BEIJING (AP) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told China's leaders on Thursday that a flourishing civil society and free media are key to China's development on one of his last visits to Beijing as U.N. leader.
Ban also said he stressed to Foreign Minister Wang Yi that all countries with rival claims to the South China Sea should settle their differences peacefully, ahead of a ruling by an international panel on the validity of China's claims to virtually all of the sea.
Wang told a joint news conference with Ban that the Chinese government also wants a "peaceful resolution," but the arbitration ruling would "only escalate the disputes and tensions."
Ban brought up the subject of civil society and an independent media as Wang, who last month berated a Canadian journalist for asking a question about China's human rights record during a news conference in Canada, looked down at his lectern or stared stonily ahead.
"As China continues along the path of transformation and reform, I encourage China's leaders to create the space needed for the civil society to play its crucial role," Ban said. He added that environmental activists, human rights lawyers and defenders and others "can act as a catalyst for social progress and economic goals."
"They can represent the diverse interests of the population and bring the voices of the vulnerable from the margins. Along with a free and independent media they can help ensure accountability, thereby helping the state to evolve better and strengthening its standing in the eyes of the people," Ban said.
This week marks the first anniversary of a crackdown in China on human rights lawyers and activists in which more than 200 were detained or questioned. One year on, around two dozen are still detained, including several who could face life imprisonment after being charged with subverting state power.
Ban, whose second term as U.N. secretary-general runs out at the end of the year, said, "The world will look to China to complement its remarkable economic progress by giving citizens a full say and a role in the political life of their country."