Breakthrough in China human rights
Staff and wires
BEIJING, China -- China has agreed to allow the United Nations unconditional access to investigate claims of torture, religious persecution and arbitrary detention after a three-year break in talks on human rights.
Speaking in Beijing after two days of talks with Chinese officials, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner said the move was a sign Beijing was serious about improving human rights conditions.
The face-to-face talks in Beijing mark the resumption of a U.S.-China dialogue on human rights that was suspended after U.S. jets bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.
But U.S.-China ties have warmed up since Beijing offered assistance to the U.S.-led war against terrorism.
China says it will issue the U.N. invitations immediately, but no date has yet been set.
America's top human rights envoy said he was confident it would go ahead soon.
"You usually don't invite those people unless you're serious about addressing the issues they will raise," The Associated Press quoted Craner as saying.
"What is important about this renewed invitation is that it is unconditional."
Also being invited to visit China are leaders of a U.S.-funded commission on religious freedom, Craner said.
Earlier this year China said it was planning a visit by the U.N. torture investigator, but the then human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, said officials had not agreed to U.N. demands that he be allowed to visit any prison and talk to inmates in private.
Until recently China has taken a firm stand on criticism of its human rights record, rejecting it as interference in its internal affairs.
But in recent years the government has signaled a willingness to at least discuss change and listen to foreign advice on improving its law and order infrastructure.
Of particular concern to Americans are the thorny issues that won't go away, including religious freedom and workers' rights. They also criticize China's crackdown of the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group and its suppression of minority groups in Xinjiang and Tibet.
"Ever since Tiananmen, of course, the U.S. has used human rights both as a barometer and as a weapon against China," says Richard Baum, Professor at UCLA.
China, for one, says both sides have narrowed differences through human rights dialogue.
Need each other
But the talks this time are taking place when Washington needs Beijing's help as it confronts terrorism, Iraq and North Korea.
Analysts say Washington is pushing Beijing on human rights---but only gently---because at the moment America needs China as much as China needs the U.S.
"So they're going to downplay Taiwan, they're going to downplay human rights," says Baum.
Other U.S. interests compete with human rights. Washington is lobbying for the release of dissidents while strengthening political, military and business ties.
With outside pressure diminishing, rights lobbyists say that political, religious and ethnic non-conformists will be more vulnerable than ever.
Already they say that life for thousands of dissidents and peaceful opponents of the communist government remains extremely hard.
Many are imprisoned or hounded frequently by authorities. Xu Wenli, co-founder of the China Democratic Party, is serving a 13-year prison sentence and is suffering from Hepatitis B and Parkinson's disease.
Rebiya Kadeer, an ethnic Uighur businesswoman sentenced to eight years on charges of leaking intelligence overseas, is said to be in poor health.
During his China visit, Craner also pressed China to release political prisoners and rescind a death sentence imposed on a Tibetan activist.
-- CNN's Beijing Bureau Chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report