US: Human rights situation in China 'continues to deteriorate'

Posner added that Obama administration officials told their Chinese counterparts that China's “policies in ethnic minority areas are counterproductive and aggravate tensions,” including in Tibet where there have been 40 recent self-immolations.

Republican lawmakers blamed the Obama administration for the worsening climate at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on China Wednesday morning.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the committee's human rights panel, lambasted the Obama administration's human rights record in China and called last year’s press conference at the White House with Chinese President Hu Jintao “one of the worst statements and performances of this president.”

“You asked that the President speak out” on human rights in China, Smith told one of the witnesses, “and hopefully he will at some point. But we won’t hold our breath.”

Several of the witnesses were also critical.

Jared Gesner, founder of the advocacy group for prisoners of conscience Freedom Now, said he doubted human rights in China has been a priority at the highest level of administration. 

“Whether or not you agree with how the administration is handling Chinese human rights,” he said, “one has to conclude that a change in tactics is going to be required.”

And Bhuchung Tsering, the vice president for special programs at the International Campaign for Tibet, called for greater openness and transparency of the dialogues. 

“If they don’t talk about it openly and publicly,” he warned, “the Chinese government won’t feel the pressure of the international community.”

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOvernight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade Dem plans amendment to block Trump from using military bases to house undocumented minors separated from parents Politicians, media explode over White House aide's comments MORE (D-Va.) was more upbeat.

“I certainly do not share the judgment that the president of the United States, that this administration, has somehow been taking the backseat on this issue,” he said. 

He cited the recent deal to get blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to the United States as a success of the Obama administration.

“I think it’s sometimes easy for us in Congress to opine about human rights,” he said, “as opposed to those who have the responsibility for sometimes executing policy when it comes to specific cases.”