinese authorities arrested Taiwanese democracy activist Li Ming-che in March 2017 in the Chinese territory of Macau. He was put under investigation for “pursuing activities harmful to national security.” That September, he was sentenced to five years in prison for “subverting state power,” based on what his family and supporters say was a forced confession.
His wife, Li Ching-yu, has led a public campaign for his release, raising the ire of the Chinese authorities. On Tuesday, she will sit in the House gallery while Trump addresses the nation and the world. She told me she wants to serve as a reminder that human rights are universal and that the Chinese Communist Party is now exporting its repression.
“Human rights abuses in China are not only to Chinese citizens,” she said. “When they start persecuting Taiwanese citizens like my husband, the persecution of human rights by the Chinese Communist Party has already extended beyond China’s borders, all over the world. So the whole world should really be concerned about China.”
Li will be a guest of Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who serves as the co-chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The commission has been investigating Beijing’s persecution of minority groups inside China, including the Chinese government’s forced internment of hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslim Uighurs.
As part of Beijing’s clampdown on criticism of its human rights policies, the Chinese authorities have imprisoned dozens of family members of American journalists and others who speak out. Smith told me that he invited Li to the State of the Union to draw attention to the Chinese Communist Party’s relentless efforts to harass Taiwan, including her husband’s case.
But the larger issue is President Xi Jinping’s broad campaign to round up hundreds of lawyers and activists inside China while also exporting repression, which represents a threat to the integrity and security of free and open societies, said Smith.
“If we want democratic values to survive in the 21st century, the international community cannot be passive in the face of massive human rights abuses in China or the threats to a democratic Taiwan, particularly as Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping seeks to export neo-Stalinist ideas about censorship, politics, and social control globally,” he said.
Li is in Washington as part of a delegation organized by Bob Fu, the founder and president of China Aid, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for human rights activists and Christians being persecuted in China. Fu and some members of the delegation will attend the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
Li knows her public advocacy is risky. After visiting her husband in prison in December, she held a news conference decrying the conditions of his detention. In retaliation, the Chinese government banned her from seeing him again until April. But she believes Trump and the United States have an important role to play.
“China is a rising economic giant, but it uses its power to expand its authoritarianism globally. So this is a threat not only Taiwan is facing, but the entire world is facing, including the United States,” she said. “I hope and call on America, in accordance with the spirit of the founding fathers, to help.”
Last year, Trump highlighted human rights by inviting North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho to the State of the Union and talking about the “depraved character” of the Kim Jong Un regime. This year, with his North Korea diplomacy in full swing, his tone may be different.
Trump will likely call out the regimes in Iran and Venezuela for their repression — and rightfully so — but he may tread lightly when talking about China at a sensitive time in economic negotiations. But Vice President Pence stated the problem clearly in his October speech at the Hudson Institute.
“For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights, but in recent years, it has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression,” Pence said. “As history attests, a country that oppresses its own people rarely stops there. Beijing also aims to extend its reach across the wider world."
The State of the Union is a chance not just for the president but also for Congress to highlight important issues we as a country must address in the year ahead. Confronting the Chinese government’s atrocious human rights policies inside China and abroad must be on that list.
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