BEIJING May 27 The United States on Tuesday gave a cautious endorsement to this week's resumption of a human rights dialogue with China that has been frozen since 2002.
The talks come a few months before Beijing hosts the Olympic Games in August and weeks after deadly riots in Tibet and the subsequent security crackdown that drew international criticism.
But a senior U.S. official expressed concern over reports that Chinese authorities had told activists not to meet U.S. delegates during two days of talks in Beijing.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, David Kramer, told reporters he was concerned about "reports that people were told ... that they being placed under house arrest and were not to come and join us for meetings."
"We have approached the Chinese authorities about these reports and asked them to look into them," Kramer said on Tuesday.
China has detained a number of high-profile dissidents in the lead-up to the Olympics, including prominent AIDS activist Hu Jia, who last month was jailed for three and a half years for inciting subversion.
China formally pulled out of the talks in 2004, after Washington urged a U.N. watchdog to condemn what it called as China's backsliding on rights, but in February agreed to resume the dialogue.
"Human rights has been a source of tension in our relationship and we want to turn it into a positive factor in our relationship," Kramer said.
He said he had been encouraged by the attention Chinese officials had placed on this week's talks, but that it was too early judge whether they would be successful.
"They believe they have made progress in the six years that we last had a human rights dialogue. In some respects, with certain pieces of legislation and regulations that have been put forward, they can make a legitimate case," Kramer said.
He said U.S. officials had discussed a number of sensitive issues with their Chinese counterparts, including "media freedom, Internet freedom, prisoners of concern, religious freedom" and the human rights situation in Tibet and China's restive Xinjiang region in the far west.
China poured thousands of troops into ethnic Tibetan areas and detained hundreds of people after monk-led demonstrations in Tibetan capital Lhasa exploded into riots on March 14.
"We asked for more information about the numbers of those detained (in Tibet) and where they are being detained and... the problems that lawyers who had offered to represent those who had been detained had encountered, including the threat of revocation of their licenses," Kramer said.
U.S. officials had also urged their counterparts to continue talks with the Dalai Lama, whom China brands a separatist and has accused of orchestrating the unrest in ethnic Tibetan areas.
Envoys of the Dalai Lama met Chinese officials on May 4 to discuss the recent unrest in Tibet.
Foreign human rights groups, Western countries and China's own dissidents regularly criticise authorities for everything from the suppression of peaceful protests and freedom of speech to the death penalty.
But China insists it has a different concept of human rights to the West, saying that the right to develop, including feed and shelter its 1.3 billion people, must come before individual rights. (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by David Fogarty)