Several U.S. Congressmen expressed "dismay" this week over Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that human rights would not be a top priority for the United States in its dealings with China.
U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, along with Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa) openly questioned Clinton's controversial remarks about the U.S.-Sino relationships during a press conference in the Capitol Building on Tuesday.
"In a shocking display of pandering, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear in Beijing, that the Obama Administration has chosen to peddle U.S. debt to the largest dictatorship in the world over combating torture, forced abortion, forced labor, religious persecution, human sex trafficking, gendercide, and genocide," Smith said.
"Secretary Clinton said concern for the protection of human rights of the Chinese people can't 'interfere' with the economic crisis, climate change, and security – as if human rights were somehow disconnected and irrelevant to those issues," the New Jersey congressmen said.
The Secretary of State told reporters in her visit to South Korea last week that while the United States will continue to discuss human rights issues with China, other more urgent matters – such as the economic crisis, climate change and the security crisis – will take priority.
"America has always been a friend to the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten. Has our allegiance changed?" Congressman Wolf asked in his Feb. 23 letter to Clinton. "I urge you to change course, lest this country itself be changed."
In the letter, Wolf specifically mentioned persecuted house church leaders, imprisoned Catholic bishops, oppressed Tibetan Buddhists, the ability for Chinese people to worship freely, freedom of the press, and the right to political dissent.
The criticism comes as the United States singled out China for numerous human rights abuses in a State Department report, according to The Associated Press. The report states that China's human rights record worsened in some areas and highlights abuses that increased during the Olympic Games in Beijing and unrest in Tibet.
Clinton presented the State Department report on Wednesday but declined to answer questions, as reported by AP. She said, however, that the Obama administration would work with both government and private organizations to improve human rights conditions throughout the world, according to AP.
Earlier in February, Wolf had criticized the Obama administration for remaining silent during the U.N. review of the human rights record of the four worst offenders of human rights and religious freedom in the world – China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Russia.
Wolf said he was "disappointed" that the United States had remained silent during the Universal Periodic Review, which occurs only once every four years, by the U.N. Human Rights Council.
"I was shocked and disappointed to learn that for the last week, the U.S. delegation has been silent. How can America say nothing about four of the worst offenders of human rights and religious freedom in the world," the Congressman said on the House floor on Feb. 9, according to excerpts from his prepared remarks.
"China has been designated by the State Department's annual Religious Freedom report as a Country of Particular Concern every year since 1999. And the U.S. delegation has remained silent," he said, noting that Saudi Arabia too has been designated for four years as a CPC.
Wolf warned the Obama administration that it is "off to the wrong start" since it has made a pledge to place human rights on the top of its agenda.
Also, Congressman Pitts during the press conference said he was troubled that Clinton's message would result in greater suffering for those imprisoned for human rights issues.
"For 200 years, people living in oppression around the world have looked to the United States for inspiration and support for their cause," Pitts said. "We should not turn our backs on the importance of international human rights because we are in a recession. We must not let human rights become trivialized. I urge Secretary Clinton to repair the damage she has done with her comments by expressing the importance of human rights in the U.S. relations with all nations, especially China."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday ended her four-country Asia tour, with China being her last stop. She visited a government-sanctioned church and met with women's rights activists while in Beijing, but focused mainly on the economy during her visit.