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Obama meets Chinese activists

world Updated: Jan 15, 2011 01:40 IST

President Obama met on Thursday at the White House with five advocates for greater civil liberties and human rights in China, just days before Chinese President Hu Jintao’s arrival in Washington for a state visit.

The meeting was part of Obama’s preparation for his meetings with the Chinese leader, two senior administration officials said.

In a September address at the UN General Assembly, the President emphasized the centrality of human rights in US foreign policy. But the administration has been cautious in raising the issue publicly with China.

On Thursday, Obama questioned the advocates — three of whom were born in China — about how, in the words of one administration official, “the arbitrary exercise of power is felt in the everyday lives of the Chinese people.” Obama recalled his own childhood in Indonesia, then governed by dictatorship.

“One thing he kept coming back to was, how does the omnipresence of the state, how does corruption, affect the lives of real people,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There was a lot of talk about how to reach into China to be heard,” the official continued. “He was very, very interested in that.”

While economic and security issues are likely to be the focus of much of Hu’s visit, how Obama manages the topic of human rights will likely help define the summit and provide clues to how the president intends to speak about the contentious subject with China in the years ahead.

(In exclusive partnership with The Washington Post. For additional content, visit www.washingtonpost.com)