China praises US on Uighur unrest

WASHINGTON: A Chinese official thanked the United States for taking a "moderate" line on recent ethnic violence, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted that human rights remained a top priority.

The United States and China pledged cooperation on issues ranging from fighting climate change to reining in Iran's nuclear program as they held two days of talks in Washington aimed at charting out ties for years to come.

Wang Guangya, China's vice foreign minister, hailed a new spirit of friendship in the talks and praised the US response to this month's unrest in Xinjiang province, where more than 190 people were killed.

The Chinese side briefed US officials on the Xinjiang violence and "expressed our appreciation for the moderate attitude of the United States, so far," Wang told reporters.

"The United States unequivocally said that this incident is entirely a domestic affair of China," he said.

President Barack Obama's administration has walked a fine line on human rights with China, the top creditor to the heavily indebted United States.

Clinton raised a furor among rights activists after taking office by saying that human rights would not impede cooperation on other issues. But she has later publicly pressed China on a series of rights concerns.

Clinton said that the United States raised concerns about Xinjiang during the top-level talks.

"Human rights is absolutely integral to the Strategic and Economic Dialogue," she said.

"It is a part of our policy, not only with China, but with other countries," Clinton said.

But Amnesty International worried that China could easily ignore US chidings on human rights unless the issue became a more prominent part of such high-level dialogue.

"Even though human rights were discussed, we are concerned that human rights did not play an equal role to the economic dialogue given the recent events in Xinjiang," said T. Kumar, the rights group's Washington-based Asia advocacy director.

"If it becomes part and parcel of the overall dialogue, then the chance of improving human rights in China would be much greater," Kumar said.

China's worst ethnic violence in decades erupted on July 5 in Xinjiang, a vast, arid Muslim-majority region, leaving at least 197 people dead.

The unrest began with a peaceful protest by Uighurs which quickly descended into violence as Uighur mobs attacked members of China's dominant Han ethnic group.

Chinese authorities say most of the dead were Han and blamed the violence on extremist and separatist groups.

The US State Department says China's eight million Uighurs bear worsening religious and cultural oppression at the hands of China's officially atheist communists.

Wang said China asked the United States to "restrain and prevent" anyone from using its soil to conduct "separatist activities against China."

He was likely alluding to Uighur rights leader Rebiya Kadeer, who fled to the Washington area in 2005 after six years in a Chinese prison.

China has accused the 62-year-old mother of 11 of instigating the recent violence and enjoying support of "terrorists."

Kadeer has rejected the allegations. Kadeer -- currently on a trip to Japan that has angered Beijing -- accuses China of falsely lumping together Uighurs with Islamic extremists to gain international sympathy.

Dozens of Uighurs chanting "Shame on China!" and flying the blue flags of East Turkestan, as they call Xinjiang, held a noisy rally outside the White House as Chinese delegates arrived by motorcade for the dialogue's finale.

Alim Seytoff, vice president of the Kadeer-led Uighur American Association, voiced appreciation for US policy, saying that international attention had prevented China from executing Uighurs involved in the unrest.

"We are grateful that President Obama talked about human rights in his opening speech," Seytoff said.

"But, of course, it would be even better if he directly raised with the Uighur issue with his Chinese counterparts," he said.