The U.S. ambassador to China on Saturday urged Beijing to improve its human rights record, pointing to imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo as an example where China falls short.
In a statement released on the U.N.'s International Human Rights Day, envoy Gary Locke said protection of human rights in China had not kept up with the country's massive economic gains.
Locke said the imprisonment of Liu and restrictions on the freedoms of his wife, the disappearance of human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, the unlawful detention of Chinese citizens such as lawyer Chen Guangcheng, and constraints on the religious freedom and practices of Tibetan, Uighur (WEE' gur) and Christian communities "do not bring China closer to achieving its stated goals."
Liu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for co-authoring an appeal for political reform. His wife, Liu Xia, has largely been held incommunicado, effectively under house arrest, watched by police, without phone or Internet access and prohibited from seeing all but a few family members.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Friday that Liu was in jail because he was a criminal. China defends its human rights record, saying it has vastly improved living conditions for its citizens.
Gao, a human rights lawyer who has represented religious dissenters and advocated constitutional reform, has been missing for more than 18 months.
Chen, an activist lawyer who is blind, was released from jail a little more than a year ago, but authorities have turned his village in Shangdong province in eastern China into a no-go zone, where activists, foreign diplomats and reporters have been turned back and threatened.
Locke said Washington wants to build a partnership with China that includes regular talks on human rights issues. He said U.S. support for China reflects a belief that rule of the law and protection of "freedoms of expression, belief and assembly are critical to securing the growth, prosperity and long-term stability that China seeks and to realizing the full potential of its people."