While President Barack Obama is in Beijing this week, he has an opportunity to address two key issues, climate change and human rights concerns, simultaneously. Here's the kind of speech the president should give:
"President Hu Jintao, ladies & gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be in Beijing.
My administration has put climate change at the top of our diplomatic agenda. This is especially true when it comes to our relationship with China. Our two large nations share the title of top consumers of energy and the biggest polluters on earth. None of us can escape the impact of climate change. The security and stability of our nations and our peoples - our prosperity, our health, our safety - are in jeopardy.
Yet, we cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, including China, act together. The U.S., as one of the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our environment over the last century, has a responsibility to lead. China, as a rapidly developing nation that will produce a large share of global carbon emissions in the decades ahead, must do its part.
I am proud to say that my administration is actively pursuing its agenda to promote clean energy and reduce carbon emissions. President Hu, I urge you to build on what your government has already done to combat pollution and promote alternative energy.
I also want to express my admiration for the independent environmental activists who have sprung up across China. In my country, activists have played a vital role in mobilizing public opinion, blowing the whistle on polluters and developing energy-saving measures. I salute them as part of the solution to environmental problems.
For this reason, I am concerned that they still cannot express their views freely. One of this country's most vocal environmentalists is behind bars. Wu Lihong, a farmer, should be released from prison where he is serving a three-year sentence in retaliation for exposing the illegal dumping of industrial waste in the famous Tai Lake. Another hero, Sun Xiaodi, is currently serving two years in a labor camp. He fought for recognition of the health problems caused by nuclear contamination among workers in a plant in Gansu Province.
In 2008, a plant producing harmful waste was constructed in the densely populated city Chengdu. Residents held a protest march. One organizer, Chen Daojun, is now serving three years in prison for 'inciting subversion of the state.'
Your honor, you told the U.N. General Assembly in September that your government will take bold actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such an ambitious plan calls out for the active participation of members of Chinese civil society. Free expression is a key to civil society participation. People who post their opinions on the Internet, like the writer Liu Xiaobo, should not be behind bars for voicing their political views.
It is also crucial to hold polluting businesses accountable through a fair and just judicial process. That is why I am concerned that Chinese lawyers have been stripped of licenses or, as in the case of the Beijing lawyer Gao Zhisheng, imprisoned, tortured and made to 'disappear.'
The United States is willing to engage China as an ally and partner in finding solutions. The American people are flexible and pragmatic, but they hold dear to their hearts respect for liberty and human dignity. They will not give these ideals up for expediency's sake.
I look forward to working with you to achieve our common purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of the children in China, in the United States, and in the world. Thank you."
Xiaorong Li is a research scholar at the Institute for Philosophy & Public Policy, University of Maryland, College Park, who does consultant work for Chinese NGOs. His e-mail is email@example.com.