Hillary Clinton has caught the ire of some Chinese political commentators after criticizing the country’s president for presiding over a United Nations conference on women’s rights.
Linking to a New York Times article on a recent government crackdown on women’s rights activists in China in a tweet, the Democratic presidential nominee called it “shameless” for Chinese President Xi Jinping to co-chair a UN conference on women’s rights on Sunday.
In March, Chinese authorities detained five young women in March for organizing what they called "performance art" ahead of International Women’s Day. The women had planned to protest against sexual harassment on public transportation and were ultimately detained for 37 days. A female lawyer who defended one of the activists, Wang Yu, has since been detained, and the five activists were among a group of women’s rights advocated who called on the UN for support and questioned the decision to let President Xi speak at Sunday’s conference.
Mrs. Clinton’s remarks provoked a quick reaction from the Chinese government and media. Li Junhua, an official in China’s foreign ministry, said at a press briefing that the criticism was "groundless," and that "the people in the best position to judge the state of women’s issues in China are Chinese people, particularly Chinese women."
Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, was asked about Clinton’s tweet on Monday.
"Someone in another country is biased on the relevant issue," he responded. "We hope that they will respect China’s judicial sovereignty."
The Global Times, a Communist Party-run paper that often publishes nationalist editorials, wrote in a Monday editorial that Clinton’s remarks were reminiscent of another high-profile presidential candidate: Republican front runner Donald Trump.
The editorial said that Clinton’s statements were "vulgar, extremely lacking in manners" and worthy of "demagogue Donald Trump."
The English-language version of the editorial was titled: "Is Hillary copying Trump to chase votes?"
"It seems that Hillary, eager to keep a competitive edge in the game, has also resorted to these ignominious shenanigans," the editorial read. "Despite her political acumen ... she is using the language of Trump to cast herself in the role of rabble rouser."
Clinton isn’t the first senior US official to criticize China’s record on women’s rights. The US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, highlighted 20 cases of women unjustly detained around the world, including Chinese journalist Gao Yu, who began a seven-year jail sentence in April for providing state secrets to foreigners.
"We have been saying to the governments holding these prisoners, and others like them: if you want to empower women, don’t imprison them on the basis of their views or beliefs," said Ms. Power in a statement ahead of the conference.
President Obama added in his own statement before the conference: "In too many places – from China to Egypt, from Russia to Venezuela – women have been swept up in repressive crackdowns on civil society, and deprived of their universal rights and fundamental freedoms."
The conference could have been a celebratory moment for China, with it marking the 20th anniversary of the 1995 UN conference on gender equality in Beijing. Clinton, then the US first lady, was a keynote speaker at the conference.
"Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights," she said in her speech.
Xi echoed those words during the conference on Sunday, saying: "Women’s rights and interests are basic human rights. They must be protected by laws and regulations."
Material from Reuters was used in this report.