BEIJING (Reuters) - China pushed back against U.S. criticism of its human rights situation on Friday following talks on the issue, saying that the Chinese people were “most qualified” to talk on the topic and defending the detention of artist Ai Weiwei.
The U.S. official leading the talks said on Thursday that he was “deeply concerned” about a crackdown on dissidents and rights lawyers in China, and that the friction could impede the two powers’ ties.
Yet China and the United States have many interests in common, from dealing with North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to maintaining the global economic recovery, and the spat over rights seems unlikely to spin out of control.
China’s Foreign Ministry, in a restrained statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency, said both sides agreed that “the talks were frank, open and constructive.
“The Chinese side said the Chinese people are most qualified to speak on China’s human rights situation, and the Chinese judicial organs would continue to handle cases in accordance with law,” Xinhua cited the statement as saying.
“The Chinese side said that only through abiding by a spirit of equality and mutual respect can the human rights dialogue achieve positive progress.”
China and the United State had an “in-depth exchange of views on issues regarding bilateral cooperation in U.N. human rights field, the rule of law, labor rights, freedom of expression”, Xinhua said.
China briefed the U.S. side on “the country’s measures and achievements in improving and safeguarding people’s livelihood, advancing the construction of democracy and legal system, and developing grass-roots democracy”.
The report made no mention of specific cases the United States said it had raised, including those of detained artist Ai and missing rights lawyers such as Teng Biao.
Ai was detained at Beijing airport on April 3 and is now being investigated on suspicion of economic crimes.
However, the state-run China Daily published a letter from the Chinese embassy in London saying Ai’s case had nothing to do with freedom of expression.
“The Ai Weiwei case, in essence, is not a human rights matter, nor is it about freedom of speech. No one is above the law. Just like in other countries, acts of violations of the law will be dealt with by the law,” the embassy wrote in the letter, printed in the English-language newspaper.
The Chinese authorities have given few details of what exactly Ai is being investigated for.
Earlier this month, a Hong Kong newspaper under Beijing control said police had evidence he avoided tax.
“China is not the former Soviet Union. China has no need for ‘lecturers’, who cling to the Cold War mentality and follow double standards in their preachings,” said the letter, written in response to an article in a British newspaper written by author Salman Rushdie calling on China to set Ai free.
China’s leaders have become increasingly unyielding in the face of Western pressure over human rights issues and say that those complaints amount to illegitimate meddling.
Beijing’s alarm about dissent grew after overseas Chinese websites in February spread calls for protests across China inspired by the “Jasmine Revolution” of anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world.
China has since jailed, detained or placed in secretive informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.
Editing by Ron Popeski