*Top U.S. officials highlight rights at start of meeting
*Chinese say Beijing has made progress
*Both sides seek to keep ties stable despite disagreements
(adds quotes, background)
By Andrew Quinn
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joseph Biden
warned China on Monday the United States would press hard on
human rights, over which the two sides have a "vigorous"
disagreement and criticizing Beijing's latest crackdown on
Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both used
unusually blunt language on human rights at the start of an
annual meeting of top officials from the two nations, saying
the United States was concerned about Beijing's recent
clampdown, which has involving arrests, detentions and
secretive confinement of human rights lawyers, protesters and
"No relationship that's real can be built on a false
foundation. Where we disagree, it's important to state it. We
will continue to express our views on these issues," Biden said
at the opening of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting
Clinton said the United States had made clear both publicly
and privately its concerns over Beijing's human rights record,
which has long been a major irritant in relations.
"We see reports of people including public interest
lawyers, writers, artists and others who are detained or
disappeared," Clinton said in her remarks, drawing a parallel
to the wave of political unrest sweeping the Middle East.
"We know over the long arc of history that societies that
work toward respecting human rights are going to be more
prosperous, stable and successful. That has certainly been
proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last
months," she said.
The United States and China last month wound up human
rights talks in Beijing with a senior U.S. official
underscoring the Obama administration's deep concern over
China's rights record and warning broader ties could suffer.
This week's two-day Washington meeting of top officials
from across the U.S. and Chinese governments follows a
contentious period, after China has jailed, detained or placed
in informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers
and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.
Chinese authorities subsequently released human rights
lawyer Teng Biao after a 70-day detention -- but Biden and
Clinton's comments on Monday indicated that the U.S. pressure
China's leaders have become increasingly unyielding in the
face of Western pressure over human rights issues, and say that
those complaints amount to illegitimate meddling.
Beijing's alarm about dissent grew after overseas Chinese
websites in February spread calls for protests across China
inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" of anti-authoritarian
uprisings across the Arab world.
But before the dialogue and in their opening remarks to the
meetings, Chinese officials have not mentioned the U.S.
In Beijing on Friday, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai was
asked at a news conference about China's view of the U.S.
raising human rights at Washington meeting and said dialogue
was possible on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
"I think the Chinese people themselves have the greatest
right to speak about China's progress in human rights
endeavors," Cui said. "We also hope that in observing human
rights development in China, the outside world abides by
seeking truth from facts."
Biden acknowledged that the U.S. stance on human rights
might "rankle" some in Beijing, but said it was too important
an issue to be kicked to the sidelines.
"I recognize that some in China see our advocacy (of) human
rights as an intrusion and lord only knows what else. But
President Obama and I believe strongly, as does the secretary,
that protecting fundamental rights and freedoms such as those
enshrined in China's international commitments as well as in
China's own constitution is the best way to promote long term
stability and prosperity -- of any society," he said.
Both Clinton and Biden emphasized the broader U.S.-China
relationship must move forward despite disagreements on
specific issues, which include not only human rights but also
China's market access policies, financial market reforms and
U.S. charges that Beijing keeps its yuan currency artificially
undervalued to gain trade advantage.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Paul Eckert,
editing by Philip Barbara)
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