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US: China’s human rights situation is getting worse

The top US human rights official said she was particularly worried by the way the Chinese authorities harass the relatives of dissidents.

China’s human rights record is getting worse and the Chinese government was not forthcoming in recent talks about the issue, the top US human rights official said here on Friday.

“We have continued to see a deterioration in the overall human rights situation,” Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, told reporters. “China’s policies and practices have fallen significantly short of international standards.”

Ms. Zeya was commenting on two days of talks that she had held earlier this week in the southwestern city of Kunming, the 18th  round of an annual human rights dialogue between the US and China that critics have often derided as worthless.

When she asked about the health and whereabouts of a number of well-known dissidents in detention, Zeya said, Chinese answers “fell short of our expectation.”

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Critics have long argued that the human rights dialogue is of little value. “It has not had any discernible impact in recent years,” says Maya Wang, a researcher in Hong Kong for Human Rights Watch. “These talks are more of a diplomatic exercise than a serious tool to press China on the issues.”

Zeya, however, defended the effort as “a vital part of US diplomacy,” adding that “the fact that it is difficult is not a reason to abandon engagement.”

Even before Zeya and her colleagues had left for the airport on Friday, however, Beijing police arrested Xiao Shu, a veteran journalist and social activist who had been calling for the release of another prominent social justice campaigner, Xu Zhiyong, who was detained two weeks ago and has not been heard from since.

 Mr. Xu, founder of the “New Citizens Movement,” is the best known of more than a dozen activists who have been arrested in recent weeks in connection with a public campaign urging government officials to disclose their assets, in a bid to curb corruption.

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The official campaign against public interest lawyers, journalists, and other intellectuals advocating greater respect for the rule of law took an ugly turn Thursday, when the state-run news agency, Xinhua, published a diatribe against them. 

Branding such government critics as “slaves of the West” and “traitorous online activists,” the widely republished article accused them of hoping to bring “humiliating disaster on China.”

It seemed an eloquent riposte to Zeya, who said she had stressed “the importance of allowing citizens to express their concerns about the direction” China is taking.

Zeya said she was particularly worried by the way the Chinese authorities harass the relatives of dissidents. For example, Liu Xia, the wife of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Prize winner currently serving a 12-year jail sentence, is not allowed out of her house, although she has never been charged with any crime. 

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Chen Kegui, the nephew of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who fled to the United States last year, is in jail, and members of Mr. Chen’s family have complained that thugs in their village have torn up plants from their farmland, punctured the tires on their cars, and dumped dead poultry in their yards.