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Web, religious freedom on agenda as US-China rights dialogue resumes

After two years without any talks, the US-China rights dialogue will begin once more in May. The two nations are expected to discuss religious freedom, Internet freedom, and the rule of law.

By Staff writer / April 23, 2010

National flags of US and China wave in front of an international hotel in Beijing February 4. The two nations are expected to discuss religious freedom, Internet freedom, and the rule of law, as human rights dialogue resumes in May.

Jason Lee/Reuters/File

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Beijing

The Obama administration will soon face the first test of its policy toward human rights in China, after American officials announced on Thursday that they would resume human rights talks with Beijing in Washington next month.

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The meeting will be the first round of the dialogue for two years. Human rights activists see it as a measure of the administration’s stated commitment to civil rights in China.

"This is their first opportunity to raise human rights in a concentrated fashion," says Joshua Rosenzweig, a researcher in Hong Kong with Dui Hua, a group noted for its work on behalf of Chinese political prisoners. "This is a chance to prove themselves."

US State department spokesman Philip Crowley said he expected the two governments to have "a candid discussion" of religious freedom, Internet freedom, and the rule of law.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered activists here and abroad on her first official visit to Beijing last year by saying that “pressing” the Chinese authorities on human rights violations "can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crises."

China's slow progress

Washington has been disappointed, however, by the level of Chinese cooperation so far on such issues as global warming, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the trade-related question of the value of the Chinese yuan.

Earlier this year, Ms. Clinton announced a US government plan to help Chinese users of the Internet to circumvent Beijing’s censorship.

Washington’s on-again, off-again human rights dialogue with Beijing, and similar dialogues that several other Western nations pursue, have faced considerable criticism recently due to the lack of results.

Two years ago, then-Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor David Kramer said after the last round of dialogue that he hoped to see progress within months on media and Internet freedom, religious freedom for minorities, and the early release of certain prisoners. There has been no visible reform in any of these areas.

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