U.S., China set for human rights talks resumption

* First Obama administration rights talks with China

* Religious freedom, jailed activists on agenda

* Booming China seen ever less amenable to critics

By Paul Eckert

WASHINGTON, May 13 (BestGrowthStock) – The United States and China
will resume a formal dialogue on human rights on Thursday after
a two-year hiatus during which the countries have worked to
keep ties stable amid disputes over Tibet, Taiwan, Internet
freedom and the value of the yuan currency.

Although the first such talks under the Obama
administration follow ethnic unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet and
an overall deterioration in conditions in China, the Asian
nation’s growing economic power and international clout make it
easier for it to shrug off critics, human rights experts said.

The U.S. State Department said the two-day meeting in
Washington would address areas including religious rights, rule
of law and Internet freedom, an issue that put Google Inc (Read more about Google Stock Analysis).
(GOOG.O: ) on a collision course with Beijing last year and led
the Web search giant to quit the Chinese market.

The dialogue, which was frozen between 2002 and 2008, is
expected to include cases of Chinese lawyers and human rights
activists who have been detained or harassed by their
government, the State Department said.

“This is about helping them understand and identify issues
that are part of our core agenda but also clearly areas of
weakness that China will have to improve on as it goes along,”
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said this week.

“This not about lecturing,” he said. “It’s about helping
them understand why we think these issues are important.”

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the U.S.
group Human Rights Watch urged the United States to raise
specific cases of detained lawyers and activists, as well as to
prevent the talks from being “largely a rhetorical shell” as
they are seen by much of the rights community.

“Over the past year, the Chinese government has tightened
controls on Uighurs and Tibetans, launched attacks on lawyers
and human rights defenders, maintained a chokehold on media
freedom, and bolstered government surveillance and censoring of
Internet communications,” the letter to Clinton said.

CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESSED

The Buddhist region of Tibet was roiled by ethnic unrest
ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, while Muslim Uighurs rioted
last year in violence that left nearly 200 people dead.

China “has even obstructed civil society organizations,
including groups working with victims of the May 2008 Sichuan
earthquake and child victims of the 2008 toxic melamine milk
scandal,” Human Rights Watch said in the letter.

The plight of activists was underscored anew this week when
China’s top AIDS activist, former health ministry official Wan
Yanhai, fled to the United States with his family, citing
pressure from authorities, said Sophie Richardson, Asia
advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

China’s delegation, led by Chen Xu, the director-general of
the Foreign Ministry’s Department of International
Organizations and Conferences, will be hosted by Mike Posner,
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and
Labor in talks that will also involve outside experts.

Complaints about China’s government increasingly fall on
deaf ears as a booming economy amid a recession in the West has
given Beijing confidence and diplomatic muscle at a time of
rising nationalism among Chinese, analysts say.

After decades of double digit economic growth, showcased by
the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai Expo, “the average
Chinese citizen today is more well-disposed towards the Chinese
government than the average American citizen is towards the
American government,” said Ian Bremmer, president of the
Eurasia Group political risk consultancy.

Richardson of Human Rights Watch acknowledges the
unfavorable winds for meaningful rights talks.

“It’s absolutely true that they have become even more
intransigent on human rights issues over the last couple of
years as they are feeling very confident, and there are a lot
of debates about whether these dialogues are really a useful
exercise,” Richardson said.

“But the only people who really win if they don’t take
place at all are people in the Chinese government.”

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(Editing by Paul Simao)

U.S., China set for human rights talks resumption