US, China clash over human rights report

Beijing responds to State Department's annual report with tit-for-tat rebuttal

BEIJING • US rights policies have gone from bad to worse, China said yesterday in its annual rebuttal of a State Department report on human rights around the world that criticised China's "severe" crackdown on lawyers.

The US "wantonly infringed upon" civil rights and faced "rampant gun-related crime", said the lengthy report, issued by China's State Council, or Cabinet, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world's two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Tiananmen Square.

China's report follows Wednesday's release of the US report, which criticised Beijing's crackdown on Chinese lawyers and law firms handling cases that China considers politically sensitive.

"The crackdown on the legal community was particularly severe, as individual lawyers and law firms that handled cases the government deemed 'sensitive' were targeted for harassment and detention," the US report said.

Hundreds of lawyers and law associates were interrogated, investigated, and in many cases detained in secret locations for months without charges or access to attorneys or family members, it added.

It said that the authorities had resorted to "extra-legal measures" such as enforced disappearances and strict house arrests.

The US report described human rights policies in 199 countries.

China's report, citing American news sources, criticised the United States for inflicting civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq, excessive use of force by police, and US eavesdropping on foreign nationals, including French politicians.

Asked about the US human rights report yesterday, China's Foreign Ministry said the politicisation of human rights was a "futile" effort to interfere in China's stability and development.

"The United States' so-called annual human rights report uses the issue of human rights to make irresponsible remarks about other countries' internal politics," ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing. China has long rejected criticism of its rights record and has pointed to its success at lifting millions out of poverty.

China yesterday formally disbarred a prominent rights lawyer, ending his career. Mr Pu Zhiqiang was handed a three-year suspended sentence last year for writing Internet posts that the government said would incite ethnic hatred.

Unveiling the US report on human rights at a news conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said the worst abuses in 2015 occurred in the Middle East, fuelled by wars in Iraq and Syria. He cited South Asian states, as well as Egypt and Cuba, as countries that the US differed with over human rights.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'US, China clash over human rights report'. Print Edition | Subscribe