Urging Beijing to improve its human rights track record, outgoing US Ambassador Gary Locke on Thursday said that rights were universal values that represented more than economic growth.
Locke said China had experienced great prosperity and improvement in the quality and standard of life but had to improve its record in the area of human rights.
“But human rights is more than economic prosperity and the economic conditions of people, but also fundamental universal rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the ability to practice one’s own religion,” Locke was quoted by agencies having told journalists at the US embassy on Thursday.
The first Chinese-American to hold the top US envoy post, Locke is the son of Chinese emigrants from southern China.Senator Max Baucus has been appointed to replace him.
Referring to the recent cases of arrests of activists and harassment of journalists, Locke said the US was concerned about the detention of those engaged in peaceful advocacy.
“We’re very concerned about a recent increase in arrests of activists and journalists ... and we very much are concerned about the arrests and detentions of people who are engaged in peaceful advocacy,” he said.
On the issue of the ongoing China-Japan dispute, he urged Beijing to ease tension in the region before it leads to serious if unintended consequence.
“The last thing we need is some unintended incident that leads to unintended consequences, very severe consequences,” Locke said, adding that it was important that both sides lower the temperature and focus on diplomacy.
The US, he said, has not taken any side in the territorial dispute that flared in 2012 over a group of uninhabited islets in the East China Sea.
Locke’s remarks are not likely to please Beijing.
On Wednesday, at an address at the American Centre here, he said that Washington was “deeply concerned over a recent pattern of harassment, arrests and prosecutions of good government advocates, of public interest lawyers, of activists, internet journalists, religious leaders, and others in China.”
Locke’s tenure, which began in the middle of 2011, had its share of dramatic and delicate diplomatic moments including the episode of the former police chief of Chongqing city, Wang Lijun – who was once the close aide of jailed Communist leader Bo Xilai -- taking refuge at the US consulate in Chengdu in south-west China in 2012.
It was followed by blind activist Chen Guangcheng escaping from house arrest in eastern China to take shelter the US embassy in Beijing.