Slamming China for its 'poor' human rights record, the Barack Obama administration has accused it of harassing activists and lawyers, repressing Tibetans and censoring e-mails.
In China, the government's human rights record 'remains poor and is worsening' in some areas, including increased cultural and religious repression of ethnic minorities, claimed Assistant Secretary for Democracy (Human Rights and Labour) Michael Posner.
"In Xinjiang, (there has been) harassment of activists and public interest lawyers who are increasingly under surveillance and are being repressed. There's continuing repression in the Tibetan areas, limits on free expression, and control of the Internet," he told reporters soon after release of the annual State Department Human Rights Report.
Posner specifically highlighted two cases about China, which are also mentioned in the report.
One is the case of Liu Xiaobo, who was found guilty in December of subverting state power and sentenced to 11 years in prison. "His crime is that he helped write a petition, called Charter 08, which is basically a petition calling for an expansion of human rights and democracy," Posner said, adding this is a case of particular concern to the United States.
The second case is of a human rights lawyer called Gao Zhisheng, who was picked up by the police and is thought to be in detention, though his family does not know where he is, he said.
"In the last several years, more public interest, human rights, environmental lawyers have been taking up cases. There seems to be a real crackdown. And there are also greater restrictions on NGOs," Posner said.
"We learnt today that there's also a new press certification system in place which is going to give Chinese journalists training in Marxist news theories. So there is a sense that the space is actually closing for those, whether they're journalists, lawyers, or NGO activists," he said.
The State Department report said the Chinese government increased its efforts to monitor Internet use, control content, restrict information, block access to foreign and domestic websites, encourage self-censorship and punish those who violated regulations.
Noting that the government employed thousands of persons at the national, provincial and local levels to monitor electronic communications, the report said in January it began an 'anti-vulgarity' campaign that resulted in the closure of 1,250 websites and deletion of more than 3.2 million items of information.
"The government at times blocked access to selected sites operated by major foreign news outlets, health organisations, foreign governments, educational institutions and social networking sites, as well as search engines, that allow rapid communication," it said.
"During the year, particularly around sensitive events such as the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, authorities maintained tight control over Internet news and information," the report said.
The Chinese government also automatically censored e-mails and web chats based on an ever-changing list of sensitive key words, it claimed.
"Despite official monitoring and censorship, dissidents and political activists continued to use the Internet to advocate and call attention to political causes such as prisoner advocacy, political reform, ethnic discrimination, corruption and foreign policy concerns," the report said.
China hit back at Washington, accusing it of hypocrisy, while blaming the US for the global financial crisis.
"As in previous years, the (US) reports are full of accusations of the human rights situation in more than 190 countries and regions including China, but turn a blind eye to, or dodge and even cover up rampant human rights abuses on its own territory," said the Information Office of the State Council in its report on the US rights record.
China today issued the Human Rights Record of the United States in 2009, in retaliation for the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2009, issued by the US Department of State on March 11.
"At a time when the world is suffering a serious human rights disaster caused by the US sub-prime crisis-induced global financial crisis, the US government still ignores its own serious human rights problems but revels in accusing other countries. It is really a pity," it said.
The report is "prepared to help people around the world understand the real situation of human rights in the United States," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted the report as saying.
China alleged that US workers' rights had been 'seriously violated', lamenting the millions who were without health insurance, and accusing Washington of post-9/11 curbs on freedoms.
It criticised the United States for using human rights as "a political instrument to interfere in other countries' internal affairs, defame other nations' image and seek its own strategic interests."