US and China to hold human rights talks

 Published: 4/22/2011 12:24:01 AM GMT
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Authorities in China have launched their toughest clampdown on dissent in years since anonymous online appeals emerged in February calling for weekly protests to emulate those that rocked the Arab world.

The State Department said the discussions next week would focus on "human rights developments, including the recent negative trend of forced disappearances, extralegal detentions, and arrests and convictions."

Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner will the US delegation to Beijing next Wednesday and Thursday.

The dialogue is held intermittently, depending on the state of relations between China and the United States. It took place last year, in 2008 and before that in 2002.

Scores of Chinese activists and rights lawyers have been rounded up in the past few months since calls for a Chinese-style "Jasmine" protest were posted online, aiming to emulate protests that triggered unrest in the Arab world.

Prominent artist Ai Weiwei, a staunch critic of China's ruling Communist Party whose fame had until now given him relative protection, has also been detained and is being investigated for "economic crimes".

So far, though, no public demonstrations have been reported in China.

Separately, rights groups say security forces have used force to put down protests by monks at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the southwestern province of Sichuan, triggered when a young monk burnt himself to death last month.

The US State Department has repeatedly criticised the government clampdown and called for the release of detainees, including Ai, and has hit out at the crackdown at the prominent Kirti Monastery.

Chinese police also have moved in to prevent members of the unregistered Shouwang church, a Protestant congregation, from holding public services over the past two weekends.

Church leaders say they are now under house arrest to prevent them holding Easter services Sunday.

China has reacted angrily to the criticism, telling the United States not to interfere and to "stop making irresponsible remarks." It also this month released its own assessment of the US human rights record, which lamented the bloodshed of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and reports of waterboarding and other harsh treatment of US enemy combatants.

"The United States has turned a blind eye to its own terrible human rights situation and seldom mentions it," said the report, issued each year to rebut an annual State Department report on human rights around the world that routinely criticises China.

During the talks next week, other rights issues will be discussed including the rule of law, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, labour and minority rights, the State Department said.

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