BEIJING (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus, called on China on Thursday to recognize several detained rights lawyers as "partners, not enemies of the government" on International Human Rights Day, comments that are likely to anger Beijing.
In a statement to mark the occasion, Baucus said the United States remains "concerned over the crackdown on human rights lawyers and others who seek peacefully to contribute their views to the public discourse on the future of China".
Baucus's statement coincides with one from the German embassy in Beijing, which said that "serious problems persist" in China with regard to freedom of opinion.
Their remarks came a day after a United Nations rights watchdog called on China to halt torture of detainees that it said remains widespread in police stations and prisons and to close its secret illegal "black jails".
China rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it is a country ruled by law and that it opposes foreign interference in its domestic affairs.
China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on either the U.S. or German statements.
In July, President Xi Jinping's administration launched an unprecedented crackdown on human rights lawyers in China, targeting hundreds of them in a nationwide sweep. The United Nations said at least 25 of 200 lawyers rounded up since July remain in detention.
"In some cases, these Chinese citizens have been detained in secret locations without access to their families or their lawyers," Baucus said in the statement posted on the embassy's website.
"This is deeply troubling and calls into question China's commitment to the rule of law."
Baucus noted the cases of detained rights lawyers Wang Yu, Li Heping and Zhang Kai, saying they should be "embraced as partners, not enemies, of the government".
He also urged China to release Pu Zhiqiang, one of China's most prominent rights lawyers who is awaiting trial on charges of inciting ethnic hatred and causing a disturbance.
In a commentary on Wednesday, the state-run Global Times newspaper said the West's pressure on Pu's case reflects its desire to push its political interests.
"China's judiciary will never accept the West setting the tone for Pu's case," the paper said. "Even before, it had never accepted that for Liu Xiaobo and other Chinese citizens."
Liu was jailed for 11 years in 2009 on subversion charges for organizing a petition urging an end to one-party rule. He won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)