Upcoming U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue to Highlight Religious Freedom

( [email protected] ) Apr 27, 2010 03:04 PM EDT

Delegations representing the United States and China will meet up in the middle of May to discuss the issue of human rights – particularly religious freedom and the rule of law – according to the U.S. Department of State.

The U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, and the Chinese delegation, headed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General for International Organizations Chen Xu, will meet in Washington, D.C., May 13-14 to pick up where they left off two years ago when the two countries last met to discuss human rights.

Initially, the delegations were scheduled to meet at the end of February, but U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Thursday that the “timing was not right between the two countries.”

“It had taken us a little bit longer to schedule a meeting,” he told reporters.

According to China’s official news agency, however, the delay was “due to tensions between Washington and Beijing over U.S. arms sale to Taiwan and U.S. President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama early this year.”

In January, the Obama administration announced the sale of $6 billion worth of Patriot anti-missile systems, helicopters, mine-sweeping ships and communications equipment to Taiwan.

Three weeks later, Obama met with the Dalai Lama, welcoming the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader to the White House for a low-profile meeting.

Both moves, predictably, irritated Beijing as China views Taiwan as part of its territory and regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist who wants to lead Tibet to independence.

Though a reporter during Thursday’s briefing suggested that the two moves resulted in the delay in the delegations’ meeting, Crowley passed over the comments and moved on to the next question, reporting on the United States' plan to raise a number of issues that it has with China, as it does in any discussion.

“We raise human rights in all of our high-level meetings,” he said. “But in this one, we’ll be talking about religious freedom, rule of law, and expect to have a candid discussion.”

Last November, after a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President Barack Obama in Beijing, the two countries issued a joint statement underlining how each country and its people have the right to choose their own path.

"Both sides recognized that China and the United States have differences on the issue of human rights," said the statement.

"Addressing these differences in the spirit of equality and mutual respect, as well as promoting and protecting human rights consistent with international human rights instruments, the two sides agreed to hold the next round of the official human rights dialogue in Washington D.C. by the end of February 2010," it added.

According to Crowley, the last time the United States and China held a dialogue on human rights was May 2008.