Feb 28, 2023 - Politics & Policy

China panel hears harrowing stories from dissidents

Leaders of the China Select Committee hear from Chinese dissidents and survivors.

Leaders of the China Select Committee hear from Chinese dissidents and survivors. Photo: Sophia Cai/Axios.

The House panel investigating China's threat to the U.S. began its work this week by hearing emotional testimony about the Chinese Communist Party's brutal treatment of dissidents and pro-democracy activists.

Why it matters: The harrowing stories of those who escaped the regime's crackdowns were meant to establish the CCP as not just an economic, technological and military threat — but also as a menace to human rights.

  • The panel, led by chair Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and ranking member Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), plans to make policy recommendations aimed at protecting U.S. economic and tech interests.

Driving the news: Before the committee's first official meeting late Wednesday, panel members set the tone with an informal session at the Victims of Communism Museum in Washington.

  • “I can't unsee what I went through,” said Tursunay Ziyawudun, a Uyghur dissident who described being sterilized, raped and detained with 20 others in a 4 x 4-meter meter room during two stints in Chinese government detention camps in 2017 and 2018.
  • "Take China to international criminal court," Ziyawudun said in an emotional plea for the U.S. to take action. "I can come. I can show where we were housed."

"The human rights situation in China is the worst it's been since the Mao Era, yet the U.S. government has given less and less support to the Chinese people in terms of human rights over the past decade," prominent dissident Wei Jingsheng said.

  • The CCP is most afraid of dissent from its citizens, Wei said, adding that the government's greatest enemy is its own people.
  • "If you are to take on the CCP, you should band together with the Chinese people," Wei said.

The big picture: More than 1 million Uyghur people have been forcibly detained, and a half-million children have been taken from their parents and put into state-run boarding schools, Krishnamoorthi noted at the start of the roundtable.

  • "We hear echoes of this in other places. In Ukraine, 15,000 children have been taken from that country to Russia to be re-educated. Where does this stop? That question haunts us and it animates our mission as a committee," he said.

The details: Gallagher asked the participants for suggestions on what Congress could do.

  • Efidar Iltebir, president of the Uyghur American Association, urged lawmakers to follow the Canadian Parliament's lead by passing a bill to allow 10,000 Uyghur Muslims to be resettled in the U.S.
  • She also asked them to create a role for a U.S. special coordinator for Xinjiang to help advance the human rights of Uyghurs living in the region, similar to the role played by the U.S. special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
  • Other participants — including Dimon Liu, a Hong Kong activist, and Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests — raised the need to address CCP control of news outlets and hold companies that prop up the state's surveillance network accountable.

What's next: The committee holds its first hearing tonight about the "overall threat" of the CCP.

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