Rice Sees Positive Trends as Beijing Agrees to Resume Rights Dialogue

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - China is taking a more positive role in world affairs, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Beijing after the Chinese government agreed to resume human rights dialogue with the United States.

"China is opening up to the world in a lot of ways, and I do believe that there is more of an effort to reconcile China's size and influence in international politics, which is a relatively new thing, with China's foreign policy behavior," Rice told a press briefing.

Asked whether China was perhaps being more receptive to U.S. concerns because of the importance it ascribes to its hosting of the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer, Rice said she could not get into what was motivating the Chinese.

As the Olympics approach, the Chinese government has come under increasing criticism from rights activists over suppression of freedoms at home, and its support for oppressive regimes like Sudan and Burma.

After talks with the secretary of state, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing was ready to resume the bilateral human rights dialogue, "on a basis of mutual respect, equality and noninterference in each others' internal affairs." Rice said later no date had yet been set to resume the talks.

China suspended the dialogue after the U.S. in 2004 introduced a resolution at the annual session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) in Geneva, critical of China's human rights record.

Washington had introduced similar motions at ten previous annual UNCHR sessions, but chose not to do so in 2003, citing "limited but significant progress" in respecting rights. Beijing was furious when in 2004 the U.S. reverted to the earlier pattern and again put forward a resolution. It suspended its dialogue, saying the U.S. was interfering in its domestic affairs under the guise of promoting human rights.

(The annual U.S. resolutions all failed, as China each year gathered enough support from allies to prevent a vote. The UNCHR was replaced in 2006 by the Human Rights Council, but the U.S. is not a member.)

China is highly sensitive about human rights criticism.

Each year, immediately after the State Department releases its report on human rights in more than 190 countries around the world, China's State Council Information Office issues a retaliatory one of its own, focusing exclusively on the U.S.

In its reports, China typically accuses the U.S. of human rights violations at home and abroad, covering a range of issues from homelessness and crime to the Iraq war and weapons sales.

The State Department reports usually come out in late February or early March, and this year's one is expected shortly.

The 2004 suspension wasn't the first time China called a halt on human rights dialogue with the American government. After NATO bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade during the 1999 campaign to expel Serb forces from Kosovo, Beijing called off the talks, and only agreed to resume them in mid-2002.

See also:
Pressure on Beijing Builds Over Darfur (Feb. 13, 2008)
Critics Call for Olympic Boycott Over Burma (Oct. 2, 2007)
Rights Activists Highlight Concerns One Year Ahead of Beijing Olympics (Aug. 3, 2007)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow