After Vice President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on Wednesday, they both, in short statements to reporters in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, hailed the prospect of what Biden called a “new model of major-country cooperation.”
Later, a senior Obama administration official briefed reporters on the subjects they covered during 5½ hours of talks:
“They spent a good amount of time . . . stepping back to look at the overall bilateral relationship and its complexities. . . . They spent a substantial amount of time on North Korea. . . . They obviously spoke about the air defense identification zone and about the broader regional issues. . . . They had an extensive conversation on economics. . . . They talked about climate and clean energy. . . . And then they, over dinner, had more esoteric conversations about politics and history and governance.”
The official concluded: “So that’s — am I missing any significant issues?”
As it happens, Danielle Wang could have suggested one.
Wang has not seen her father since Chinese police dragged him from his bed early one morning in July 1999 and imprisoned him for “the peaceful practice of Falun Dafa,” she told me, referring to a spiritual group that the Chinese Communist Party finds threatening. In jail, she said, his collarbone was broken, his fingernails were pierced by bamboo shoots and his teeth were pulled out, all in an effort to persuade him to renounce his faith.
Wang, 19 then and 33 now, says Chinese officials accuse her of wanting to harm her country.
“But I’m just trying to save my dad,” she told me. “I really miss my dad. I just want him to be able to not suffer. I want him to be able to eat, to have a hot shower, to have some dental work.”
Wang and her relatives who remain in China have been warned that her advocacy will make things worse for her father. But when her grandfather was beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution, she told me, her grandmother chose to remain silent — and now another generation is suffering.
“If I don’t tell my dad’s story, he will disappear,” she said.
Wang was one of five daughters of Chinese prisoners of conscience who testified Thursday before a subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in a hearing chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). Their stories confirmed Smith’s observation: “In a very real sense, everyone close to a prisoner of conscience goes to jail and lives a seemingly unending nightmare.”
Grace Ge Geng, the 20-year-old daughter of imprisoned lawyer Gao Zhisheng, recounted her family’s experience after her father’s detention: how police moved into their home; shadowed her in grade school — even when she went to the bathroom — as well as her kindergartner brother; and turned her friends and teachers against her, finally forcing her family to seek peace in exile. For five years she has not been allowed a letter from her father nor heard his voice. Her father’s crime? Practicing his profession and urging China to follow its own laws and constitution.
“I miss my father so much,” she said.
Two of the fathers represented at the hearing were democracy activists who had been living outside China when they were kidnapped and brought back by Chinese security agents — Wang Bingzhang, snatched from Vietnam in 2002, and Peng Ming, taken from the Thailand-Burma border in 2004.
Wang Bingzhang’s daughter Ti-Anna Wang (who is — full disclosure — my friend) said her father’s lawyers have been “routinely intimidated, obstructed from visiting and threatened with disbarment.” Ti-Anna, 24, has not been granted a visa to visit her father, 67 and ailing, since she began advocating for his release five years ago.
“The Chinese government decided that I, too, needed to be punished,” she testified.
Like the other daughters, Ti-Anna Wang was clear on her goals: China should honor its laws and respect its people’s human rights; their fathers should be freed; and President Obama should do more to press for that result.
“His personal intervention is our fathers’ best chance of freedom,” she said.
U.S. officials said Thursday that Biden did raise human rights during his meetings with Xi and other officials, even if he chose not to discomfit Xi by mentioning the subject when they faced the press, and even if it did not come up in the readout to reporters. Biden pressed the Chinese to stop restricting access to China by American journalists, officials said. In a public speech to U.S. businessmen, Biden said China should respect human rights and added, “No president, no matter how much he or she would like to avoid speaking to it, is able to remain silent without suffering consequences from the American public.”
Does this demonstrate that human rights “are integral to our engagement with China,” as national security adviser Susan Rice said in a wide-ranging speech on human rights Wednesday, or are they “a talking point on page 5, if it’s there at all,” as Smith said he fears?
The five daughters could be forgiven for wondering.