Obama presses human rights with China

WASHINGTON, May 10, 2011 (AFP) - US President Barack Obama on Monday pressed Beijing to improve its human rights record in talks with senior Chinese officials, calling for freedom of expression and worship.

Obama met with China's Vice Premier Wang Qishan and State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who were in Washington for two days of in-depth talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"The president raised US concerns about the current human rights situation in China and underscored his support for the universal rights of freedom of expression and worship, and of access to information and political participation," a White House statement said.

Vice President Joe Biden raised the concerns publicly as he launched the talks earlier Monday, saying that the United States sought cooperation with China but had "vigorous disagreement" on human rights.

China has rounded up dozens of lawyers, bloggers and other perceived critics in recent weeks, carrying out its biggest crackdown on dissent in years amid a wave of pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East.

Obama and the Chinese officials also discussed the Iranian nuclear standoff and ways "to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, to meet its international commitments and to avoid destabilizing behavior," the White House said.

Obama "underscored his preference for a diplomatic solution to both challenges," it said.

China is virtually the only ally of North Korea and has come under criticism in the United States for refusing to condemn the hardline communist regime over incidents last year, including the sinking of a South Korean warship.