Saturday, 9 August 2008

China in human rights dance, says Rudd

Kevin Rudd poses for photos with a Chinese children's choir after they sang at the welcoming ceremony for the Australian Olympic Team.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday summed up China's progress on human rights as "two steps forward and one step back".

Speaking before the opening of the Olympic Games, Mr Rudd said China deserved credit for moving beyond the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989, but that "much, much more" needed to be done.

"As someone who's looked at the history of human rights in China, it's always been two steps forward, one step back," Mr Rudd said when asked if China had fulfilled its promise, made in 2001 when it was awarded the 2008 Games, to improve human rights.

Mr Rudd said China's record on human rights had to be viewed in a longer time frame and to acknowledge that China had made "significant progress, while saying in the same breath there is much more progress that still needs to occur".

Mr Rudd was speaking just hours before Tibetan Buddhist monks tried to storm the heavily guarded Chinese embassy complex in New Delhi as the Games opening ceremony got underway in Beijing. As the police tackled the Tibetan exiles, some monks ran through the barricades towards the embassy walls but were stopped and taken into custody.

Mr Rudd declined to comment on US President George Bush's speech made in Bangkok, before his arrival in Beijing to attend last night's opening ceremony, in which Mr Bush criticised China's continued human rights abuses. Mr Rudd said he wanted to read Mr Bush's full speech before commenting.

Mr Rudd spoke to the media after a private meeting of about 45 minutes with Premier Wen Jiabao, one of the few bilateral meetings granted during the Olympic period.

He said he raised human rights, religious freedom, Tibet and internet freedom with Mr Wen, but declined to say how this was received.

"My responsibility as Prime Minister of Australia is to be frank about what I have seen … where positive changes have occurred and where we still believe changes need to occur."

After 30 years of studying China, he said he found a combination of "private diplomacy as well as periodic public reminders" of international concerns about human rights was the most effective way to encourage change.

He stressed several times the importance of bringing up human rights concerns "respectfully" and acknowledging how far civil liberties had improved since China began opening to the world in 1978.

Mr Wen agreed these matters would be pursued through Australia's annual human rights dialogue with China.

Mr Rudd noted the resumption of dialogue between China and representatives of the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama after the sustained riots in Tibet and western China since March.

At a state banquet for world leaders yesterday, Mr Rudd was seated next to Mr Wen and President Bush was seated next to President Hu Jintao.

Asked about the grey smog that yesterday cloaked Beijing, Mr Rudd said he was relying on the International Olympic Committee to monitor pollution levels to protect athletes' health.

Mr Rudd said his main job here was to support the 433 Australian athletes, who had given Beijing's physical preparations a good "rap".

He brushed off a question about whether ordinary Chinese were being kept away from the Games by the security clampdown, saying it was much easier for 20 million Australians to be involved in the Sydney Games than it was for 1.3 billion Chinese.He is due to meet Mr Hu later today.

Mr Rudd also:
* Stressed his government's non-discriminatory policy on foreign investment in Australia.
* Said Mr Wen agreed to pursue the stuttering bilateral Free Trade Agreement.
* Announced that the first ministerial dialogue on climate change would be held in Canberra in November.


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