In stark contrast to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s softer remarks on China’s human rights, the U.S. State Department report on Wednesday had sharp criticism for the eastern superpower over rights violations ranging from religious repression to extrajudicial killings.
The report, which was mainly drafted during President George W. Bush’s administration, covers 2008. It noted a spike in rights repression around the time of the August Beijing Olympics, including the massive crackdown on Tibetan freedom protesters.
"The government of China's human rights record remained poor and worsened in some areas," the 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices states, according to CNN.
Chinese authorities "committed extrajudicial killings and torture, coerced confessions of prisoners and used forced labor," it specifies.
Moreover, the Chinese government is accused of “severe cultural and religious repression” of minorities and harassment of dissidents and activists.
In response to the heavy criticism, China on Thursday reacted angrily, calling the accusations groundless and charging Washington of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
"We urge the U.S. side to reflect on its own human rights problems, stop acting as a human rights guardian, stop interfering in others' internal affairs by issuing such human rights reports," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu to reporters at a news conference, according to The Associated Press.
The fiery exchange on human rights comes just days after Clinton told reporters that the human rights issue will take lower priority than the global economic crisis, climate change and the security crisis in U.S.-China talks.
Her comment marked a shift in the U.S.’s approach to China, and drew criticism from rights activists angry that the United States had downplayed the importance of human rights.
"In a shocking display of pandering, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear in Beijing, that the Obama Administration has chosen to peddle U.S. debt to the largest dictatorship in the world over combating torture, forced abortion, forced labor, religious persecution, human sex trafficking, gendercide, and genocide," Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a U.S. House member who is often outspoken on rights issues, stated at a press conference on Tuesday.
But some officials, CNN reported, have said privately that the Obama administration is taking a new approach to handling China’s human rights problems. The new strategy includes less public criticism and more private talks, with hopes it will prove more effective in changing China’s human rights record.
Other countries the report raised concern about included North Korea, Zimbabwe, Russia Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.
The report also made a surprising acknowledgment about concerns regarding the United States’ own human rights record.
"As we publish these reports, the Department of State remains mindful of both domestic and international scrutiny of the United States' record," it states.
"As President Obama recently made clear, 'we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.'"
Clinton, who signed off on the report’s findings, said in preface to the State Department report that America will “seek to live up to our ideals on American soil” as it pursues greater respect for human rights in other countries, according to Agence France-Presse.