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China Defends Human Rights Record

China is vigorously defending its human rights record, which is under review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The defense comes as Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is on a high-profile trip to Europe.

After day one of its three-day human rights review in Geneva, China is maintaining that its people enjoy broad freedoms, including speech and religion.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing Tuesday her government is committed to "protecting and improving" human rights. But she also indicated that Beijing places an emphasis on raising living standards for Chinese people.

Jiang says China now enjoys sustained economic development, an improved legal framework, a more open society and a more diversified culture.

She acknowledges that many challenges and difficulties remain. She says China is willing to have "frank" and "extensive" human rights dialogue with other countries, in a spirit of "mutual respect and equality."

Meanwhile, the Chinese spokeswoman has harsh words for Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who was just made an honorary citizen of Rome.

Many western nations consider Tibet a major human rights issue. But the Chinese spokeswoman says the remote Himalayan region is part of China, and that any international recognition of the Dalai Lama is an affront to Chinese sovereignty.

Jiang refers to him as simply as "Dalai," saying this issue is not about human rights or religion, but is related to national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

For his part, the Dalai Lama has repeatedly and publicly asked for greater autonomy, not independence. He has accused the Chinese of attempting to wipe out Tibetan culture, especially since riots in Lhasa nearly a year ago.

"Since the end of March, it became something like the Tibetan nation passing through a death sentence, that means that the Chinese sort of narrow-minded officials consider Tibetan identity, Tibetan spirit, as a sort of danger of separation," the Dalai Lama said. "Therefore, they deliberately try to eliminate Tibetan spirit and Tibetan identity."

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule and nearly 10 years after the Communists took over China. China is marking the 50th anniversary of the event this year with a holiday at the end of March to celebrate what it is describing as the "liberation" of Tibet's "millions of serfs [slaves]."