US raps China for ‘serious backsliding’ on rights

© AFP/File Mike Clarke


BEIJING (AFP) – A US envoy accused China of “serious backsliding” on human rights Thursday following talks on the issue that were held as Beijing carries out a severe crackdown on government critics.

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner also indicated China rebuffed US appeals to soften the crackdown and resolve the cases of prominent artist Ai Weiwei and other detained activists and dissidents.

“In recent weeks we have seen a serious backsliding on human rights and the discussion of these negative trends dominated the human rights dialogue over the past few days,” Posner told reporters.

“The most senior officials of the United States are deeply concerned about the deterioration of human rights in China,” he added.

Posner, whose brief includes human rights, led the US delegation to the two-day US-China Human Rights Dialogue, a recurring discussion held this time in Beijing.

The US State Department had made clear beforehand that it would zero in on China’s clampdown and a “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.

Human rights groups had urged the Americans to step up pressure in the dialogue, which has been criticised as a toothless talking shop that had achieved nothing so far in pressuring China to improve its human rights record.

But it appeared that the latest installment had similarly achieved no breakthroughs, with China on Thursday repeating its insistence that its handling of dissent was its own business.

“We are against any country interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights issues,” foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing, when asked about the dialogue’s outcome.

Posner said the US side raised a number of sensitive rights issues including restrictions on religious groups, China’s handling of restive minorities such as Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs, and the detentions of scores of rights lawyers and activists.

These included the case of Ai Weiwei, a prominent artist and staunch critic of the Communist Party whose disappearance into police custody in early April sparked criticism from around the world.

While refusing to characterise China’s response in detail, Posner said China’s delegation, led by foreign ministry official Chen Xu, acknowledged that government critics had vanished.

“There was a recognition that in the past month people had disappeared,” he said.

Yet he made clear the US otherwise made no headway in particular cases such as Ai’s.

“We did not get an answer that satisfied us,” he said of Ai.

Posner indicated China similarly rebuffed appeals in the case of jailed dissident writer Liu Xiaobo — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in October — and his wife Liu Xia.

Liu was jailed in 2009 for 11 years for subversion, and Liu Xia has been incommunicado under house arrest since shortly after the Nobel announcement.

Posner said a request to allow access to Liu Xia was denied.

The apparent failure of the dialogue to secure a specific outcome is likely to increase criticism of the forum.

Human rights groups say China cynically uses the dialogue in a bid to confine discussion of rights to a single forum — while giving no ground on the issue.

But Posner said the United States would continue to raise human rights in a range of settings.
“We need to have the will to continue to raise these issues .. in a range of fora.”

The human rights dialogue has been held intermittently depending on the state of ties between the two countries. It took place last year, in 2008, and in 2002.

© AFPPublished at Activist Post with license

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