As U.S. and Chinese officials meet in Washington, the Obama administration will continue to press China on human rights issues, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday amid concerns about a spate of recent arrests and clampdown on Chinese dissenters.
“We have made very clear, publicly and privately, our concern about human rights. We worry about the impact on our domestic politics and on the politics and the stability in China and the region,” Clinton said at the start of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in Washington. “We see reports of people, including public-interest lawyers, writers, artists, and others, who are detained or disappeared. And we know over the long arc of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable, and successful.”
Echoing Clinton’s strong words, Vice President Joe Biden said: "No relationship that's real can be built on a false foundation. Where we disagree, it's important to state it. We will continue to express our views on these issues."
Apparently fearful of the spread of pro-democracy protests and unrest sweeping through the Middle East, the Chinese government had arrested dozens of activists and placed some under house arrest. Chinese organizers, primarily based outside the country, had called for protests just as the “Arab Spring” was beginning to take hold across the region, drawing the government's preemptive crackdown, which also included blocking references to Tunisia’s “jasmine revolution” from social media and search engines.
Responding to public U.S. pressure after bilateral talks in Beijing on human rights issues late last month, the Chinese government released Teng Biao, a prominent Chinese lawyer and activist. He was held in custody for 70 days, apparently for his role in giving legal counsel to government critics and opponents.
Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo said on Monday that meetings in Washington will allow the U.S. to “learn firsthand the enormous progress China has made in various fronts, including in human rights, and get to know what is a real China.”
Clinton stressed that the U.S. and China face a wide range of common regional and global challenges. "There are some very important international security issues we will be discussing. As permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States and China came together to enact tough sanctions on Iran, and now we are working to implement them."
China keeps its North Korean ally afloat with aid, and is under international pressure to use its influence to rein in Pyongyang after a series of provocations this past year. Clinton reiterated that defusing the tensions on the Korean peninsula would be a hot-button issue in the talks.
"Our two countries share a vital interest in maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and that includes the complete denuclearization of the peninsula," she said. "So we continue to urge North Korea to take concrete actions to improve relations with South Korea and to refrain from further provocations, and we want to see North Korea take irreversible steps to fulfill its international obligations toward denuclearization.
Clinton has long said that the U.S. and China are at a “critical juncture.” Ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington in January, Clinton emphasized that ongoing discussions with China would focus on building trust in both countries. “I would be the first to admit that distrust lingers on both sides,” she said at the time.
"We look forward to a time when our future generations can look back and say of us, 'They didn’t just talk about a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship—they made the right choices, they worked together, they delivered results. They did leave us a better world,'" she also said then. "That is our vision."
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