Chinese turn to White House website for help with petitions

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2013-5-8 1:28:01

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The official website of the White House has received online petitions from Chinese Web users demanding the US government look into their demands, as they look to foreign entities to exert pressure and voice their concerns with the lengthy and sometimes ineffective petition process at home.

We the People, the official name for the website serves as a rallying point for people to bring their issues to light. Any petition drawing over 100,000 signatures will gain a reaction from the White House.

Web users on Sunday posted a petition on the White House's web page, demanding the Obama administration "remonstrate" with the Chinese government about a paraxylene (PX) project in Kunming, Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

The petition stated that the project has significant potential to jeopardize human health, adding that the tourist city receives a large number of foreign tourists, including US citizens.

 It demanded the Chinese government suspend the project until reliable assessments have been made by independent environmental impact assessment groups.

The petition came just one day after thousands of Kunming residents gathered in the city center to oppose the project.

As of press time, the online petition had received over 6,200 signatures.

According to the White House website, if a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the Obama administration and receive a response.

The petition against the PX project wasn't the only one initiated by Chinese Web users on the White House website over the past week.

Some Web users even joked that US President Barack Obama had become the "head of China's petition office."

Another petition was posted on Friday, seeking an investigation into a cold case, in which Zhu Ling, a former student from Tsinghua University, was poisoned by thallium at the age of 22 in 1994. The petition also demanded the deportation of the suspect Sun Wei, who it claimed went to the US via marriage fraud.

The petition met the signature threshold of 100,000 on Monday afternoon. Web users are still awaiting the White House's response.

The Global Times made repeated inquiries to the US embassy in Beijing on Monday and Tuesday over a response to the petition, but had not received a reply as of press time.

In an interview with Shanghai-based Jiefang Daily, Zhu's parents said they did not know about an online petition with the White House, and said they would not participate nor support the move.

They believe the case could be solved through regular channels and means.

Yuan Yulai, a Ningbo-based lawyer and active microblogger on Sina Weibo, told the Global Times Tuesday that the petitions to the White House were regarded the last straw when seeking justice after frustrations over official probes and assessments.

Activists have also relied on increasingly creative means to have their voices heard.

Kuliwang, an online human rights group, reportedly sent a petition letter to US ambassador to China Gary Locke earlier this year, demanding the US not issue visas to Chinese officials they claimed had violated human rights.

Meanwhile, some petitioners unsatisfied with the way the authorities have dealt with their grievances also turn to UN missions and foreign embassies as well as overseas media.

During a previous interview with the Global Times, about half of a group of 20 petitioners said they had gone to Sanlitun, an area in downtown Beijing packed with diplomatic missions.

A petitioner from Shanxi Province, who sought justice for her executed son, told the Global Times earlier that she had gone to Sanlitun before and was planning to go there again because her grievance was not resolved through petitions.

Yuan noted the move was aimed at pressuring the authorities at home in the hope the government could direct attention to their grievances and devote itself to providing remedies to their problems.

However, Zhang Yiwu, a professor of Chinese literature with Peking University, disagreed, calling it "irrational and more of a way to vent people's frustrations than offering any practical help."

However, there are no stipulations in Chinese regulations mentioning any direct bans for applying with petitions to foreign entities.

"If you have a problem, you can resort to help from the letters and calls departments. But lodging the complaints to foreign entities is off limits," he said.

Last year, a petitioner surnamed Peng from Sichuan Province was sentenced to 18 months of re-education through labor punishment for appealing directly to a foreign embassy in China.

Zhang Zihan and Chen Tian contributed to this story

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