US says China must improve human rights to make President Xi's visit a success

Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Chinese President Xi Jinping. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The senior US State Department official responsible for human rights said on Thursday that China would have to improve its rights record to assure the summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month is a success.

Speaking after the first day of a two-day US-China human rights dialogue in Washington, Tom Malinowski said there was "a growing sense of alarm in the US government about human rights developments in China."

Malinowski, the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, told reporters that China would have to "make specific improvements" on rights if it wanted the "tone and the substance of the summit to be positive."

He said senior Chinese officials raised recent incidents of police violence in the United States, including the killing of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, but much of the discussion was about China.

He said the talks covered China's recent crackdown on lawyers, religious freedom, including moves to remove crosses from churches, and a proposed Chinese law that would severely restrict the activities of non-government organisations.

Malinowski said the talks had been "very detailed and substantive," and would set the stage for a discussion on rights at the summit, which is expected to cover the close economic ties between the world's two largest economies as well as tensions over China's territorial claims in Asia.

Xi is expected to spend about a week in the United States during the second half of September. He will hold talks with Obama in Washington and also attend the UN General Assembly.

On Tuesday, leading US senators urged Obama to make what they called Xi's "extraordinary assault" on human rights a key and public component of their talks.

Xi's administration has tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing national security and stability.

The crackdown has included the detention of more than 50 lawyers and activists since last month.

Christians in the eastern province of Zhejiang, which has a growing Christian population, complain that authorities have been taking down crosses on churches since last year, creating tension between officials and congregations.

Malinowski said China's willingness to discuss rights issues was positive and showed it was concerned about its international image.

He said that among the issues that would be raised by the US side was China's delay or denial of visas for US journalists and its restrictions on travel by US diplomats to areas deemed sensitive.