U.S. Rebukes China After Rights Talks (Updated)

Now that the human rights dialogue between U.S. and Chinese officials has concluded, Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State, has expressed his disappointment with the outcome and with the current situation in China. From the Wall Street Journal:

At the end of two-day talks that were dubbed a “human-rights dialogue,” Michael Posner, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, lamented that the Chinese side had rebuffed U.S. efforts to find out about the status of lawyers, political activists, artists, religious leaders and others caught in a police dragnet in recent weeks.

He said American officials were disappointed at the Chinese response to questions about Ai Weiwei, the artist most famous for helping to design the Olympic Bird’s Nest stadium who was detained at Beijing’s airport this month.

“The facts are that things have worsened,” Mr. Posner said. “To the extent that there are serious human-rights problems those problems become an impediment to the relationship.”

Mr. Posner said Chinese officials shared little about Mr. Ai’s status or condition. “On that case we certainly did not get an answer that satisfied,” he said. “There was no sense of comfort from the response or the lack of response.”

A New York Times article on Wednesday showed some scepticism about the real value of these exchanges:

Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the annual human rights talks that several Western countries had with China had become a cynical mechanism that allowed leaders to avoid raising such issues with Chinese officials during the rest of the year.

“Such dialogues are often used by governments to justify their lack of engagement and silence on human rights,” Mr. Bequelin said.

The meetings also serve Beijing well, keeping talk of uncomfortable issues like religious repression, extralegal detention and the use of torture by the police largely confined to closed-door sessions that more often than not produce few concrete results.

As one British diplomat put it, “It allows the Chinese to put all their poison in a box and call it human rights so no other leaders can talk about it.”

See also an article in the Daily Beast by Joshua Kurlantzick about President Obama’s shifting policy on human rights in China.

April 28, 2011, 11:05 AM
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