US, China in human rights talks amid clampdown

© AFP/File Liu Jin

AFP

BEIJING (AFP) – US and Chinese officials met in Beijing on Wednesday for sensitive human rights talks, with the American side expected to press China to ease a major government crackdown on dissent.

Rights groups have urged the US delegation to “give teeth” to the two-day recurring dialogue but activists expected no breakthroughs, with China showing no sign of easing up on its critics.

Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner is heading an inter-agency US delegation for the US-China Human Rights Dialogue, which began Wednesday morning.

In unusually direct language, the US State Department last week made clear it would zero in on China’s clampdown and the “negative trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, and arrests and convictions.”

Chinese authorities have launched their toughest campaign against government critics in years after anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those that have rocked the Arab world.

Scores of Chinese activists and rights lawyers have been rounded up since the emergence of the “Jasmine” campaign, which has gone largely unheeded.

China has been criticised worldwide for the crackdown, particularly after prominent artist and government critic Ai Weiwei was detained in early April. Beijing says he is being investigated for “economic crimes”.

Foreign ministry official Chen Xu will head China’s delegation to the dialogue, held intermittently depending on the state of bilateral ties. It took place last year, in 2008, and in 2002.

Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the talks were unlikely to have any impact.

“Beijing wants to compartmentalise human rights issues within this non-transparent dialogue that yields no results, so that these issues are not raised during high-level political talks,” he said.



“We have called for many years for a much more transparent process that includes the participation of organisations from Chinese civil society and has specific objectives.”

Posner is scheduled to brief the media about the talks on Thursday.

 A Chinese spokesman on Tuesday defended what he called China’s “progress in the field of human rights”.

But the United States has said it would also bring up issues such as “rule of law, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, labour rights, minority rights” and other issues.

The Hong Kong-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders activist group said the dialogue had so far “produced very few concrete results”.

“But the US government can and must use these meetings to hold the Chinese government accountable to its international and constitutional obligations to protect human rights,” including ending torture and releasing detainees, it said in a statement.

On the religious front, China has drawn fire for detaining scores of members of an unregistered protestant church in Beijing and for a security crackdown on a restive Tibetan monastery in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

China faces seething dissent among ethnic Tibetans and the Muslim Uighur minority in the northwestern Xinjiang region and has tightened security across both regions following violent unrest in Tibetan areas in 2008 and in Xinjiang in 2009.

The Washington-based Uyghur American Association urged the US to demand China halt what it called a wave of persecution in Xinjiang following the 2009 unrest, which set Uighurs against members of China’s dominant Han ethnic group.

The US must “seek answers from the Chinese government on egregious human rights abuses against the Uyghur people,” the association quoted exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer as saying.

Visiting Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she raised a range of rights concerns in talks Tuesday with Premier Wen Jiabao. She said Wen denied China had taken a “backward step” on rights.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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