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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

No breakthroughs in US, China human rights talks

May 19, 2010

WASHINGTON — The United States and China reported no major breakthroughs Friday after only their second round of talks about human rights since 2002.

The Obama administration wants to push Beijing to treat its citizens better, but it also needs Chinese support on Iranian and North Korean nuclear standoffs, climate change and other difficult issues.

A senior U.S. official said that the two-day meeting lays groundwork for more regular talks to soothe an irritant in relations between the two world powers.

Michael Posner, the assistant secretary of state, told reporters that another round will happen some time next year in Beijing. The countries also plan to hold talks on legal matters soon and he said he will participate in a high-profile economic and security summit in Beijing this month.

"In two days, we're not going to change major policies or major points of view, but we laid a foundation to continue," Posner said. "The tone of the discussions was very much, `We're two powerful, great countries. We have a range of issues that we are engaged on. Human rights is part of that discussion, and it will remain so.'"

This week's talks came as the countries try to repair ties after a rough period. President Barack Obama infuriated China by recently announcing a $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing as its own, and by meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader China calls a separatist.

Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.

He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its own a new immigration law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person's immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.

The United States was represented by officials from the State Department, White House, the departments of Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, the trade representative's office and the Internal Revenue Service. The Chinese side was led by Director General for International Organizations Chen Xu and included officials from nine agencies.

The officials discussed Tibet, the Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) ethnic group in the Chinese province of Xinjiang and specific dissidents the United States has worries about. Posner would not provide details, except to say the United States raised the cases of Liu Xiaobo, an author-dissident serving an 11-year prison sentence on subversion charges, and Gao Zhisheng, a crusading Chinese rights lawyer.

Todd Stein, with the International Campaign for Tibet, said political repression in China is growing. If officials want improvement in China's human rights record, he said, the issue should be a focus of this month's high-profile Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Beijing.

"It would be a mistake if this dialogue resulted in a `check the box' exercise that sidelined substantive engagement on human rights in any other arena," Stein said in a statement.

The officials spent part of Friday traveling around Washington for meetings, including, Posner said, a visit to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were briefed by retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on rule of law.

Jon Huntsman, U.S. ambassador to China who was in Washington, told reporters earlier Friday that the rights talks are a useful way to get results on tough issues.

"We're talking about issues that are uncomfortable, quite frankly, but it is a sign of maturity that we can talk about specific cases," Huntsman said.

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