Clinton presses China on rights before visit

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday made a passionate call for China to improve human rights, pledging not to shy away from disagreements ahead of a state visit by President Hu Jintao.

In a wide-ranging speech less a week before Hu was due in Washington, Clinton said the United States sought a “positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship” with China and welcomed the Asian power’s rise, dismissing calls for a Cold War-style containment policy.

Clinton was unusually forthright in her call for human rights, urging China to free dissidents including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo who is serving an 11-year prison sentence after authoring a petition for political reform.

“A vibrant civil society would help address some of China’s most pressing issues, from food safety to pollution to education to health care,” Clinton said.

“The longer China represses freedoms, the longer it will miss out on these opportunities and the longer that Liu Xiaobo’s empty chair in Oslo will remain a symbol of a great nation’s unrealized potential and unfulfilled promise.”

China has tried to block news at home of Liu’s Nobel Peace Prize and urged a boycott of last month’s ceremony in Oslo, where where the activist writer was represented by a poignant empty chair.

“Many in China resent or reject our advocacy of human rights as an intrusion on their sovereignty,” Clinton acknowledged.

“But as a founding member of the United Nations, China has committed to respecting the rights of all its citizens. These are universal rights that are recognized by the international community,” she said.