Barack Obama

Obama publicly raises human rights with China's Hu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama issued a finely tuned call for greater respect for human rights on Wednesday in his speech to welcome his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.

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Hu’s four-day state visit to the United States has become a lightning rod for advocates of China’s minority Uighurs, Tibetans, imprisoned democracy advocates and other disgruntled groups. Hundreds have converged on Washington to protest.

“History shows that societies are more harmonious, nations are more successful and the world is more just when the rights and responsibilities of all nations and all people are upheld, including the universal rights of every human being,” Obama said during a welcoming ceremony for Hu outside the White House.

“Harmonious Society” is a key ideological slogan of Hu’s government as it tries to maintain his Communist Party’s grip on power in an increasingly free market economy.

The activists, who say that rights conditions have worsened in recent years despite China’s rapid economic growth and expanding global influence, have pressed Obama to address their concerns both publicly and privately with Hu.

Some 200 Tibetans and their American supporters staged a colorful protest in Lafayette Park across from the White House, chanting “Who is a liar? Hu Jintao is a liar” and “Killer, killer, Hu Jintao.”

Two actors wearing 12-foot-tall (4-meter-tall) skeleton costumes chased down others wearing a long Chinese dragon outfit and attacked it until it collapsed on the sidewalk in front of a banner that said, “Hu has Tibetan skeletons in his closet.”

“We’re here to urge President Obama to raise the issue of human rights and freedom for the Tibetan people during his talk with President Hu Jintao, publicly and vigorously, because these are universal values and especially ones that us Americans ... cherish,” said Tenzin Dolkar, USA grassroots director for Students for a Free Tibet.

Nearby, members of the Falun Gong, a spiritual movement

China banned in 1999, held a silent vigil in front of banners and placards saying, “Please help to stop persecuting Falun Gong.”

Obama has faced criticism from the U.S. media and some lawmakers during his two years in office for appearing reticent about repression in countries like China, Russia and Egypt.

Obama was also under pressure from some U.S. lawmakers to raise rights issues with Hu. They argue that the U.S. president, who won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, has a duty to speak out to the jailer of the 2010 Nobel peace laureate, Chinese writer and rights activist Liu Xiaobo.

In a key speech on China ahead of Hu’s visit last week, week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Beijing to release Liu and “the many other political prisoners in China, including those under house arrest and those enduring enforced disappearances.”

China rejects criticism of its human rights record as interference in its internal affairs.

Reporting by Caren Bohan and David Alexander; Writing by Paul Eckert; Editing by Frances Kerry