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Aus PM heads to China with rights pledge

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd left for the Beijing Olympics on Thursday with a fresh pledge to raise human rights abuses with the Chinese leadership.

world Updated: Aug 07, 2008 10:19 IST

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd left for the Beijing Olympics on Thursday with a fresh pledge to raise human rights abuses with the Chinese leadership.

But Rudd said the world needed to recognise that China had made progress on the issue ahead of expected meetings with China's President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during his four-day visit.

"I believe the responsibility of the international community is still to speak with a strong united voice on these questions, while recognising that over time some progress has been made in China," he said.

"Remember it was not all that long ago they were in the middle of the Cultural Revolution where people were being put up against a wall and basically knocked off."

Rudd, speaking in a television interview with the Nine Network, said he would also continue to encourage a peaceful dialogue between China and representatives of the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

But he played down the effect that raising the issues might have.

"Let's not overstate it, you're not going to turn the events of centuries around in the matter of a few days, but what you can do is continue to apply the appropriate level of scrutiny."

Rudd said he would do that "while building on what I think is a very important relationship with China," noting that the Asian giant is Australia's largest trading partner.

During a visit to Beijing in April, the Chinese-speaking former diplomat publicly voiced concern over human rights abuses in Tibet in a speech to university students.

Activists have long campaigned against what they see as Chinese repression in Tibet, which has been under Chinese rule since 1951.

The issue came to a head in March when peaceful protests erupted into riots in the regional capital Lhasa, prompting a brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities that has been widely condemned around the world.

After his Beijing visit for the opening ceremony and the first few days of the Games, Rudd will visit South Korea and Singapore.