- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2009

UPDATED:

BEIJING| Human rights groups reacted angrily Friday to comments by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that she would not let thorny issues such as human rights and Tibet prevent the United States and China from making progress on climate change, security and economic matters.

As she began her trip at the beginning of the week, Mrs. Clinton said that human rights are “part of our agenda with the Chinese, as is climate change and clean energy and nuclear nonproliferation and dealing with the North Korean denuclearization challenge.”

But on Friday she told reporters traveling with her that issues of human rights and religious freedom “can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and security crises. We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those.”

The shift in emphasis upset rights organizations.

“The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues,” said T. Kumar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific. “But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China.”

Human Rights Watch said that Mrs. Clinton’s remarks sent “the wrong message to the Chinese government.”

The comments “point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government segregating human rights issues into a dead-end ‘dialogue of the deaf,’” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for the group. “A new approach is needed, one in which the U.S. engages China on the critical importance of human rights to a wide range of mutual security interests.”

Regarding rights issues, Mrs. Clinton told reporters that the Chinese already “know what we are going to say.”

“We know we are going to press them to reconsider their position about Tibetan religious and cultural freedom and autonomy for the Tibetans, and some kind of recognition or acknowledgment of the Dalai Lama. I have had those conversations for more than a decade with Chinese leaders, and we know what they are going to say about Taiwan and military sales.”

Neither side is likely to change its position soon, so it might be better to focus on areas where both countries agree and can cooperate, she said.

China is the last of four countries Mrs. Clinton was visiting during her first overseas trip since taking office. Before she left Washington, several major human rights organizations, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, had urged her to put rights issues at the top of her agenda.

One of Mrs. Clinton’s most memorable speeches as first lady, during her husband’s presidency, was delivered at the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. As she recalled during a town hall meeting in Seoul on Friday, she said at the time that women’s rights are human rights. The Chinese authorities were so angered that they cut off live TV coverage of the event.

During her visit to China, Mrs. Clinton plans to attend a church service on Sunday morning. She is also scheduled to meet with President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. She will seek their help in restarting six-country negotiations to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

Before China, she visited Japan, Indonesia and South Korea.

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