Technical problems with simultaneous translations plagued the post-state visit press conference with United States President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday.
Yet the fact that many of the technical snags occurred when Mr. Hu faced questions on China’s human rights record was a fact that left many observers wondering about their timing.
The first set of comments on the thorny bilateral issue of human rights in China, by President Obama, passed through the sound systems unscathed.
Clearly enunciating the U.S. support for human rights and expressing hope that China would do the same, Mr. Obama said that during the state visit, “I reaffirmed America’s fundamental commitment to the universal rights of all people. That includes basic human rights like freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association and demonstration, and of religion – rights that are recognized in the Chinese constitution.”
On the steps forward, he added the U.S. and China had agreed to move ahead with a formal dialogue on human rights and new exchanges to advance the rule of law “while acknowledging there are going to be areas where we disagree.”
He was quick, however, to add that the U.S. recognised that “Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, [and] the U.S. continues to support further dialogue between the government of China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve concerns and differences, including the preservation of the religious and cultural identity of the Tibetan people.”
Yet the reporter to whom Mr. Obama had responded had also asked Mr. Hu about how he would justify China’s record on human rights, and if Mr. Hu thought that was a legitimate concern of the American people – yet no answer was forthcoming from the Chinese President, who instead responded a question from another reporter.
But there was no avoiding the issue when a second reporter reiterated his colleagues question and specifically requested a response from President Hu, who then replied, “First, I would like to clarify, because of the technical translation and interpretation problem, I did not hear the question about the human rights... As you raise this question, and I heard the question properly, certainly I am in a position to answer that question.”
Mr. Hu then explained that in over eight meetings he had held thus far with Mr. Obama, China had not shied away from discussing human rights and its position was that “China recognises and also respects the universality of human rights. And at the same time, we do believe that we also need to take into account the different and national circumstances when it comes to the universal value of human rights.”
However while he stressed that China was a developing country that was currently in a “crucial stage of reform,” and still faced many challenges in economic and social development, he conceded, “And a lot still needs to be done in China, in terms of human rights.”
China was willing to continue to have exchanges and dialogue with other countries in terms of human rights, and we are also willing to learn from each other in terms of the good practices, Mr. Hu said, specifically saying that although there were “disagreements between China and the U.S. on the issue of human rights, China is willing to engage in dialogue and exchanges with the U.S. on the basis of mutual respect and the principle of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.”