Tensions high as China and US meet for human rights talks


THE UNITED States and China meet in Beijing this week for their annual human rights dialogue, but the atmosphere is likely to be tense after Washington signalled that it would discuss the current tough crackdown on dissent in China.

China insists that human rights issues are its domestic business and it will have been furious with the State Department’s statement ahead of the talks on Wednesday and Thursday.

“Discussions will focus on human rights developments, including the recent negative trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, and arrests and convictions, as well as rule of law, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, labour rights, minority rights and other human rights issues of concern,” said the statement.

China is currently clamping down on dissent, sparked by official fears of the spread of “Jasmine Revolution”-style unrest from the Arab world to authoritarian China. The growing crackdown has seen scores of artists, lawyers, writers, activists and intellectuals taken away, some briefly, some for months without any information about their whereabouts.

The highest profile figure to be detained is the internationally respected artist Ai Weiwei, who was hauled off from Beijing airport several weeks ago and about whom there has been no information, except for hints that he probably faces “economic crime” charges.

The Ai case looks very likely to figure at the talks, which will feature a US delegation led by assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labour Michael Posner.

Outgoing US ambassador Jon Huntsman attacked Beijing for detaining Ai, saying he was one of China’s “most innovative and illustrious citizens”. “Ai . . . has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people.”

The case has also prompted regular diatribes in the Chinese media against the West.

“China is much more open-minded than it used to be in interpreting and practising human rights. The western censure of China’s human rights is disingenuous and laden with self-conceit and prejudice . . . it is the Chinese people who know China best and how to protect and improve their own human rights,” ran an editorial in the China Daily.