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China rejects US rights report as interference

February 27, 2009

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN – February 26, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - China and the United States have sparred again over human
rights, just days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
said she hoped the ever-prickly issue would not color relations.

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday blasted a U.S. State Department
report criticizing its rights record, calling the claims groundless and
accusing Washington of interfering in its internal affairs.

The report issued in Washington on Wednesday accuses China of stepping
up cultural and religious repression of minorities in Tibet and
elsewhere and increasing the detention and harassment of political
dissidents.

It said authorities continued to limit citizens' right to privacy,
freedom of speech, assembly, movement and association. Authorities also
committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions from
prisoners and used forced labor, the U.S. report said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said China favored a rights
dialogue but opposed "any countries interfering in China's internal
affairs under the pretext of human rights.

"We urge the U.S. side to reflect on its own human rights problems, stop
acting as a human rights guardian, stop interfering in others' internal
affairs by issuing such human rights reports," Ma told reporters at a
regularly scheduled news conference.

He said the report ignored China's achievements in human rights, which
Beijing defines mainly as improvements to living standards.

"It willfully ignored and distorted basic facts, groundlessly assailing
China's human rights conditions and making random and irresponsible
remarks on China's ethnic, religious and legal systems," the official
Xinhua News Agency said in a report issued early Thursday.

China's State Council, or Cabinet, also struck back Thursday night with
a report on the state of human rights in the U.S. The document detailed
a host of social problems including violent crime, a wide wealth gap,
police abuse of force, racial discrimination and unemployment. It also
blamed the U.S. for human rights abuses overseas in places like Iraq.

The exchange comes just three days after Clinton appeared to charm her
hosts during her first visit to Beijing in office.

Shortly before her visit, the secretary of state had emphasized her wish
that the debate with China over human rights, Taiwan and Tibet cannot be
allowed to interfere with attempts to reach consensus on other, broader
issues.

While she said she would raise those contentious issues, it might be
better to agree to disagree on long-standing positions, she said.

Amnesty International, among other rights groups and Republican Congress
members, had expressed dismay over Clinton's comments, but on Thursday
cheered the new report's "candid review of the worsening human rights
situation in China."

The State Department report covers 2008 and was largely drafted during
President George W. Bush's administration, although Clinton signed off
on the findings.

Rights concerns last year ranged from the massive crackdown on sometimes
violent anti-government protesters in Tibetan areas to rejected requests
to stage peaceful protests during the August Beijing Olympics

Dissidents who signed a call for greater political freedoms titled
"Charter '08" have been harassed and detained, and one of the country's
best-known human rights activists, Hu Jia, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years
in prison last April.
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