BEIJING China said it was willing to discuss its differences on human rights "with mutual respect" with the U.S. on Saturday after rejecting a recent official report from Washington as interference in its internal affairs.
"China would like to conduct dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect. But China resolutely opposes using the issue of human rights to interfere in China's internal affairs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement posted on the ministry's website www.fmprc.gov.cn.
China has extended a crackdown on dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters challenging Communist Party controls, with artist Ai Weiwei the most prominent of activists to be detained by police or held in secretive custody.
Police have said Ai faces an investigation for "suspected economic crimes," a charge his family has rejected as a fig leaf for smothering his outspoken criticism of government censorship and abuses.
China's clampdown on dissent has brought an outcry from Washington and other Western capitals, and the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday she was "deeply concerned" about it, citing "negative trends" including Ai's detention.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman countered that the U.S. should focus on its own human rights issues.
"We advise the U.S. side to reflect on its own human rights issues and don't position itself as a preacher of human rights, and to stop using the issue of human rights reports to interfere in other countries' internal affairs," Hong said.
China is routinely dismissive of foreign criticism of its restrictions on citizens' legal, political and religious activities, saying its people enjoy more freedom and better lives than in the past. It also accuses the U.S. of hypocrisy in human rights standards.
The latest U.S. State Department report on human rights across the globe said Beijing had stepped up restrictions on lawyers, activists, bloggers and journalists; tightened controls on civil society; and stepped up efforts to control the press, the Internet and Internet access.
Chinese authorities also increased the use of forced disappearances, house arrest, and detention in illicit "black jails" to punish activists, petitioners and their families, said the U.S. report.
(Reporting by Jacqueline Wong; Editing by Mike Nesbit)