WASHINGTON — Sharp U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record overshadowed the results achieved at annual high-level meetings between the world’s two largest economies aimed at resolving disputes over trade and foreign policy.
After two days of talks, the two sides announced a range of modest agreements aimed at increasing sales opportunities for U.S. companies in China. There was no breakthrough, however, on a crucial U.S. demand: letting China’s currency rise in value at a faster rate against the dollar. The currency issue gained new urgency in the view of American manufacturers with release of a Chinese government report that showed China’s trade surplus with the world had surged in April.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters at a closing news conference Tuesday that the United States had made its concerns known on a range of sensitive issues, including human rights.
“We discussed everything, whether it was something sensitive to us or sensitive to them … including human rights,” Clinton said. “We made our concerns very clear.”
In an interview published Tuesday on the website of The Atlantic magazine, Clinton said China’s human rights record was “deplorable” and that history was not on the side of governments that resist democracy.
The Clinton magazine interview, which took place April 7, focused on democracy protests that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa. Asked at the news conference whether those uprisings against authoritarian governments had come up during the two days of talks, Clinton said the two countries had discussed the uprisings, with U.S. officials making the point that America “supports the aspirations” for freedom and opportunity.
Clinton and Vice-President Joe Biden had raised the issue of human rights during the opening session of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue talks, and the White House said President Barack Obama also had discussed human rights concerns during his meeting with leaders of the Chinese delegation late Monday.
Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese delegation, said State Councilor Dai Bingguo had responded to Obama’s comments by saying China has made great progress in protecting human rights over the past 25 years.
Since February, China has questioned or detained hundreds of lawyers, writers and human rights activists in response to anonymous calls made on the Internet for protests in China. No demonstrations have occurred.