The outgoing US ambassador to China, Gary Locke, reminded China on Thursday to improve human rights condition in the country. Speaking at the US Embassy in Beijing in his final news conference before leaving his office on Saturday, Ambassador Locke said, “We are very concerned about the arrests and detentions of people who are engaged in peaceful advocacy.” The suppression of those who criticize the Chinese government is becoming a growing concern, Locke added.
In particular, Locke mentioned the Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, an outspoken ethnic Muslim minority who was arrested and charged Tuesday by authorities with “separatism”. The charge was related to Tohti’s comments about China’s policies in the region of Xinjiang. The scholar is currently detained in the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, about 2,000 miles from Beijing. Chinese officials said Tohti incited the people to rebel through his writings and classroom lectures, a charge his supporters totally deny.
Locke added that practicing human rights involves more than securing the economic prosperity of the people but rather respecting the universal human rights of freedom of speech, the ability to practice a chosen religion and the freedom to assemble in a peaceful manner. Locke also mentioned several instances of wealthy Chinese seeking shelter in countries like the US because basic rule of law is missing in China. This is particularly true about sudden arrests and the abrupt seizure of assets by the Chinese government.
Aside from Locke’s comments about China’s human rights history, the outgoing ambassador also warned China and Japan about instigating actions that may lead to violence especially in the face of the two countries’ heated territorial dispute. “We call on both sides to avoid any type of actions that would be deemed provocative, that would raise tensions.” Locke added.
Beijing and Tokyo are currently engaged in a verbal tussle on who really owns the Senkaku Islands, a group of islands in the East China Sea. Adding tension to the situation is the November 2013’s declaration by China of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over several areas of the East China Sea. This was implemented by China to everybody’s surprise including the US, a known ally of Japan.
In a response to Locke’s allegations, the spokeswoman of China’s Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying said that they oppose any attempt to interfere with China’s internal policies and sovereignty. Hua said that in the case of Tohti, he has committed a crime and he must stand trial for this.
Locke is the first Chinese-American to have served as US ambassador to Beijing and counts as his biggest accomplishments while in office is the reduction of waiting time for those Chinese securing US visas as well as increasing the number of Chinese investments to enter US. When asked about his future plans after leaving his Beijing post, Locke said he will still continue building the US and China’s good relationship as well as promoting US business in China.
Locke will be replaced by Max Baucus, a 72-year-old senator from Montana. Although he has limited China exposure, he is nonetheless known for taking a tough stand with regard to China trade practices. With the outgoing US Ambassador Gary Locke reminding China about the need to improve the human rights condition in the country, his replacement is seen as someone who is equally tough when it comes to facing China in several issues that concerns not only the US but the world as well.
By Roberto I. Belda
The Globe and Mail