U.S. Expects China to Understand Human Rights Are Not 'Just an Internal Matter': Official

A U.S. official said the U.S. expects China to understand that human rights are not "just an internal matter" during the start this week of face-to-face talks meant to rebuild relations between the two countries.

China has accused the U.S. of suppressing China's development, a claim that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman rejected. "There are some things that rise above specific differences that are the global responsibility of great powers," she told the Associated Press.

One such issue has been human rights. China has been accused of human rights violations against the Muslim minority Uyghurs in the country's Xinjiang region, charges it has repeatedly denied. Sherman called on China to understand that human rights concerns were not an attempt to stifle China's development.

"We do expect...them to understand that human rights are not just an internal matter— they are a global commitment which they have signed up for" under the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sherman said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Sherman Korean meeting
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in China this week for face-to-face talks with government officials. Above, South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong bumps elbows with Sherman before their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul on July 22. Song Kyung-Seok/Pool/Getty Images

Sherman, speaking in an interview with AP after talks Monday with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, also said the U.S. welcomes vigorous economic competition with China but does not want it to veer into conflict.

The meetings were the second face-to-face talks between top diplomats of the two countries since President Joe Biden took office in January, coming four months after testy exchanges between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and veteran Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, in March.

Sherman, who was sworn in in April, described the meetings as another step in the process of trying to work through critical issues with China.

"We will see whether, in fact, there's follow-up and we are able to move another step," she said. "There's no way to know in the early stages of building this relationship whether we will get to all the places that we hoped for."

She said they had frank conversations on issues that divide them, ticking off a long list of U.S. concerns including what she called "the crimes against humanity" against Muslims in China's Xinjiang region, the crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, China's use of its economic size to pressure others, and its "aggressive actions" around Taiwan and in the South and East China seas.

Sherman also pressed for the release of some Americans and Canadians detained in China, saying "people are not bargaining chips," and raised concern about pressure on foreign journalists in China. China has tried two Canadians on national security charges in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of a Chinese tech executive wanted in the U.S.

Xie accused the U.S. of trying to contain China's development and said it should change course, embrace fair competition and work with China on the basis of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence, according to a Foreign Ministry summary of his remarks. China calls criticism of its policies in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan interference in its internal affairs.

Sherman said the U.S. welcomes vigorous competition and believes it is important for China to grow and better the lives of its people, but in a way that is in accord with international rules and does not diminish any other country.

Sherman, a Democrat who previously worked on North Korea and Iran talks in the Clinton and Obama administrations, said that China and the U.S. could work together on climate, anti-narcotics efforts and regional issues such as North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Each side shared concerns and issues that they hope can be resolved, she said. "I hope that we see those resolutions for the sake of many people whose lives and futures depend on it. But we will have to see."

Sherman and Wang meeting in China
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China, on Monday. U.S. Department of State via AP