Obama presses Hu over human rights record

CHINESE President Hu Jintao heard concerns about China’s human rights and economic policies as he wrapped up his visit to Washington with meetings on Capitol Hill.

US Congress leaders have consistently condemned Beijing’s rights record, economic policy, and role in nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea.

Hu met separately with House and Senate leaders before a scheduled lunch with businessmen and departure for Chicago.

House Speaker John Boehner said participants “raised our strong ongoing concerns with reports of human rights violations in China, including the denial of religious freedom and the use of coercive abortion” as a result of China’s one-child policy.

He said they also addressed the need for China to better protect intellectual property and curtail the aggressive behaviour of North Korea.

One day after talks with President Barack Obama at the White House, followed by a glitzy state dinner, Hu pursued his high-stakes’ state visit at the US Capitol.

The Chinese president met Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other senior lawmakers in the House of Representatives.

Hu later met with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid — who branded his guest “a dictator” on Tuesday then withdrew the remark — and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry.

Reid and Boehner declined invitations to the state dinner for Hu, as did Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was to miss the Chinese leader’s visit entirely, in favour of events in his home state of Kentucky.

Obama’s public appeal on Wednesday for Hu to embrace “universal rights,” set a “level-playing field” for US firms in China, and battle intellectual piracy were unlikely to soothe congressional anger.

Historically high US unemployment and an unpopular decade-long Afghan war, coupled with China’s economic and military rise and vast holdings of the swollen US national debt, have fed a narrative of US decline and fuelled resentments of Beijing among the US public.

And Reid raised eyebrows late on Tuesday when he told a television interviewer in his home state of Nevada that Hu was “a dictator” — before quickly regretting the remark.

“I am going to back to Washington and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have,” Reid told KSNV television.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have said ‘dictator,’ but they have a different type of government than we have — and that is an understatement,” said Reid.

Lawmakers have accused China of undermining international pressure to get Iran to halt its suspect nuclear programme and get North Korea to dismantle its atomic arsenal and end transfers of weapons’ know-how to other countries.

Pelosi, a frequent vocal critic of China’s rights record, said in a statement before the talks that she would not back off.

“Since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, there has been bipartisan concern in the Congress about the human rights situation in China and Tibet, the support of the Chinese government for rogue states, and China’s unfair trade practices.”

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