Briefing on the 17th U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks, Toria. Before I begin, I want to say how much we welcome the appointment of – by the European Union of a new position, a Special Representative for Human Rights, and we welcome the first appointee, Stavros Lambrinidis. We have a long record of working with the European Union on issues of human rights, and the creation of this position strengthens their commitment and we look forward to working with him.
I want to make a short statement and then I’m glad to answer questions. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we hosted our Annual Human Rights Dialogue with the Chinese Government. I was pleased to lead the U.S. delegation to these meetings for the third time. Our delegation included representatives from the Department of Justice, USAID, the Department of Labor, U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of the Vice President, National Security Staff, and the Department of State. My counterpart, Chen Xu, is the Director General for International Organizations in the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and he led a Chinese delegation which also included representatives from a range of government ministries.
These meetings take place in the broader context of U.S.-China relations. As President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear many times, we welcome the rise of a strong, stable, and prosperous China, and we’re committed to building a cooperative partnership with China. We recognize China’s extraordinary record of economic development over the last three decades. During this period, hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens have been lifted out of poverty, and this is a remarkable achievement.
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. This means they seek economic opportunity and jobs; at the same time, they seek a lawful way to voice legitimate grievances and have a meaningful role in the political development of their own society.
In our Human Rights Dialogue, we focus particular attention on the growing discourse on human rights in China today. We discuss restrictions on free expression and internet freedom, on religious and ethnic minorities, and on internationally recognized labor rights that Chinese citizens are raising with their own government. We also discuss legal reform issues in China.
This dialogue is about applying universal human rights standards, and indeed regular news from China makes clear that the subjects of our discussion are matters of great concern to millions, many millions of ordinary Chinese citizens whose voices are increasingly being heard around the world.
Let me say what this dialogue is and is not. It is a chance for us to engage on human rights issues and to do so in an in-depth manner focusing both on specific issues and specific cases. It’s not a negotiation. Rather, it’s a forum where we meet to engage frankly and candidly. And most importantly, it’s the only forum among many where we – it’s only one forum among many where we raise these issues. These issues are and will continue to be raised by numerous senior U.S. Government officials in a variety of settings. For example, Secretary Clinton addresses human rights as part of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue each year.
The overall human rights situation in China continues to deteriorate. Over the last two days, we’ve focused on a number of cases where lawyers, bloggers, NGO activists, journalists, religious leaders, and others are asserting universal rights and calling for peaceful reform in China. A number of these individuals have been arrested and detained as part of a larger pattern of arrest and extralegal detention of those who challenge official actions and policies in China. Among the cases we raised were lawyers like Gao Zhisheng and Ni Yulan, who have been imprisoned because of their legal advocacy on behalf of clients who espouse controversial positions and who are critical of official actions. We urge the Chinese Government to release such lawyers as well as imprisoned democracy activists like Liu Xiaobo, Chen Wei and Chen Xi, who have actively pursued political openness and the promotion of fundamental freedoms for Chinese citizens.
We also expressed concern about the denial of access to legal counsel, to criminal defendants such as Chen Kegui, whose lawyers Ding Xikui and Si Weijiang have not been able to meet with him. We continue to state our position that China’s policies in ethnic minority areas are counterproductive and aggravate tensions, and that preceptions. of human rights activists trying to give these communities a voice violates their human rights. We’ve raised and will continue to raise our deep concern about more than 40 self-immolations in Tibetan parts of China.
We believe that societies that respect human rights and address aspirations of their own people are more prosperous, successful, and stable. In China as elsewhere, we strongly believe that change occurs from within a society. 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.
Let me end with that thought. I’m pleased to take your questions.
QUESTION: You mentioned, I think, Chen Guangcheng’s nephew and that he’s been denied legal counsel. How did the Chinese delegation respond to that? And more generally, how would you characterize their responses to the individual cases that you’ve raised, and did you get any assurance that they would take any taking action?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We, in a range of – in discussing a range of issues, the general approach we take to these discussions is it’s important to talk about the broad subject and then to use specific cases to illustrate and to get into a deeper discussion. We did that in the case of Chen’s nephew and the denial of access. A number of his lawyers who the family have reached out to have tried to meet with him, tried to represent him actively, and been denied access. We raise those concerns openly. We will continue to raise those concerns. At this stage, I’m not going to characterize every response we got from the Chinese Government, but I can assure you that’s an area of great concern to us.
QUESTION: But in general, I mean, did you get any assurance that they would – they were mindful of your concerns?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: They’re certainly mindful of our concerns and they’re mindful of our concerns and they’re mindful of the fact that these are issues we will continue to raise. These are issues that address fundamental human rights protections. Every individual charged criminally, especially with a felony, is entitled to a lawyer of his or her choosing, and that lawyer needs to have access to represent them.
So that’s a broad concern we have. We raised it in the particular case of the nephew, and we’ll continue to do so.
MS. NULAND: Andy.
QUESTION: As a step back, this is maybe the third of these that you yourself have been in this seat*. I’m just wondering if you could tell us, from your perspective, what this dialogue has accomplished in concrete terms. I mean, every year you come up, you say that they take on our complaints or our things onboard. but I’ve never seen – but you, yourself, are saying the situation is deteriorating. For those who are interested in human rights in China, why is this dialogue really worth the time that it takes to do it?
And secondly, can you tell us if the Chinese raised any issues that they might have with the U.S. human rights record? And if so, what were they and what was the response?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We take our lead from those within China who are advocating for human rights and who are on the receiving end of improper actions. What people in China tell us – lawyers, activists, people whose family members are detained – is that it’s critically important for us to raise these issues, raise specific cases, to do so privately, to do so publicly, to do so on an ongoing basis, and not forget about them. This is a piece of that effort. It’s not the only effort. We work on these issues 365 days a year. I’m not the only one raising these concerns.
But this is an opportunity for us to go into these cases and these issues in greater depth and to appear, as I am here today, to make clear what our concerns are. We will continue to raise these issues throughout the year, and I think over time we’re responding to a very heartfelt desire by people living in China that these issues – that their cases, their issues, not be forgotten.
We’re amplifying their voices, in effect. And as I said in my opening statement, there’s greater attention to these issues by Chinese people on the web, in the blogs. These are issues that are now commanding greater attention.
The – I’m sorry. The second --
QUESTION: Any Chinese concerns about U.S. human rights?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah. As always, there’s back and forth, both about issues in China and the United States. There were some questions and discussions raised about issues, for example, of discrimination, prison conditions, and the like, which we discussed openly. And I think the point that we made, which I feel very confident and proud to make, is that we have human rights issues in the United States, but we also have a very strong system to respond to them. 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.
And so we’re open to that discussion. We also had some visits yesterday. We took them to Politico. We took them to the American – Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee to get a better sense of how our free press works and how minority communities are represented by advocacy groups. And I think that also is part of the dialogue that’s important.
MS. NULAND: Jill, do you have something?.
QUESTION: Yes, thanks. Two questions: Was the case of Li Wangyang raised – the gentleman who dies in Hunan province last month and whose death has been described by Chinese authorities as a suicide? But I think there’s a certain amount of disbelief as to whether it really was a suicide.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I’m not going to – I don’t remember, honestly. I can come back to you on that particular case. We raised several dozen cases, honestly, and I’m not going to get into every one of them. I mentioned a few in my opening statement, but I think in general, we – in addition to the cases we specifically described and discussed, we have a list of broader number of cases of people in detention whose cases we continue to follow and whose – and information we continue to seek from the government.
QUESTION: And secondly, you mentioned –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I can get back to you on that particular case.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. That would be helpful. And secondly, you mentioned that you’d raised issues about minority areas. Specifically, was there any discussions about the Uighur and what’s happening in Xinjiang province?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yeah. On Monday afternoon, we had a quite lengthy discussion, both of the issues relating to the Uighurs in Xinjiang as well as the Tibetan population in the various places where they reside. And we discussed a range of concerns about both the self-immolations, which I mentioned with the Tibetans, but broader issues that apply both to the Uighur and Tibetan community relating to discrimination in terms of language rights, ability to practice their religion freely, discrimination employment – a range of issues involving their cultural rights, their religious freedom, et cetera.
QUESTION: And sorry. Just – could I – what was their response to raising these concerns?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Again, I’m not going to characterize every aspect. We had a quite long discussion. Our position is that these are – these minority communities and representatives of religious minorities are entitled to live freely, to express their religious views, to practice their religion, to express their cultural differences and customs. And this is an area where clearly the Chinese Government has a different view.
MS. NULAND: Over here.
QUESTION: Comparing to the past U.S.-Sino, like, human rights dialogue, do you see any progress of Chinese doing human rights and – because you are saying that the human rights is kind of deteriorating. Why you say that?
MS. NULAND: I think that question was already asked and answered here, but I don’t know if you want to –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: I would say on the positive side, I think it is becoming a more – it’s – the discussion is now firmly embedded and one where we are raising these issues in a variety of ways and a variety of contexts. We are managing and as we should, to make human rights a priority along with a range of other priorities in the relationship. And I feel very confident that the more we raise these issues in different contexts, we’re going to have an effect over time.
It is a frustrating time in China because lawyers, bloggers, journalists are having a difficult time, and we raise those issues very directly. Part of it is that there is a growing frustration, I think, among many Chinese people that they don’t have the ability to express their differences in a peaceful way. And our message to the Chinese Government is you’ve made progress on the economic front; this is the moment to open up the space to allow people to dissent, to question government actions, and to do so without fear of retribution.
QUESTION: I’m wondering if the one-child policy was raised. Just yesterday, Secretary Clinton was at the Holocaust Museum and brought this issue up.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Yes, we did. We raised in particular the case of Feng Jianmei, who was beaten, detained, and then forced to have an abortion at seven months. And as a matter of U.S. policy, any coercive measures, including forced abortion, we deplore. There are a number of other cases, including some that have been reported recently. We did raise it and raised our concern about it.
QUESTION: And what was their response?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Again, this is – I’m not going to get into every back-and-forth here, but this is clearly an issue we’ll continue to raise with them.
QUESTION: The U.S. Congress always have a strong voice against the Chinese human rights conditions. If there anyone from the Congress participate in these talks? If not, have you passed their message to the Chinese delegation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We’ve been eager, in fact, to have a broader discussion beyond the two governments, the two executive branches of government, that could include Congress. It could also include nongovernmental organizations. To date, we haven’t been able to persuade the Chinese Government to do that. So at this stage, it’s a discussion among the executive branch from their side and ours, but we will continue to encourage that broader discussion to take place. And we will certainly inform members of Congress of the discussion that we had.
MS. NULAND: Speaking of which, I’m told Assistant Secretary Posner has to be on the Hill shortly, so we’ll take two more --
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. The U.S. State Department included organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Can you just speak up a little bit?
QUESTION: Sorry. The U.S. State Department included organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners in its Human Rights Report this year. Was that raised in the dialogue, and what was that response? What was their response?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: We did also raise – in the context of religious freedom and other kinds of discrimination, we did raise the issue of some of the Falun Gong representatives. And again, I’m not going to go into every back-and-forth, but it’s part of our discussion.
QUESTION: How – just a follow-up?
MS. NULAND: Follow-up on that one?
MS. NULAND: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Because I just wonder if you specifically talk about the organ harvesting, because we know, earlier this year, Wang Lijun, police chief, he went to the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, and so there’s evidence he’s deeply involved in the crimes like organ harvesting. So I’m wondering if he provided any useful material to the U.S. Government on that aspect, and so --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: There’s no – we have plenty of our own information from our own Embassy and our own reporting, and we’ve relied on that for the discussions.
MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY POSNER: Thanks, everybody.