By Anastasya Lloyd-Damnjanovic
IIP Staff Writer
July 25, 2012
“We recognize China’s extraordinary record of economic development over the last three decades,” Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner said, alluding to the gradual rise in living standards for hundreds of millions of Chinese over time. “At the same time, we see that political reforms in China have not kept pace with economic advances. Like people everywhere, Chinese people want to be treated with dignity.”
The dialogue, which took place in Washington, brought together American and Chinese delegations for two days of talks about human rights issues in both countries. The U.S. delegation was led by Posner and included representatives from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of the Vice President and national security staff. The Chinese delegation was led by Chen Xu, the director general for international organizations and conferences in the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The growing discourse on human rights in China was one of the central topics of the dialogue, Posner said. The delegations discussed legal reforms as well as restrictions on free expression and Internet freedom, the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities and the rights of Chinese laborers.
Delegates discussed human rights issues in general and specific terms. Noting patterns of arrest and extra-legal detention for dissidents, Posner said the dialogue drew on many recent cases in which lawyers, nongovernmental organization activists, journalists, bloggers and religious leaders calling for peaceful reform have faced detention.
While Posner acknowledged that the Chinese people are concerned about economic opportunity and jobs, he emphasized that they also want to have a “meaningful role in the political development of their own society” as well as lawful means of reporting legitimate grievances. He said such political change must occur from within a society rather than from outside it.
“In China, as elsewhere, we strongly believe that change occurs from within a society,” Posner said. “These discussions, then, are ultimately about Chinese citizens’ aspirations and how the Chinese themselves are navigating their own future. In every society, we believe it’s incumbent on government to give its own people an opportunity to voice their concerns and pursue their aspirations.”
The dialogue revolves around the application of universal human rights standards, Posner said, and it’s increasingly clear that millions of ordinary Chinese are becoming concerned about human rights violations in their country.
The dialogue also featured open discussion of discrimination and prison conditions in the United States, Posner said.
“We have human rights issues in the United States, but we also have a very strong system to respond to them,” he said. “We have an open press. We have lawyers who are ready to represent unpopular defendants, and they do so without fear of retaliation. We have a political process that is robust, to say the least.”
While in Washington, the Chinese delegation visited the political journalism organization Politico and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to better understand how the free press and minority advocacy groups operate in the United States.