BEIJING, China — The 18th round of U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue began on August 1st, but U.S. officials claim that the talks were not productive. U.S. officials claim that human rights have deteriorated in China, while Chinese officials insist that human rights have improved in recent years.
Urza Zeya, acting as the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy for Human Rights and Labor, said in a press conference that the dialogue between the United States and China fell short of U.S. expectations. According to Zeya, the conferences was a “chance for us to engage on human rights issues and to do so in a more in-depth manner, focusing both on specific issues and specific cases and to lay out opportunities to take action to improve human rights conditions in China and China’s reputation in the world.”
The Chinese delegation was led by Ambassador Li Junhua, Director General for International Organizations and Conferences in the Chinese Foreign Ministry. According to an editorial on a state-sponsored news website run by the information office of China’s State Council, “A real human rights dialogue should be based on mutual trust and respect, and only such human rights dialogues would be meaningful and effective.”
Furthermore, the editorial predicted no substantial progress as a result of the dialogue and no change in the status quo. The U.S. officials present during the dialogue mentioned concerns regarding the treatment of journalists and activists in the country. Human rights advocates claim that the treatment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and lawyer Chen Guangchen provide a glimpse into the large human rights abuses by the Chinese government and urged the U.S. government to hold a dialogue with the nation.
Chen, who escaped house arrest in May and fled to the U.S., is now exiled from China. Chen says he fears for his family, namely his nephew, Chen Kegui, who has been charged with homicide. “There are laws that could protect my nephew – including laws against torture – but some Chinese officials routinely flout the law with impunity.” Chen Kegui, who is accused of attacking officials with a kitchen knife after they burst into his home in search of the escaped Guangchen, was denied legal counsel and access to his family.
According to Guangchen, “China does not lack laws, but the rule of law.” In addition, U.S. officials brought up China’s severe restrictions on religious freedom. Namely, the repression in Tibet, where dozens of Buddhists have set themselves on fire in protest. The U.S. officials encouraged the Chinese government to begin a dialogue with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. U.S. officials acknowledged that such repression remains “contrary to China’s international obligation and indeed in most cases China’s own constitution and laws.”
By bringing the concerns of Chinese citizens to the discussion, U.S. officials demonstrated their own concern that the Chinese government was falling short with respect to the rule of law, Tibet, equality and justice for individuals. Beijing has traditionally rejected U.S. criticism of Chinese human rights abuses, saying that Chinese human rights are at a “historic best” and that “Washington is biased against China and distorts the situation.” U.S. officials report reiterating to China the impression that China will be “stronger” and “more stable” if it adheres to human rights norms.
Throughout the discussion, U.S. officials emphasized the roles of free-flowing information and a vibrant civil society on preserving peace and resolving conflict. While recognizing China’s impressive recent history and economic successes, the U.S. officials reaffirmed their commitment to these norms in future bilateral engagement. – Kelsey Ziomek Sources: Washington Post, U.S. Department of State, Huffington Post, Knoxville Daily Sun, Photo: Human Rights Watch