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China says willing to resume rights dialogue with U.S.
BEIJING (Reuters) - China told the United States on Tuesday it is willing to resume a human rights dialogue with Washington, a move that could be aimed at defusing criticism surrounding its hosting of the 2008 Olympics.
China broke off the dialogue in 2004 after Washington urged a U.N. watchdog to condemn what it called China's backsliding on rights.
"We are ready to resume the human rights dialogue," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told reporters at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was in Beijing on a 24-hour visit.
"We are willing to have exchanges and interactions with the U.S. and other countries on human rights on a basis of mutual respect, equality and non-interference in each others' internal affairs," he said.
Rights groups have been using the Beijing Games to put pressure on China, which they say is the world's leading jailer of journalists and which lacks an independent judiciary as it cracks down on political dissent and strictly controls the media.
Rice said she had raised the issues generally, as well as three specific cases, with Yang.
"I have expressed to the minister our continuing concerns about human rights and religious freedom in China (and) the importance of resuming a human rights dialogue between the United States and China," she said.
"We do this in a spirit of respect but these issues are very near and dear to America."
Rice said no date had yet been set for the dialogue to resume but the two countries would work to set one.
During the meeting with Yang, Rice raised the case of activist Hu Jia, who was detained for inciting subversion after supporting campaigns for democratic reform.
She also brought up Jude Shao, a U.S. citizen sentenced to 16 years for tax evasion. Shao's supporters say the charge was trumped up after he refused to pay a bribe.
The third case involves more than one person, targeted by the Chinese government after Yahoo Inc helped identify them. Dissident Shi Tao, a reporter accused of leaking state secrets, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
New York-based Human Rights Watch had urged Rice to speak publicly about press freedom and dissent on her trip.
The group mentioned several cases, including that of Hu, and Yang Chunlin, a factory worker on trial after calling for rights to take precedence over the Olympics.
(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing Olympics blog at http:/blogs.reuters.com/china)
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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