U.S. officials plan to press China on its human rights record as top officials began gathering in Beijing Friday ahead of major talks on boosting trade, investment and economic growth in the Pacific Rim region.
The two-day meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, which will be attended by President Barack Obama, China’s Xi Jinping and others, opens Monday. Officials from its 21 member nations are hoping to do more to facilitate trade in the region by doing things like streamlining customs regulations or regional accounting procedures.
But U.S. officials have made clear they’ll also be raising with their Chinese hosts what’s being called the “deteriorating” situation involving human rights.
“That’s why we’ve spoken out about the situation in Hong Kong and human-rights issues elsewhere in China, because respect for fundamental freedoms is now and always has been a centerpiece of American foreign policy,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech this week.
U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice also met with American and Chinese rights advocates ahead of the summit to discuss their concerns.
Kerry, who was to meet in Beijing Friday and Saturday with his counterparts, said America’s Chinese policy is built on two “pillars:” constructively coordinating efforts where there is agreement, and constructively managing differences.
“I think that it is a ritual of U.S. diplomats of having to raise the issue, but I do not think there are any great expectations of change in China,” said Robert Manning, an analyst with the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank.
President Xi may also be more focused now on his country’s internal stability, and concerns that China’s economy is slowing down, Manning said.
“I think that [the economy] is his overwhelming preoccupation, and any protests from the United States are going to be pretty much ignored,” he said.
Meanwhile, China’s preparations for the high-profile meetings have included a stepped-up effort targeting corrupt officials who have fled overseas.
Over the past year, China’s Communist Party cracked down on corruption that has netted both high- and low-ranking officials.
According to state media, the government’s operation “Fox Hunt” has already brought charges against 50 high-ranking officials and helped repatriate some 180 purportedly corrupt officials from abroad.
Even so, Beijing has only a limited ability to bring home officials suspected of corruption. China does not have extradition treaties with countries such as Australia, Canada and the United States, countries that, according to state media reports, corrupt officials most often flee to.
In August, APEC members agreed to do more to work together to fight corruption. China will be the first country to host a newly established grouping of anti-corruption authorities known as ACT-NET. But instead of being affiliated with China’s National Bureau of Corruption Prevention, the network will be attached to the Communist Party’s anti-corruption investigative body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
That commission has spearheaded China’s anti-corruption drive and made initial investigations into corrupt officials before turning the cases over to state prosecutors. It is also in charge of “Fox Hunt.”
However, unlike state investigators, the central commission works much like secret police, holding allegedly corrupt officials in clandestine detention facilities without access to lawyers or family.
Amnesty International’s William Nee said the use of the party’s investigative body is problematic.
The Washington-based Global Financial Integrity group, which researches the illicit flow of money, estimates that more than $1 trillion were illegally channeled out of China from 2002 to 2011.
Amnesty International on Friday also said China should release at least 76 people, detained on the mainland for supporting Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests, before the start of next week's summit.
Students calling for full democracy for Chinese-ruled Hong Kong have blocked roads leading into three of the city's most economically and politically important districts for weeks, drawing condemnation from Beijing and the Hong Kong government.
VOA’s William Ide contributed to this report from Beijing. Material from Reuters was also used in this report.