Barack Obama

Obama hosts Chinese rights advocates at White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama met on Thursday with five advocates for human rights in China ahead of a state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao next week, a White House spokesman said.

The meetings, first reported by The Washington Post, marked the first time Obama has met with advocates for human rights in China at the White House.

The 75-minute White House meeting was part of Obama’s preparation for his meetings with his Chinese counterpart, the newspaper reported, citing two senor administration officials.

Hu arrives in Washington on January 19.

Obama will speak about human rights in his public appearance with Hu and also bring up the issue during their private meetings, the Post reported, citing one administration official who attended Thursday’s meeting with the human rights advocates.

“The meeting was very pluralistic; many different opinions were shared,” one of the administration officials told the Post. “But the consensus was that human rights has to be on the agenda even if it is awkward. And it makes a difference when it is.”

The main of focus of Hu’s visit would likely center on security concerns like North Korea’s nuclear program and economic issues like China’s contentious exchange-rate policy.

According to the newspaper, the human rights advocates who attended the meeting with Obama were: Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Zha Jianying, a Chinese writer and expert on the China’s youth culture; Paul Gewirtz, founder of the China Law Center at Yale University; Bette Bao Lord, a Chinese-born writer, democracy advocate and wife of former U.S. ambassador to China Winston Lord; and Li Xiarong, a Chinese human rights advocate since the 1980s now living in exile in the United States.

Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Eric Walsh