US presses China over human rights, economy

US presses China over human rights, economy

US presses China over human rights, economy

Pro-Tibetan protesters wave flags during a demonstration outside the White House as Obama (inset R) and Xi meet. AFP photos

China’s vice president and heir apparent leader has met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington and defended China’s widely criticized human rights record, while acknowledging there is room for improvement.

Vice President Xi Jinping said he had candid discussions on the issue at the White House, where he met President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Feb. 14. Xi defended country’s rights record over the past 30 years, but added: “Of course there’s always room for improvement on human rights.”
The U.S. reiterated its longstanding concerns over human rights, which Obama described as a “critical issue.” Obama said Washington would “continue to emphasize what we believe is the importance of realizing the aspirations and rights of all people.” Vice President Joe Biden also alluded to the deterioration in human rights in China, and U.S. concern over several prominent dissidents.

Underscoring the sensitivity of rights issues among China’s critics, a few hundred protesters marched outside the White House, waving Tibetan flags and calling for a free Tibet. They held signs saying: “Xi Jinping: Tibet will be free” and chanted: “Shame on Chinese government” and “Stop lying to the world.”
In response, the man who is expected to assume the Chinese presidency in 2013 said: “Given China’s huge population, considerable regional diversity and uneven development, we are still faced with many challenges in improving people’s livelihood and advancing human rights. The Chinese Government will always put peoples’ interests first and take seriously people’s aspirations and demands.”

On the issue of Syria, Obama chided Xi over China’s decision to join Russia in vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Call for fair play on trade

Both sides stressed the importance of stable relations between the two global powers and their ability to air differences without recrimination. Obama said he looked forward to future cooperation: “We welcome China’s peaceful rise. We believe that a strong and prosperous China can help bring stability and prosperity to its region and to the world,” he said. Xi said he looked forward to building a “cooperative partnership based on mutual respect.”

Obama also underlined that Beijing must play by the same trade rules as other major world powers. “With expanding power and prosperity also come increased responsibilities,” he said. “We want to work with China to make sure that everybody is working by the same rules of the road when it comes to the world economic system. That includes ensuring there is a balanced trade flow.”

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta alluded to strained military-to-military ties as Washington reasserts itself in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of China’s rise. Both Obama and Xi pledged to work to restore trust.

Compiled from AP, AFP and Reuters stories by Daily News staff.