The United States should raise the issue of human rights abuse at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, Human Rights Watch has said.
Top US and Chinese officials, including US Secretary of State John Kerry and China's Vice Premier Wang Yang, are meeting on Wednesday and Thursday for the annual talks. The process was launched five years ago to help the world's two largest economies manage an increasingly complex relationship.
Sophie Richardson, China director of Human Rights Watch, said there was a lesson to be learned from the last round of talks in May 2012, which coincided with blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng seeking refuge in the US Embassy in Beijing. Officials said after the talks and Chen’s departure for the US that the heightened pressure had not harmed discussion.
“Being visibly tough on human rights issues is wholly compatible with making progress on other bilateral concerns,” Richardson said in a written statement.
“Virtually all of the US goals – diplomatic, economic, strategic – depend on securing the rule of law, the free flow of information, and the ability of people to peacefully speak their minds in China.”
Richardson said the Chinese government had committed or failed to prevent serious human rights abuses in the three months since Xi Jinping assumed China’s presidency.
She said the Chinese government had arrested and detained at least 15 anticorruption activists, despite Xi’s public commitments to cracking down on corruption, failed to take visible steps towards addressing the Tibet and Xinjiang issues and continued to persecute government critics and their families.
"Human Rights Watch has long encouraged the US and other governments to take a broader approach to human rights in China, particularly as the number of government agencies and officials interacting with Chinese counterparts has grown exponentially over the past decade," Richardson said.
"Greater human rights protections in China are in the US interest, and raising these concerns outside the normal channels, through diverse and coordinated actors, is more likely to produce results.
"US officials have described their strategy as a 'whole of government' approach, yet there is little evidence of officials, other than those from the State Department or the White House, raising such concerns."
However, human rights was not among the main issues mentioned for discussion between the two countries when Kerry and US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew host Chinese co-chairs, State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Vice Wang. All four officials are new in their positions and leading their first S&ED talks, which include the heads of 14 US government agencies and 16 Chinese state bodies.
The meetings come a month after an informal summit between President Barack Obama and Xi in California and will enable both countries to turn agreements at the summit into practical policies.
The main issues on the agenda include cyber security, North Korea, bilateral military relations, economic issues, climate change and currency.