WASHINGTON—Washington's need for help on global security concerns is tempering its criticism of China over human rights and enabling Beijing to strengthen a crackdown on dissent, activists said on Friday.
They said it was no coincidence that China's clampdown on activists and lawyers came at a time when the United States needs Chinese support at the United Nations to curtail the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran.
"The reason why Hu Jintao can strengthen the suppression is because the U.S.-led international community has let up on its pressure on the Chinese government," said Wei Jingsheng, a dissident who was exiled from China in 1997 after spending most of the previous two decades as a political prisoner.
Hu, China's Communist Party chief, was meting out tougher treatment of civic activists than a decade ago when Wei was in and out of jail, Wei told reporters.
In recent weeks, China has clamped down on a growing web of lawyers and activists seeking to expand freedoms through litigation and Internet-driven campaigns.
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng was jailed for over four years Thursday. Last week, Beijing police detained outspoken human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has defended the banned Falun Gong spiritual group.
The United States criticized China over the cases and has demanded the release of those and other activists.
Human rights lawyer Morton Sklar, who is pursuing lawsuits against officials behind China's deadly six-year crackdown on Falun Gong, said the need to court veto-wielding Security Council member China was staying the U.S. hand.
"The United States is dependent on their support to get some things through the Security Council," said Sklar, head of the World Organization for Human Rights USA.
"As a result, the United States has become less and less able—less and less willing—to exert itself forcefully against the government of China as far as human rights abuses are concerned," he told reporters in Washington.
A U.S. State Department official said Washington had suspended a formal human rights dialogue with China because it failed to produce concrete results, but that other rights diplomacy methods were being "pushed hard."
"I don't think we've pulled our punches at all in raising human rights with China. We've been going at them quite hard," said the official.
China joined Russia and Western powers on the Security Council in censuring North Korea over ballistic missile tests last month and in setting a deadline of Aug. 31 for Iran to stop nuclear enrichment work. But it remains unclear if China would support sanctions against those countries.