Always Awkward, New Rights Talks With China Now May Be Hopeless

Michael Posner, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, is in Beijing for meetings with Chinese officials, which are expected to be tense and not terribly productive. From the New York Times:

Michael H. Posner, the State Department official who is in the midst of two-day discussions with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing, is most likely finding the meetings more challenging than usual. To start with, Chinese intellectuals, dissidents and civil society advocates are experiencing the most severe government backlash in years, with dozens of people — among them leaders of several underground Christian churches and the artist and critic Ai Weiwei — having been locked up without charge over the past two months.

The Chinese government has been in no mood to discuss its heavy-handed behavior, warning the United States this week that it would brook no interference in its domestic affairs and adding, as a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman explained, that “China does not fear the antagonism of other countries.”

American frustration has been on display, too. In a break from diplomatic protocol, the State Department on Friday unilaterally announced the meeting just days before the event, even though the Chinese are the hosts, and used unusually blunt language in insisting that the recent wave of detentions would be high on the agenda.

“Things are looking pretty grim,” said Kerry Brown, a China expert at Chatham House, an international affairs research organization in London, referring to the prospect of anything productive emerging from the meetings. “Since the 1990s, these dialogues have maintained their presence pathetically, but they are at the moment at a new low.”

See also: “Q+A: China’s human rights record and the China-U.S. dialogue” from Reuters.