News / Asia

Biden Meets Chinese Human Rights Activists

Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Ohio Newspaper Association convention, Feb. 9, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden speaking at the Ohio Newspaper Association convention, Feb. 9, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio.
Kent Klein

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has met with activists about what the White House calls a “deterioration” in China’s human rights situation. The issue is likely to be discussed when the Chinese vice president visits Washington next week.

Administration officials say Vice President Biden met with four human rights figures Wednesday, before he hosts his counterpart, Xi Jinping, who is expected to be China’s next leader.

A White House statement said Biden and the activists “discussed the deterioration of China’s human rights situation, prospects for reform, and recommendations for U.S. policy.”

According to the statement, the vice president repeated his view that “greater openness and protection of universal rights is the best way to promote innovation, prosperity, and stability in all countries, including China.”

The White House said Biden met Wednesday with Xiaorong Li, of the group Human Rights in China, and Benjamin Liebman, a Columbia University expert on China’s legal system.  Also in the meeting were Jianying Zha, an expert on Chinese media and popular culture, and Kenneth Roth, the Human Rights Watch executive director.

Roth wrote a letter in January urging President Barack Obama to publicly and privately challenge Vice President Xi to improve China’s record on human rights.

China expert Bonnie Glaser, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agrees that human rights in China have worsened recently.

“Recent incidents that we have seen, such as in Tibet and the self-immolations - these are a problem," said Glaser. "We would like to see China deal more constructively with the problems that it has with its people.  And so I think that this will be a broad but very direct and frank conversation.”

Glaser does not expect the two vice presidents to discuss individual cases of alleged human rights abuses.  She says Vice President Xi cannot change his government’s policies until he becomes president.

However, Glaser says Biden will almost certainly stress the U.S. view of the importance of improved human rights in China, as he has in past meetings.

“That it is part of the fabric of who we are as a people, and we believe that this is a universal issue," she said. "It is not just an issue that is an internal problem that other countries should leave up to China and not comment on.”

President Obama held a similar meeting with human rights activists before last year’s state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

American activists criticized the Obama administration in its early days for downplaying human rights concerns while seeking cooperation with Beijing.

China usually objects to U.S. criticism as interference in its internal affairs.  

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