By Idrees Ali
Washington (Reuters) - Human rights should not dominate the U.S.-China relationship, a senior Chinese official said on Friday, ahead of a visit to Washington next month by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
On Thursday, the top U.S. official for human rights, Tom Malinowski, said that China would have to improve its rights record to ensure the summit between President Barack Obama and Xi is a success.
Speaking after a two-day U.S.-China dialogue on human rights in Washington, Li Junhua, the senior foreign ministry official who headed the Chinese delegation, rebuffed the comments by Malinowski, who chaired the U.S. side.
"I want to stress that China and the United States have consensus but more differences in terms of human rights," he told a news conference.
"This issue should not dominate our discussion about our relationship; we should see a bigger picture.”
Li is the director general of the Chinese foreign ministry's department of international organizations and conferences.
Malinowski, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said after the first day of talks that there was "a growing sense of alarm" in Washington about human rights developments in China.
He pointed to a recent crackdown on lawyers, issues of religious freedom and a proposed Chinese law that would severely restrict the activities of non-government organizations.
The crackdown has included the detention of more than 50 lawyers and activists since last month.
Li said the issue was making its way through the court system and lawyers “should be punished in accordance with the law and there should be no exception."
He rejected what he said was information from the U.S. side that 150 lawyers had been detained.
“Actually there are only about 20 lawyers who have been detained and prosecuted because they violated our laws," he said, adding that China had more than 270,000 lawyers.
Xi is expected to spend about a week in the United States during the second half of September. He will hold talks with Obama in Washington and also attend the U.N. General Assembly.
The talks with Obama are expected to include discussions on the close economic relationship between the world's two largest economies as well as tensions over China's territorial claims in Asia.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of leading U.S. senators urged Obama to make what they called Xi's "extraordinary assault" on human rights a key and public component of the talks.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Ken Wills)