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Briefing by Michael H. Posner on the U.S. – China Human Rights Dialogue
May 17, 2010


May 14, 2010

Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC

Briefing on the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue

Click here for video transmission of briefing

MR. CROWLEY: Happy Friday afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. This week, we had the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue here at the – in Washington. And here to give you a summary of the – our discussions and perhaps describe a little bit about the path forward, we have Assistant Secretary Mike Posner.

Before Mike comes up, obviously, you heard from the Secretary a while ago in her very first meeting with the new Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom William Hague. Be happy to chat afterwards on any other details of that meeting if you feel you need it.

Anyway, let’s start off with Mike. Thanks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks, P.J. Good afternoon. Let me just give you a few background details about the dialogue. We met yesterday and today. I was joined by Deputy Secretary Steinberg, by Jeff Bader from the National Security Council, Under Secretaries Otero, Hormats, Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, other colleagues here at the State Department and AID, but other agencies too participated – Department of Justice, Homeland Security, Labor, Commerce, IRS, U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, and members of the judiciary.

The Chinese delegation was led by Director General Chen Xu, who is the director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Department of International Organizations. They had nine agency representatives from their ministries of Justice, Public Security, State Administration, Religious Affairs, Supreme Court.

Yesterday, we were here. We had a variety of discussion on a variety of topics, including religious freedom, labor rights, freedom of expression, rule of law, racial discrimination, and multilateral cooperation. We also discussed a number of individual cases.

Today we visited several sites in Washington. We met this morning with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who hosted us at the Supreme Court to discuss rule of law and the role of lawyers in society. We met with Cardinal McCarrisk at Catholic Charities Anchor Mental Health Center to talk about the relationship between the religious community and government in human services, social services, humanitarian issues. We also met with officials of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to discuss labor rights, collective bargaining. And we met at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where Tom Carothers hosted a delegation there to talk about the nexus between human rights, rule of law, and food safety.

The discussions we had were candid and constructive, including a range of areas where we disagree. We plan to continue the discussions in a variety of fora, including a legal expert’s dialogue, and we agreed to set the dates and agenda to restart those discussions soon. We also agreed to a next round of this dialogue to be held in China in 2011, and we are discussing further expert discussions both on religious freedom issues and on labor. I look forward to working with our Chinese counterparts to continue these discussions.

Open up, yes.

QUESTION: Foster Klug. I work for the Associated Press. I was hoping you could talk specifically about what cases you raised, if you could give us any idea of China’s response, whether they agreed to any concessions or to look into your areas of concern, and then also to talk a little bit about what you expect China to do. Ambassador Huntsman this morning mentioned work projects over the next year which he described as a way to show that this just isn’t talk; it’s actual progress. Can you talk about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure. Again, I think – I sort of view this discussion as operating on two tracks. On the one hand, we are advancing discussions, for example, on rule of law issues where there is, I think, a real possibility of dialogue, shared experience, and mutual interest in having both these expert dialogues and other areas where we work together. And as I say, we’re going to try to do that in the religious area, we’re going to try to do it in the labor area and perhaps others.

On a parallel track, Ambassador Huntsman today said, and I think it’s right, the sign of a mature relationship between our two countries is that we’re also able to discuss our differences in a candid but respectful way, in an honest way and a detailed way. We talked about a whole range of cases. I’m not going to go into the details of them. But we are – we have, we will continue to raise our concerns about specific cases. And the fact that we have this dialogue provides one opportunity, it’s not the only one to do it. But I think the more we can regularize these discussions and make them more part of the routine dialogue between our two countries generally, the more likely we’re going to get success.

QUESTION: Why can’t you talk about the specific cases that you raised? The Spokesman often mentions things that he – that the State Department is concerned about in China. Why not lay out what you mentioned?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: It is, I think, for two reasons: One, I don’t – we talked about a large number of cases, and those cases are in very different places. In some cases, I think we’re going to be more effective if we continue the discussion privately. There’s other cases. I can mention Liu Xiaobo, whose case I’ve mentioned before. We’re going to – we raised it. We’re going to continue to raise it. In that case, I think our judgment is that there is – it’s important for us to be publicly reiterating our concern. Gao Zhisheng is another, the lawyer, whose case we’ve expressed concern about, we’ll continue to do.

So I cite those as examples. I don’t want to go into every case. But we genuinely are committed and spent time discussing very specific cases and very specific concerns in the areas where our disagreements are most profound.


QUESTION: Sir, thank you. There were some demonstrations here at the State Department from the Falun, the religious situation in China. Also, concerning the Tibetans, monks also, asking for freedom – actually, it’s religious freedom. Have you also spoken with them as far as freedom of the press?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We did indeed. We had a discussion yesterday afternoon on free expression. We talked about that issue in its broadest terms, including restrictions on the press, on journalists, on bloggers, on internet. That’s the broad subject that we were discussing, and there clearly are real differences there. But we had a good and a detailed discussion of all those things.

QUESTION: May I just follow up quickly one more?


QUESTION: Thank you. There is concern among many Chinese who live here and they have families back home and many of them are blacklisted or they cannot go and travel to China, and their families live underground. Does these issues come ever that – because many Chinese who live here like Tibetans and others, they like to visit back home.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We discussed – again, in the context – I don’t want to get into every detail of what we discussed, but we certainly raised our concerns both about restrictions on religious freedom in those places and broader human rights concerns, and we’ll continue to do that.


QUESTION: Was the response of Chinese on your concerns on human rights violation in Tibet any different from the previous versions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: This is the first time that I’ve been – I’ve had this dialogue and so I can’t – the last one was in 2008. The last one before that was in 2002. And I think one of the things I’m very eager to do is make this, as I said, a more regular exchange, because I think it’ll make our ability – it’ll enhance our ability to have these discussions in a way that’s going to get a greater result.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the Chinese response on Tibet with the human rights violations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Look, I’m – what I am pleased about is that we had a good two days of discussions, respectful in tone, and at the same time, direct in content. And so there are issues, a range of issues, where we can work together, but a number of issues, including some that you’re mentioning here, where we have differences. Those differences were very clear. They were very plainly expressed. There are a number of places where I can assure you, in two days, we’re not going to change major policies or major points of view. But we laid a foundation to continue those discussions and we will continue them.


QUESTION: Can you elaborate on what – when you talk about internet freedom, especially Google issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We spoke in broad terms about the issue of internet freedom. We didn’t speak about particular companies or details of that nature.

The Secretary’s speech in January articulated a U.S. Government policy which promotes an unfettered, open internet across the globe. We view that as a human rights issue. It’s a reaffirmation of our commitment to free expression, and our desire in China and everywhere is for there to be – people have the ability to use the internet both to gather information and to disseminate information, and clearly, those are issues where we have a range of concerns.


QUESTION: Apparently, there’s been some criticism that perhaps that’s coming out of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, that this could be sort of a side issue. The Chinese could listen to the concerns, say, “Thank you very much,” and then move on, and it wouldn’t really go anywhere.

Do you feel confident that, actually – that these discussions you’ve had in the past two days have actually achieved something that – either in the short term or the long term – can be a deliverable?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I view this as laying a foundation for me and Director General Chen to continue to have conversations, and for these to become a more regular pattern so that we can exchange ideas and concerns, and look for ways to cooperate, all of those things.

I also think it’s critically important that the human rights issues be part – and I think they are a part – of a broader U.S. engagement in policy in China. It’s significant to me that we had representatives from the Commerce Department and from the White House and from the IRS and the trade rep and the Labor Department and the Justice Department.

It’s also important to me that I’ll be going to Beijing next week to be part of the U.S. delegation to the dialogue there. And I’ll continue to discuss these issues. We talk about a whole-of-government approach. We need to take a whole-of-government approach to human rights, generally. And in this case, in particular.

So, I’m confident that we are moving in that direction. Did we – today and yesterday did we resolve that issue? No, we’ve got a lot of work to do. But I know that I have the commitment of the Secretary and the President to make human rights part of our ongoing dialogue with the Chinese.


QUESTION: Was there any areas in which China sort of turned the tables and raised its own complaints or concerns about U.S. practices around the globe or at home? Can you give some examples there –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure. You know, I think – again, this goes back to Ambassador Huntsman’s comment. Part of a mature relationship is that you have an open discussion where you not only raise the other guy’s problems, but you raise your own, and you have a discussion about it. We did plenty of that. We had experts from the U.S. side, for example, yesterday, talking about treatment of Muslim Americans in an immigration context. We had a discussion of racial discrimination. We had a back-and-forth about how each of our societies are dealing with those sorts of questions.

So, throughout the day yesterday and again today, we had a discussion about the relationship of food safety, law, human rights today. Food safety is an issue, as our experts told us this afternoon, a big issue in the United States. And it’s an issue in China. And in some cases, we’re talking about the same thing.

We had a discussion yesterday about labor inspections. Well, it turns out that there aren’t enough labor inspectors in factories, either in China or the United States. Maybe that’s something we can work on together.

So, I think the tone of the discussions was very much not “We’ve got all the answers; we’re telling the Chinese how to behave.” It was framed in an international context, international standards. We’re both obligated. And let’s talk about things that we’re both dealing with, and try to figure out – can we help each other? And where we have differences, how do we mitigate those differences?


QUESTION: It’s a follow-up about the (inaudible) case. Did you (inaudible) about immediate release to Chinese (inaudible)?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not going to get into the details. We’ve expressed in the past our concern about the nature of the detention, and we certainly continue to be concerned about the fact that he’s in prison.


QUESTION: Did the recently passed Arizona immigration law come up? And, if so, did they bring it up or did you bring it up?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We brought it up early and often. It was mentioned in the first session, and as a troubling trend in our society and an indication that we have to deal with issues of discrimination or potential discrimination, and that these are issues very much being debated in our own society.

QUESTION: Did they bring it – did they discuss anything about their concerns about Chinese visiting in Arizona, any concerns raised –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: No, that was not raised.



QUESTION: Could you be more specific on your talks concerning Tibet and Xinjiang, and was the Dalai Lama raised?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We raised – there were a range of issues raised about – in the context of our discussions of religious freedom, ability to practice freely and without constraint. And certainly we raised some specific cases from both of those regions.


QUESTION: Did you also raise Falun issue (inaudible), talking about religious freedom?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yes. Again, one of a number of the cases – some of the lawyer cases involved lawyers who’ve been either disbarred or had their licenses not renewed. Gao Zhisheng is one who’s in prison or detained because, in part – these are people who have represented Falun Gong. So in the context of due process, rights of criminal defendants, we raised those issues.


QUESTION: I am Kristin Jones from the South China Morning Post. Did you learn anything specifically about Gao Zhisheng’s whereabouts, or the status of his case?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of any of those discussions.

QUESTION: Did you – are there any specific benchmarks or expectations that you set that you will expect to be met in the coming months as your talks go forward?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I think the – as far as I’m concerned, the first benchmark is that we get the legal dialogue underway, we do it in the next few months. We are eager to work also on these parallel discussions on labor issues and on religious issues. I think it’s important on a parallel track, again, that we continue to track some of these both individual cases but also some of the other more systemic concerns that we raised, and we’ll do so.

Again, this – somebody asked before about the criticism that, well, we meet every couple of years and that’s the place we discuss it. Our intention, my intention is to make this a more regular – a more normal kind of a conversation. And my going out there next week is an effort to meet with some officials and others to get a better picture of what’s going on, and I want us to be able on a – as we do in every country in the world, to be able to raise our concerns but also look for areas of cooperation.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Have you developed any kind of a list of prisoners of conscience for them to release before next round of talk?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We – there – as I say, there was a – we had a range of discussions of prisoners. That’s – I’m not going to go any farther than that.


QUESTION: Was there any talk about China’s expatriation of North Korean refugees to North Korea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Eric Schwartz joined us at lunch. He and I both raised a number of issues involving North Korea and Cambodia, Burma. And I think again, this is an area, maybe another area where a more regular discussion about refugee protection issues is – could be a very useful thing. And we’re certainly following those cases and will continue to raise them.


QUESTION: Did you get a decision whether this talk will be regularized as you expected?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah. I think I’m encouraged by that. Again, Director General Chen invited me back to Beijing to be part of a dialogue next year, which I gladly accepted. I think that’s the right direction. I’d like to make it a – I think it ought to be at least on an annual basis, but we’re going to take it one step at a time. And so rather than having this kind of lurching between is it every other year, is it every six years, we’re now committed to doing it, both of us, in 2011. I think that’s a good thing.

But it shouldn’t just be two days of talks every year. And that’s why I think these – the more we kind of filter these out into different expert agendas or areas where we’re having ongoing discussions about law reform, about labor, about whatever, I think we’re more likely to make real progress over time.

QUESTION: What month is that going to be?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We didn’t set a time. Sometime next year.


QUESTION: Excuse me, sir. Is there any particular case – did you have any consensus or there is (inaudible) over this meeting? Or the conversation today is just kind of express of your – what you are thinking about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, if you mean a specific case of somebody —

QUESTION: Any progress on a specific case?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: You’re talking about a prisoner case?

QUESTION: Yeah, including prisoners or any particular case like Tibet or (inaudible) or anything? The (inaudible) of (inaudible).

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: My – again, my goal in coming into this meeting was to set up a process by which we will have more regular communication, we will find areas where we can agree to meet on a regular basis with experts to talk about a more – a deeper, substantive set of issues, and at the same time, to regularize these discussions through the dialogue where specific cases are raised, but to raise specific cases throughout the year. We will continue to do that. I didn’t expect and there certainly – I think it would have been – I would have been surprised if we had a resolution of something in a two-day talk.


QUESTION: I know it was your first round and there’s been a long gap —


QUESTION: — since previous rounds, but I assume you were briefed on how the previous ones go. What surprised you the most about the Chinese posture, stance, attitude? Did anything surprise you?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I was – I would say I was encouraged by the degree to which we had a back-and-forth dialogue. I come out of the NGO world and I have spent a lot of time in frustrating meetings where it feels that everything is scripted and I’m always like, let’s get to the real issues. We were actually – we were talking about the real things. We were not – people weren’t giving long recitations without a back and forth. We really had a discussion about both issues where we can agree and where we can move forward in a cooperative way, but we also had a real dialogue, a constructive dialogue – respectful in tone, but very direct about things where we don’t agree. That’s encouraging to me.

And also, a thing – it was interesting to me. This morning when we went to see Sandra Day O’Connor at the Supreme Court, she was – she spoke very movingly about the important role that lawyers play in this society in the criminal justice system, the importance we attach to the independence of the judiciary, the independence of lawyers, the importance of pro bono representation. Sitting in that august setting, you really get a sense – I was really proud to be there. And I think that our Chinese guests undoubtedly got a sense from that that this is pretty deeply imbued in our society.

So things like that were both – it was interesting and encouraging to me that we were able to have discussions like that that I think took it to another level.

QUESTION: Just one clarification.


QUESTION: Sandra Day O’Connor, the former justice?




Somebody who hasn’t asked a question.

QUESTION: Now that the two countries come back to the Human Rights Dialogue, will the United States propose a resolution in the United Nations Human Right Council in the future?


QUESTION: About China’s human rights record.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Well, I don’t know that there’s any plan to do that. We did have a good discussion about the Universal Periodic Review, which the Chinese Government undertook last year, which we’re undertaking this year. We talked about some areas where – again, areas where we have differences, but also areas where we have some similarities or some shared interests. Traditionally, the Human Rights Council has been, for us, an uphill battle on these issues. But we’ll continue to press and I think it’s good, again, that we’re able in this context to talk with them both about places where we can cooperate, as well as places where we’re going to have different points of view.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll take one or two more, and then we’ll call it a day.


QUESTION: Many human rights groups criticize that the dialogue is not transparent or open enough. So do you expect something to be changing in the future, more in this direction, or –

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Again, I come out of the human rights world, and I used to be one of those people saying that. So I don’t know what to say here.

The truth is we’re – there is a value in having a conversation, direct conversation, between the two governments. There are a range of things that we said and discussed that need to be said, and we did say in, again, a respectful but direct way. I think that serves a purpose.

I also believe, and to the extent that we can encourage this, that there is a real value in opening up the dialogue to involve civil society and academics and rights groups and environmentalists and whoever else – experts, legal experts. So if we can succeed in establishing, again, this more mature relationship, I think there is room for a more open process on some of the issues that we were discussing, and to really have a more robust discussion with people who aren’t just government representatives, and a more open discussion.

Yeah, in the – yes.

QUESTION: Did you tell China that United States expect – (inaudible) the meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: No, we didn’t tell China anything. We really – this was a discussion among two important countries. Again, the idea here is how do we find ways to work together on areas where we have the potential to mutually benefit, and how do we find a way to address our differences and mitigate those differences.

Again, the tone of this is real important. And it was important to me, as much as a lot of the things we were saying express very serious concerns about very real issues. The tone of the discussion was very much we’re two powerful, great countries, we have a range of issues that we are engaged with – on, human rights is part of that discussion, and it’s going to remain so. And we’re going to continue to press on the things that we hold dear.

MR. CROWLEY: We’ll make this the last one.

QUESTION: Hi, Kathy Chen, Wall Street Journal. I had two quick questions. One is: When you’re in Beijing next week, are you planning to meet with – besides meeting with officials, are you planning to meet with any activists, dissident types, to hear the other side of the story?

And, secondly – sorry if I missed this, I came in a little late – could you talk a little more specifically about some of the legal cooperation you’re looking to push forward on, if there are any specifics on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Sure. On the first question, whenever I travel – and I do a lot – I make it my business to meet a range of people. I’m not going to say more than that.

On the legal dialogue, I think there are a range of issues in China now – and we discussed them in some detail – where law reform is being discussed, new laws are being proposed. There are a range of issues where implementation of existing laws is being discussed, and – basic contract law, for example, from 2008 – and there are a range of challenges to how those laws get implemented. So I think there’s an interest on their part and ours, both to talk about laws that are being proposed or being debated, as well as the implementation.

And a third area where, inevitably, there needs to be and will be discussion is the role of lawyers, the role of the judiciary. So I think we can be – we will be looking for ways to kind of integrate those three aspects.

Thanks, everybody.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Have a nice weekend.