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China buries Hu confession

world Updated: Jan 21, 2011 01:16 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
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This was one confession the US was dying to hear and it was nearly lost in translation. Chinese president Hu Jintao on Wednesday admitted that his country needed to do a lot more on human rights.

"A lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights," Hu said to a question asked of him twice at a news conference he addressed jointly with President Barack Obama at the White House.

It seemed like he had ducked the first time he was asked that question - it was a tough question. But it was actually the Chinese interpreter's fault as he missed his cue. The translations were handled quite sloppily on both sides.

Human rights was clearly the top concern for the hosts despite the depth of economic ties between the two countries. There was pressure on President Obama to show more spine, than he did the last time the two met. Obama had apparently let Hu get away easily then, but not this time. The US was "frank and candid" with the Chinese president this time during the bilateral talks that preceded the joint news conference.

The last time the two countries clashed on human rights was over Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiabo.

More than the Chinese, though, the US seemed keen to get around the human rights issue. Obama's opening remarks were about the deals struck by the companies of the two countries - worth $45 billion or 235,000 jobs for the US.

The two countries brought to the table their well-known concerns: currency appreciation and level playing for American companies for the US and Taiwan and "mutual trust" for the Chinese.

This was the eighth meeting between the two leaders, who are separated in age by many years - Obama being much younger - and height - Obama being much taller. They share little in terms of chemistry.

But they have yet to get beyond a handshake. The next step should be a half-hug.