Critics say Obama missed chance in China

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Two of the eight questions were about Mr. Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win and a third focused on a major concern of the Chinese government - whether the U.S. would sell more weapons to Taiwan. But the president did not, as human rights watchers and China experts had feared, completely shy away from these sensitive topics.

If there was a problem with the Obama administration’s approach, experts said, it was in what was left unspoken. David Kramer, a former State Department official who advised President George W. Bush on human rights issues, said he learned that lesson the hard way when China hosted the 2008 Olympics.

Mr. Kramer, now a fellow with the German Marshall Fund, said President Bush accepted the Chinese invitation to attend the games without asking for enough in return. “They very much wanted him at the Olympics. And I don’t think we sufficiently tapped into that leverage,” Mr. Kramer said.

Sophie Richardson, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said she and other human rights advocates had become increasingly concerned that the Obama administration was taking the wrong approach to these issues in China.

“There is probably a lot of pressure, particularly on domestic economic issues, to not irritate the Chinese,” she said. “The Chinese government places a lot of analytical importance on first visits. If certain issues aren’t brought up on first visits, they will be that much harder to raise in the future.”

c Tom LoBianco in Washington contributed to this report.

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