Wednesday, May 11, 2011

China & US clash on human rights

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has once again upset China, saying its leaders were running scared as a wave of revolution sweeps the Middle East. She criticised China's recent crackdown on dissent as "a fool's errand", saying Beijing was attempting to halt history.

Describing China's human rights record as "deplorable" she said the country's leadership would fail in the long run. "They're trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand," she said. "They cannot do it, but they're going to hold it off as long as possible."

Her comments came as officials from China and the US met in Washington DC for high-level strategic and economic talks.

In an exclusive interview with The Atlantic the Secretary of State defended the United States dealings with China saying, "We live in the real world." [BBC / AFP].

Clinton also spoke out publicly at the Opening Session of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Monday. While most of her speech concentrated on cooperation between the two nations on trade and tackling climate change, she also raised the issue of human rights.

"We have our differences," Clinton said, "We have made very clear, publicly and privately, our concern about human rights. We worry about the impact on our domestic politics and on the politics and the stability in China and the region."

In particular she pointed to the "reports of people, including public interest lawyers, writers, artists, and others, who are detained or disappeared." While not making any direct threat she attempted to persuade China to take the right course of action by pointing out the benefits of a more liberal approach. "We know over the long arch of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable, and successful," the Secretary of State insisted [State Dept]. 

China has accused the US of using politics to upset economic relations and defended its human rights record. China had made "remarkable progress" since the communist state was established in 1949, Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said, insisting China was committed to human rights. "No country, including the United States, is perfect on the human rights issue. It is only natural for China and the United States to see human rights differently in some aspects," Zhang said.

In much repeated rhetoric Zhang called for an end to interference in China's own affairs. "We call for a dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs," he said.

Aside the uncomfortable issue over human rights there was a meeting of minds concerning economic issues. China said it would allow American companies easier access to sectors of its market. However, a key US demand to let China's currency appreciate was not met.

"We are seeing very promising shifts in the direction of Chinese economic policy," said US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. But he said more progress still needs to be made. "We hope that China moves to allow the exchange rate to appreciate more rapidly and more broadly against the currencies of all its trading partners," Geithner added.

China's vice minister of foreign affairs Cui Tiankai was more optimistic. "So far both our nations have never signed any economic cooperation as broad," he said. Concerning the subject of the yuan Cui said, "We stick with China's national interests." [BBC]

There was some breakthrough as regards the US-China EcoPartnerships Memorandum of Understanding which also convened at the State Department this week. Hillary Clinton's remarks were far more moderate with no critical comments made concerning China, only a broad encouragement to build collaborative efforts in tackling environmental issues including climate change and pursuing cleaner energy models.

She spoke of fostering best practices and innovation to deal with environmental concerns. "We need to harness the unique skills of both of our cities, our states, our universities, our private companies, our civil societies to find solutions to common problems," Clinton said.

"That is especially true when it comes to clean energy, energy security, environmental stability, and climate change. Both of our countries have companies that are developing new and exciting technologies, universities that are doing ground-breaking research, and local governments that have unique perspectives on the community environmental issues they face which can have a global impact."

Chinese Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua also supported the efforts of both countries' efforts in achieving a sustainable energy policy.

"In order to enhance our cooperation in the area of energy, environment, and climate change, the US and China Government have signed the ten-year framework for cooperation on energy and the environment," Xie said.

"Today, we have another new six partners signing their statement of intent here. I welcome and congratulate them for joining this big family of eco-partners, and I look forward to innovative cooperation from them so as to make a contribution to the greener, cleaner, low-carbon future of both countries as well as to contribute to the greener future of the human beings." [State Dept / YouTube].

While human beings may face a greener future, the issues surrounding human rights seem less certain.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China
with additional reporting from our correspondent in Washington DC

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