A weak US response to the recent upsurge in China's prosecution of human rights activists could embolden Beijing to take a more militant attitude toward Taiwan, two Washington-based human rights campaigners said on Friday.
The campaigners are Wei Jing-sheng (魏京生), a Chinese dissident who spent nearly 15 years in prison for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party in the late 1970s, and Morton Sklar, executive director of the World Organization for Human Rights USA, which takes legal action against human rights violators.
Wei and Sklar made their comments as China imposed a sentence of more than four years on a blind human rights lawyer, Chen Guang-cheng (陳光誠), and a three year sentence on a New York Times reporter, Zhao Yan (趙岩).
Wei and Sklar hit out at the State Department and the Bush administration for their "failure" to raise strenuous objections to those two prosecutions and to the overall crackdown on human rights in China generally.
"The human rights issue and the issue across the [Taiwan] Strait are tightly related," Wei said in remarks translated into English.
"When the international community reduces its pressure on China regarding human rights issues and arms proliferation, then you can see that the communist regime is moving forward in this regard about `liberating' Taiwan in a military way," he said, using the Chinese term for unification with Taiwan.
"On the contrary, if the international community puts more pressure on China regarding human rights violations and proliferation issues, then China has to put aside its plans [on] the Taiwan issue," Wei said.
"So, the US government's standing back in condemning the Chinese government's human rights record is a very dangerous act, which probably means encouraging the Chinese government to move forward in its military expansion [against Taiwan]," he said.
"There is very little doubt that, by failing to speak out against the government of China's human rights abuses more forcefully, our position is weakened as it relates to the belief that we are serious about the support that we provide and have provided for many years to the government of Taipei," he said.
"We should be pointing out to the US government that failure to speak out against human rights abuses by the government of China is, in fact, negatively affecting our foreign policy in terms of our support of Taiwan," he said.
Wei and Sklar made their comments after speaking at a Falun Gong press conference to protest the reported arrest last week of Gao Zhisheng (高智晟), a prominent attorney who has represented several Falun Gong defendants in the past.
Sklar complained that the US had not pushed China sufficiently to get Beijing to improve human rights conditions. Noting Washington's reliance on Beijing for support on such issues as Iraq, Iran, Lebanon and North Korea, Sklar said that the US government "has taken a very negative position in terms of supporting the rights of those being persecuted" in China.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said the US was "disturbed" by the prison sentence imposed on Chen and the detention of his lawyers before his trial, which had prevented them from defending him.
A department official said the administration is "concerned" that Chen's arrest and Gao's detention "appear part of a larger pattern of official harassment of individuals working to advocate for the legal rights of their fellow citizens."