Chinese Blocked Visit by U.S. Religious Freedom Envoy, Advocates Say
Chinese officials denied a top State Department official a visa and refused to meet with her to discuss religious freedom issues days before this week’s high-profile visit by China’s vice president to Washington, according to rights advocates and others.
Suzan Johnson Cook, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, was scheduled to travel to China on Feb. 8, according to several religious freedom advocates who were invited to brief her ahead of the visit. But as the date drew near, Chinese leaders refused to grant her meetings with government officials.
Protesters sympathetic to several Chinese causes, including Tibet, mass around the White House where U.S. officials are meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. One protester, in a suit and tie, was arrested. (Feb. 14)
President Barack Obama says good ties between with United States and China are essential and help the rest of the world. Obama welcomed Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. (Feb. 14)
They then cited her lack of meetings as a reason for denying her visa application, according to the advocates and a congressional aide were briefed on the situation but not authorized to talk about it.
The disclosure comes one day into the diplomatically sensitive visit by Xi Jinping — China’s presumptive next president — and during a week Obama administration officials hoped to use to improve tense U.S.-China relations.
President Obama, who met with Xi on Tuesday, has been criticized by human rights groups, religious leaders and Republican lawmakers, who say he has not sufficiently challenged China on issues such as its recent crackdown on Tibetans and its imprisonment of religious and dissident leaders.
Xi, during a State Department luncheon on Tuesday, defended China’s record on human rights, saying his country “has made tremendous and well-recognized achievements … the past 30-plus years.”
“Of course,” he said, “there is always room for improvement when it comes to human rights.”