WASHINGTON, US - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday defended removing China from the State Department's list of top human rights violators, citing renewed dialogue with Beijing on such issues.
'We just got China to renew or to begin again the human rights dialogue that had been in limbo for some time,' Dr Rice told reporters.
In the State Department's annual report on human rights released on Tuesday, China was dropped from the list of the world's worst human rights abusers, but was classified as an authoritarian country undergoing economic reform and rapid social change that has 'not undertaken democratic political reform.'
'The only purpose here was to call out that there are some countries that are so closed, the Burmas (Myanmars) of the world, that you have a different kind of problem when you have a country that is in many ways completely closed off to the world,' Rice said.
'But it is by no means suggesting that there is not significant emphasis on human right problems in China,' she added, amid rights groups' concerns that the move was linked to Beijing's hosting of the Olympic Games in August.
'If you read the report on China, it is quite harsh, and properly so, about human rights problems in China,' Rice added.
The report stressed that China's 'overall human rights record remained poor' in 2007, citing tightened controls on religious freedom against Buddhists in Tibet and in Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang.
'The government also continued to monitor, harass, detain, arrest, and imprison activists, writers, journalists, and defense lawyers and their families, many of whom were seeking to exercise their rights under the law.'
Although there had been some progress in the legal system 'efforts to reform or abolish the reeducation-through-labour system remained stalled,' it said.
China had been fingered as one of the worst violators in the Department's 2006 and 2005 reports.
This year North Korea and Myanmar were ranked among the world's worst violators of human rights, while the State Department also took other Asian countries to task for alleged abuses.
Mr Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, meanwhile Wednesday credited Vietnam with making great strides in economic and social reforms.
'But in human rights this is clearly a work in progress,' he told a Senate committee hearing, after returning from an Asian trip this month that included talks in Hanoi.
'Social freedoms have increased. But there is no question that serious deficiencies remain in political and civil liberties,' he said, citing a crackdown late last year that netted prominent Vietnamese dissidents.
In his Hanoi meetings, Mr Hill said he pressed Vietnamese officials for the immediate release of the jailed dissidents, including Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly and a Vietnamese-American, Nguyen Quoc Quan. -- AFP