US, China clash on rights but ease economic rift

© AFP Mandel Ngan


WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States sharply criticized China’s human rights record, saying its clampdown on dissent was a “fool’s errand” and accusing it of trying to stop history, but the two sides made headway in easing economic frictions in high-level talks this week.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview released amid the two-day talks that closed Tuesday, offered some of the harshest criticism yet of China as it mounts one of its biggest clampdowns on dissent in years.

“They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand,” Clinton said of Chinese officials in an interview with The Atlantic magazine that was conducted April 7.

China, apparently spooked by a wave of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Arab world, in recent months has rounded up dozens of lawyers, writers, artists and other perceived critics.

Showing that the US criticism was not just rhetorical, the State Department approved $19 million in funding for technology to help activists break through the Internet firewall in China, Iran and other authoritarian states.

The technology will include a cutting-edge “slingshot” that determines what governments are trying to censor and finds ways to get the information out, said Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state handling human rights.

China’s Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun insisted that his country was committed to human rights and asked the United States to look at its “remarkable progress” since the communist state was established in 1949.

“No country, including the United States, is perfect on the human rights issue. It is only natural for China and the United States to see human rights differently in some aspects,” Zhang told reporters.

“So we call for a dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs,” he said.

The two sides meanwhile appeared to ease some of their persistent economic tensions.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Beijing promised not to insist on Chinese technology when handing out government contracts, even at the local level, addressing a longstanding concern of foreign businesses.

“We’re very confident we’re going to see substantial, ongoing improvement in the opportunities that American companies have in the Chinese market,” Geithner said, welcoming the “very promising shifts” in Chinese economic policy.

The United States accuses China of artificially undervaluing its currency to fuel a flood of inexpensive manufactured goods for export. But China has let the yuan rise against the dollar as it confronts fears of inflation.

Geithner said a stronger yuan would help China hold back inflation and to transition from an economy based on exports to one based on consumption — a fervent hope of US companies eager to enter the 1.3 billion-strong market.

Clinton, in an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix television, said she faced harsh criticism over US economic policy after President Barack Obama took over from the George W. Bush administration in 2009.

Drawing a parallel to frictions over human rights, Clinton said: “We’re not always going to agree, and we do have some questions and some criticism, which we’re happy to share with you in the hope that you will better understand us and maybe it will give you some ideas.”

 State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who led China’s team in the strategic track of the talks, called for the two nations to respect each other’s space.

“The Chinese side reaffirmed its commitment to the road of peaceful development and will not challenge the United States’ interests,” he said.

During the talks, China confirmed plans to offer scholarships to 20,000 US students over the next four years — part of a drive by the Obama administration to improve connections with East Asia.

The United States and China also said they would set up regular talks on Asia policy, where the two powers have often not seen eye-to-eye.

In a sign of easing defense strains, military officers took part in the annual dialogue for the first time.

China last year snapped defense ties for months after the United States approved a $6.4 billion arms package to Taiwan, which Beijing views as a breakaway territory awaiting reunification, by force if necessary.

Clinton told reporters that the military talks would help to “develop trust and avoid misunderstandings that can lead to dangerous miscalculations.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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