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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Extralegal: U.S. Hits China on Dissidents’ Families

May 16, 2011

Brian Spegel Faced with the unenviable task of confronting defiant Chinese officials over the country’s latest crackdown on dissidents, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner and his team did their best to undermine Beijing’s long-held view that the U.S. has no business telling China how to run its legal system. Leading the U.S. delegation in the latest installment of the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue, a semi-regular meeting of mid-level officials criticized by some as a diplomatic sideshow, Mr. Posner made it a point to express concern over the family members of political dissidents, many of whom have been placed under extralegal detention. Speaking at a press conference following his meeting with Chinese officials Thursday, Mr. Posner said the U.S. delegation spent more time pressing Chinese authorities on the condition of Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, than they did inquiring about Mr. Liu himself. Ms. Liu became a fiery critic of the government in the aftermath of her husband’s arrest and subsequent sentencing to 11 years in prison for his role in drafting a petition known as Charter 08, which among other things called for rule of law and open elections in China. But unlike her husband, whom authorities formally charged with subverting state power, Ms. Liu’s status is unclear. Several reports have said she has been confined to her home, but U.S. officials said they have been unable to confirm her whereabouts. “We, I think, would be very eager to meet with her, to have communication, to make sure she has communication with others,” Mr. Posner said. “And there is some real concern on our part that she is in a kind of legal limbo at this point. It’s not clear what her status is.” The emphasis on Ms. Liu’s case suggests the U.S. may redouble efforts to press cases where activists are being held outside the justice system. Unlike Mr. Liu’s case, which included formal charges and a sentencing, authorities say little if anything about extrajudicial detainments. In other words, it might be more difficult for Beijing to object to Washington interfering in the country’s domestic affairs in cases where it won’t even admit individuals are being held. Publicly, at least, Beijing doesn’t appear to have been rattled the U.S. delegation’s tactics. “Chinese people are the most qualified to speak on China’s human rights situation,” state-run Xinhua news agency said in a report Friday, citing the Foreign Ministry, “and the Chinese judicial organs would continue to handle cases in accordance with the law.” –Brian Spegele. Follow him on Twitter @bspegele.
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