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12:28 p.m. August 5, 2013
Democracy, Human Rights, Refugees: U.S. and China Human Rights Dialogue

WASHINGTON, DC -- Following the 18th round of the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue held in Beijing, China last week, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Uzra Zeya stated "This dialogue is 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 of the world."

The U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue was hosted by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kunming. Zeya led the U.S. delegation which included representatives from the White House, National Security Staff, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of State.

Ambassador Li Junhua, Director General for International Organizations and Conferences in the Chinese Foreign Ministry led the Chinese delegation which also included representatives from several different government ministries.

This round of the Human Rights Dialogue took place less than two months after President Obama and President Xi met at Sunnylands and affirmed a commitment to frank and results-oriented dialogue.

The timing of the latest round of the HRD also provided both the United States and China an excellent opportunity to discuss in greater depth the full range of human rights concerns raised at the Strategic and Economic Dialogue just three weeks ago.

Throughout the Human Rights Dialogue Zeya made the same point that Vice President Biden made at the S&ED, that “China will be stronger and more stable and more innovative if it represents and respects international human rights norms.” She also made clear that the United States is committed to building a cooperative partnership with China; welcomes the rise of a strong, stable and prosperous China; and reaffirmed the centrality of human rights to our bilateral engagement.

"As we’ve done many times in the past, we recognized the Chinese people’s remarkable record of economic development over the last three decades, and their lifting of hundreds of millions out of poverty, and that work continues," said Zeya.

"At the same time we did not shy away from raising the full range of issues where China’s policies and human rights practices have fallen seriously short of international standards.

We highlighted some of the various ways in which Chinese citizens are speaking out more about their expectations of their government with respect to corruption, environmental degradation, worker and consumer safety, lack of rule of law, religious freedom, and other aspects of government policy.

We also underscored U.S. concern over China’s severe restrictions on religious freedom and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association, both off-line and on-line.

We also expressed deep concern about China’s stepped-up attempts to silence dissent and tighten controls over Tibetans and Uyghurs, emphasizing that policies ostensibly designed to maintain stability are counter-productive when they deny Chinese citizens their universal rights and fundamental freedoms.

We also urged the Chinese government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions.

In addition, we specifically called into question the pattern of arrests and extra-legal detentions of public interest lawyers, internet activists, journalists, religious leaders and others who challenge official policies and actions in China. We noted that such actions are contrary to China’s international obligations and indeed, in most cases, China’s own laws and constitution.

We also conveyed our deep concern about attempts to control or silence activists by targeting family members and associates of those activists, an issue that the Secretary has raised with his counterparts.

And throughout, we emphasized the role that the rule of law and independent judiciary, the free flow of information and a robust civil society can play in helping countries deal with challenges as diverse as environmental degradation, food safety and corruption."

Specific cases were raised such as Xu Zhiyong, Gao Zhisheng, Ni Yulan, Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, Dhondup Wangchen, Hairat Niyaz, and Hada to illustrate our concerns about the broader denial of rights affecting China’s citizens.

In closing, let me take a minute to reiterate what we’ve said in the past. This dialogue is 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 of the world.

"This is a forum where we need to engage," Zeya stated. "And most important, it is only one forum among many where we raise these concerns."

"In China, as elsewhere, we strongly believe that change occurs within a society. Our hope is that discussions like the Human Rights Dialogue that we’ve just concluded, and the Legal Experts Dialogue that we agreed to hold in November will create more space for those working on such change.

Although our two governments often differ on this issue, I personally do not see human rights as an area of disagreement between the American and Chinese people. Like people everywhere, the Chinese people deserve to be treated with dignity, to have accountable government, and to have their voices heard. These discussions then are ultimately about Chinese citizens’ aspirations and how they’re navigating their own future."

"In terms of evaluating these discussions, I think it’s very important that we were able to have frank, in-depth and very comprehensive discussions covering a wide range of issues. As I mentioned before, we talked about specific cases of concern, freedom of religion, treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, freedom of expression, internet freedom, rule of law and legal reform, issues like the reeducation through labor program and other developments such as the new criminal procedures law in China. We really were able to cover a wide scope of issues."

Regarding discussions with the Chinese side about the Dalai Lama, Zeya commented "I would say we did not come away with an impression of a shift in policy."

Published August 5, 2013

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