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US, China Set for Human Rights Talks - 2002-12-16

A U.S. delegation is in Beijing to discuss human rights with Chinese officials. The focus is likely to be on China's treatment of ethnic Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang.

Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner, the top State Department human rights official, leads the American delegation. He will hold a series of talks with Chinese Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry officials. Mr. Craner's trip takes place on the heels of several other visits to Beijing recently by members of the U.S. Congress and the commander of the U.S. military in the Pacific.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said Monday that the two days of talks will cover workers' rights, religious freedom, and political prisoners. Other members of the U.S. delegation include an assistant attorney general for civil rights and the U.S. ambassador for religious freedom.

On Wednesday, Mr. Craner's group will travel to China's northwestern Xinjiang Province, where he will give a speech to university students.

Human rights activists say China has used the U.S. led war against terrorism as an excuse to intensify pressure on peaceful Muslim Uighurs who oppose Chinese rule in Xinjiang.

Nicolas Becquelin, a Hong Kong researcher for the group Human Rights in China, says "we see a renewed crackdown in Xinjiang, with China capitalizing on the post 9-11 environment, with huge numbers of arrests, trials, including group trials where many individuals are sentenced during one trial, which of course is very worrying in terms of judicial due processes."

Beijing is trying to stamp out pro-independence sentiment among the Uighurs. Some Uighur separatists have carried out anti-Chinese attacks in the past few years.

At Beijing's urging, Washington added a Muslim separatist group in China to its list of terrorist organizations. Some rights activists criticize the move as an attempt by the United States to reward China for its support in the war on terror.