[WASHINGTON] US activists and lawmakers slammed China's recent rights record on Friday as controversy mounts ahead of a visit to Washington by President Xi Jinping.
One US lawmaker declared that if Mr Xi's host Barack Obama had been Chinese, he would have been imprisoned rather than elected president, as US-based Chinese campaigners gave evidence to Congress.
"If President Obama had lived his life not in the United States but in China, as a Christian, a community organiser, a civil rights lawyer, a constitutional law professor, he would not be enjoying a grand fete with Xi Jinping," said Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas.
"President Obama most likely would be in prison or much, much worse." The Congressional-Executive Committee on China, which produces an annual report on human rights in the United States' great power rival, met on Friday in a bid to set the tone before the landmark visit.
The panel invited several US-based dissidents, journalists and rights activists to bear witness to what they said was a systematic abuse of civic and human rights under China's one party state.
"Since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, at least 2,000 human rights defenders have been detained or sentenced," said Teng Biao, a Harvard Law School fellow and co-founder of the Open Constitution Initiative.
Xiao Qiang, founder and editor of the China Digital Times, said: "The Chinese people want and deserve more access to information on the Internet, greater freedom to express their views.
"I urge president Obama to engage president Xi on Internet freedom, press freedom and freedom of expression," he said, calling on Mr Obama to publicly say future political and economic relations will "be dependent on the Chinese government demonstrating improvement in upholding human rights."
And activist Yang Jianli, president of Citizen Power for China, declared that for America to support the Chinese government would be" morally corrupt and strategically stupid."
"China's totalitarian regime has hijacked 1.3 billion people, imposing a political system on them by force and coercion, running the country like a slave-owner," he declared.
The United States, while maintaining close economic ties with China, is a frequent critic of its rights record.
Preparations for next week's visit have been extensive, but that did not stop the State Department this month from demanding Beijing release a dozen activists who were arrested shortly before they were due to meet the US envoy for religious freedom, David Saperstein.