WASHINGTON -- American reporters and the president of the United States publicly confronted China's President Hu Jintao Jan. 19 on the issue of human rights in China, and Hu admitted "a lot still needs to be done" on the issue.
Although Hu at first dodged a reporter's question about human rights during a White House press conference, remaining silent after President Obama fielded the question, the Chinese leader was forced to answer when a second reporter repeated the question.
According to the Washington Post, the first reporter asked Hu, "How do you justify China's record [on human rights], and do you think that's any of the business of the American people?" Rather than reply, Hu looked to a reporter from China's state-run TV network and allowed her to ask a question about "friendship and mutual understanding." When the next American reporter pointed out that Hu ignored the question about human rights, the Chinese president replied, "Because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights," the Washington Post reported.
Hu continued: "China is a developing country with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights."
It was, according to the Washington Post report, "a rare concession" from the Chinese leader, even though Hu did not actually say he believes China should conform its human rights policies and practice to the internationally accepted norms of democratic countries.
For his part, Obama kept his promise to put the issue of human rights prominently on the agenda of his four-day summit with the top leader of the emerging communist-controlled superpower.
Besides billion-dollar trade deals and talks about nuclear proliferation and trade imbalances, Obama urged Hu to allow more freedom to Chinese citizens and to open a meaningful dialogue with Tibet's exiled Dalai Lama, the Washington Post reported. Obama also reportedly raised the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist currently imprisoned in China, in a private meeting with Hu, officials said.
During a welcoming ceremony for Hu on the White House lawn, Obama addressed the issue of human rights, saying: "Societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful, and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being," the Post reported.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who previously has said human rights concerns should not interfere with progress on issues such as climate change and the global financial crisis, publicly told the Chinese ambassador Jan. 14 the United States disapproves of Chinese dissidents being silenced with imprisonment and "disappearances."
The shift in attitude on human rights reflects an American concern that if China remains a one-party state as it grows in global influence, it could be more unstable than one moving ahead with democratic reforms, the Post said.
"We welcome China's rise," Obama said, according to the newspaper report. "We just want to make sure that ... rise occurs in a way that reinforces international norms and international rules, and enhances security and peace, as opposed to it being a source of conflict."
Obama also invited Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, to attend the Jan. 19 state dinner in Hu's honor -- another clear indication of U.S. concern for more freedom in China, the Post said.