U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has concluded a week-long Asian tour with a stop in Beijing, where she urged leaders to improve China's human rights record. The top U.S. diplomat also called on Chinese leaders to respect religious freedom.
While visiting U.S. officials usually call China on the religious freedom issue, it appeared to be personal conviction that brought Ms. Rice to press the case during her meetings here with Chinese officials.
Ms. Rice attended a Palm Sunday service at a Christian church following her meetings with President Hu Jintao and other officials. At a briefing Monday, she said she urged leaders here to consider a more open political system for China that would - in her words - "match its economic openness" and allow for the full creativity of the Chinese people.
"I do hope that there is an understanding that religious communities are not a threat to transitioning societies," said Ms. Rice. "In fact, they are often, in societies that are changing, a force for good, for stability and for compassion."
Ms. Rice says Washington would like to see China build on its recent progress in human rights by going further.
The United States last week announced it would not sponsor a resolution condemning China's human rights record at an annual U.N. meeting in Geneva.
Turning to foreign policy matters, Ms. Rice discussed North Korea's nuclear ambitions and Taiwan.
The secretary says she pressed Chinese leaders to do more to convince North Korea to return to multi-nation talks. She warned that if Pyongyang fails to return to negotiations, Washington will have to consider "other options" to get the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. She did not specify what they might be, but repeated the United States does not intend to invade North Korea.
On the Taiwan question, Ms. Rice says Beijing needs to reduce tensions, which flared last week when China's parliament enacted an anti-secession law giving Beijing a legal basis to attack self-ruled Taiwan if it were to declare formal independence.
The secretary of state also voiced new concerns over possible plans by the European Union to lift a weapons embargo that was imposed after the Chinese government's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators at Tiananmen Square.
"The lifting of the arms embargo, continuing human rights concerns, but also concerns about the military balance would not be the right signal and perhaps more importantly, it might actually serve to alter the military balance in a place where the United States in particular has very strong security interests," said Ms. Rice. "Because, after all, it is American forces here in the Pacific that have played the role of security guarantor."
The United States has agreed to defend Taiwan against an attack from the mainland. U.S. officials fear that if the embargo is lifted, China could use newly purchased European weapons to attack U.S. forces.