(AP) WASHINGTON — In a rare concession on a highly sensitive issue, Chinese President Hu Jintao used his White House visit on Wednesday to acknowledge "a lot still needs to be done" to improve human rights in his nation accused of repressing its people. President Barack Obama pushed China to adopt fundamental freedoms but assured Hu the U.S. considers the communist nation a friend and vital economic partner.
Hu's comments met with immediate skepticism from human rights advocates, who dismissed them as words backed by no real history of action. Hu contended his country has "made enormous progress" but provided no specifics.
Still, his remarks seemed to hearten and surprise U.S. officials, coming during an elaborate visit that centered on boosting trade and trust between the world's two largest economies.
More broadly, Hu and Obama sought to show off a more mature and respectful relationship, not the one often defined by disputes over currency, sovereignty and freedoms. Hu said he wanted even closer contact with Obama; Obama sought again to embrace China's rise, and the two men shared some unexpected laughs.
The Chinese president was treated lavishly, granted the honor of the third state dinner of Obama's presidency. He was welcomed in the morning to the sounds of military bands and the smiles of children on the South Lawn; he was capping the evening at a black-tie White House gala of jazz musicians and all-American food.
Eager to show progress, particularly with the unemployment weighing down his country, Obama said the nations sealed business deals that would mean $45 billion in U.S. exports and create roughly 235,000 jobs. The package included moves by China to expand U.S. investment and curtail theft of intellectual property.
China's human rights record is poor and worsening, with abuses ranging from censorship to illegal detention of dissidents to executions without due process, according to the U.S. government. In a packed news conference - one designed to underscore the freedom of speech on Obama's home turf - Hu was pressed to defend his country's treatment of its people. He initially did not answer, saying he never heard the question translated, although the White House said that it was.
When prodded a second time, Hu defended his country's promotion of human rights. But then he added that China is enduring challenges as it develops and "a lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights." He said China stood to gain from other countries' input, saying: "We're also willing to learn."
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01/20/2011 9:21 AM EST
Obama And Hu Share A Toast
Here's a video from the China state dinner last night, including protestors outside and a toast to friendship inside.
01/19/2011 10:28 PM EST
GOP Rep: China's President 'A Gangster'
On tonight's episode of CNN's "Parker Spitzer," Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) described China as a "gangster regime that murders their own people."
Watch the video here.
01/19/2011 10:24 PM EST
Giant Pandas Are Staying
The New York Times reports on a new business deal with China that Obama announced during the state dinner--giant pandas can stay in the National Zoo for another five years:
“The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day,’’ the president said in addressing President Hu Jintao of China. “Mr. President, today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news -— under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas."
The pandas were originally on loan from China under an agreement that expired last month.
01/19/2011 6:32 PM EST
Protests At The Dinner
Sounds of protesters heard in the background as #Obamas, #Hu pose for official photo on the White House steps.
01/19/2011 5:54 PM EST
Tonight's soiree includes not only political bigwigs, but also stars and business leaders. Jackie Chan and Barbara Streisand will be in attendance, as well as Madeleine Albright and Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein, to name a few. You can see the complete list here.
01/19/2011 5:46 PM EST
What's On The Menu?
What is Obama serving tonight? An all-American steak-and-potatoes spread, with apple pie for dessert.
In-house chef Cristeta Comerford will be making dry aged rib eye with onions, double stuffed potatoes and creamed spinach. For dessert, executive pastry chef Bill Yosses is dishing out old-fashioned apple pie with vanilla ice cream.
You can read more about the menu here.
01/19/2011 5:19 PM EST
The White House has released a joint U.S.-China statement, including a portion on human rights:
7. The United States and China reiterated their commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, even as they continue to have significant differences on these issues. The United States stressed that the promotion of human rights and democracy is an important part of its foreign policy. China stressed that there should be no interference in any country’s internal affairs. The United States and China underscored that each country and its people have the right to choose their own path, and all countries should respect each other's choice of a development model. Addressing differences on human rights in a spirit of equality and mutual respect, as well as promoting and protecting human rights consistent with international instruments, the two sides agreed to hold the next round of the U.S.- C hina Human Rights Dialogue before the third round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED).
8. The United States and China agreed to hold the next round of the resumed Legal Experts Dialogue before the next Human Rights Dialogue convenes. The United States and China further agreed to strengthen cooperation in the field of law and exchanges on the rule of law. The United States and China are actively exploring exchanges and discussions on the increasing role of women in society.
01/19/2011 4:41 PM EST
Human Rights Remarks
The White House has released a transcript of this afternoon's remarks. Here is Hu Jintao, responding to questions on human rights:
First, I would like to clarify, because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights. What I know was that he was asking a question directed at President Obama. As you raise this question, and I heard the question properly, certainly I’m in a position to answer that question.
President Obama and I already met eight times. Each time we met, we had an in-depth exchange of views in a candid manner on issues of shared interest and on issues toward each other’s concerns. And on the issues we have covered, we also discussed human rights.
China is always committed to the protection and promotion of human rights. And in the course of human rights, China has also made enormous progress, recognized widely in the world.
China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights. And at the same time, we do believe that we also need to take into account the different and national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights.
China is a developing country with a huge population, and also a developing country in a crucial stage of reform. In this context, China still faces many challenges in economic and social development. And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.
We will continue our efforts to improve the lives of the Chinese people, and we will continue our efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in our country. At the same time, we are also willing to continue to have exchanges and dialogue with other countries in terms of human rights, and we are also willing to learn from each other in terms of the good practices.
As President Obama rightly put it just now, though there are disagreements between China and the United States on the issue of human rights, China is willing to engage in dialogue and exchanges with the United States on the basis of mutual respect and the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this way, we’ll be able to further increase our mutual understanding, reduce our disagreements, and expand our common ground.
You can read the full remarks here.
01/19/2011 3:33 PM EST
Biden To Meet Hu's Likely Successor
Vice President Biden announced that he has accepted an invitation to meet his Chinese counterpart, Vice President Xi Jinping. According to the AP, Xi will likely succeed Hu when he transitions out of power in 2012.
01/19/2011 3:22 PM EST
Jake Tapper at ABC News makes the point that no mentioned Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Chinese prisoner Liu Xiaobo. He tweets:
i mention Liu Xiaobo because NO ONE has mentioned his name at any of these events