(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedomhas urged President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials to talk about religious freedom and human rights with their Chinese counterparts at the start of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue this week.
"The Administration needs to be a strong voice for the voiceless and vulnerable in China," Katrina Lantos Swett, USCIRF's chair, said in a released statement.
"China's imprisoned dissidents stand peacefully for freedom and the rule of law, but Beijing views them as enemies of the state. These continuing human rights abuses fundamentally are at odds with international legal standards that China is obliged to respect. China's continued repression of dissent and restrictions on religious freedom cannot but affect our hopes of finding common ground between our two countries on other important global concerns."
The annual meeting, which was launched five years ago, is set to touch upon a number of different topics concerning U.S.-Chinese relations, including cyber security, North Korea, Asian maritime disputes, economics, and climate change, among others. USCIRF is insisting, however, that China's record on religious freedom and human rights abuses should not be ignored.
In June, the U.S. Department of State released its 2013 Trafficking in Persons report, which relegated China to Tier 3 on its list of countries with the worst records, among nations such as North Korea, Iran, Libya and Syria.
Chinese officials immediately objected to the placement, arguing that the country placed "great importance to fighting all crimes of trafficking."
"We believe that the U.S. side should take an objective and impartial view of China's efforts and stop making unilateral or arbitrary judgments of China," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Human rights organizations said that the assessment is fair, however, with Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, sharing with The Christian Post that the anger the Chinese government has toward the TIP report is misplaced.
"They should channel their anger toward taking effective action against traffickers, rather than against the exposure to the world of their abysmal record on human trafficking," Littlejohn said.
"We particularly affirm the connection the TIP report draws between the one child policy and human trafficking. The one child policy is a major driving force behind sexual slavery, not only within China, but from surrounding countries as well."
USCIRF's Swett noted that "President Xi Jinping's idea of a 'Chinese dream'" is a "nightmare for those who dare to stand up for human rights," and urged Kerry to talk about the many prisoners of conscience within the Asian country.
China does not have an official state religion, and it enforces strict rules for Christian churches and other religious communities. USCIRF pointed to its annual report which found that China's religious freedom conditions have "deteriorated significantly" when it comes to Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims.
And although China allows some state-run Catholic churches to operate, it insists upon electing its own bishops. This has caused it to lose official relations with the Vatican, and has forced many Catholic churches to go underground, making it difficult to calculate exactly how many Christians are living in China today – though the CIA World Factbook estimates three to four percent of the population are followers of Christ.