Wen Jiabao

Honesty the key to our relationship: US envoy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2011, 12:00am

The ability to exchange 'honest, frequent and forthright debate and discussion' demonstrates the strength of Sino-US relations, outgoing American ambassador Jon Huntsman told a Shanghai audience yesterday.

His at-times strongly worded lecture also made extensive references to human rights issues.

'The test of the strength of our relationship is our ability to speak openly and honestly about issues that sometimes cause one side or the other to cringe a little bit but it gets the issues out on the table in a way that furthers understanding,' Huntsman said.

'When you don't have a strong relationship, when it isn't based on a solid footing, you can't speak openly and you can't speak in a direct and forthright fashion.'

In his 30-minute speech, Huntsman stressed the positives and 'shared interests' of the relationship between the world's two superpowers, but argued that more needed to be done to develop 'shared values'.

Huntsman, 51, due to step down at the end of this month, warned that 'too often, divisions dominate our discourse and sap our enthusiasm to work together'.

'Our differences on some issues are profound and well known,' he said. 'It should come as no surprise, for example, that the United States will continue to push and campaign for respect for universal human rights, which is a fundamental extension of the American experience and the bedrock of our world view.'

He said that 'long after I depart Beijing', his successors at the US embassy in Beijing would continue to visit geologist Dr Xue Feng, a naturalised American who he said was 'wrongly convicted of stealing state secrets and is now serving an eight-year sentence'.

They would also 'speak out in defence of social activists ... who challenge the Chinese government to serve the public in all cases and at all times', including jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng and artist-activist Ai Weiwei, who has not been seen since he was taken away by police at Beijing airport on Sunday morning.

Huntsman vowed that his country would continue to support the 'fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur'.

'We do so not because we oppose China, but on the contrary because we value our relationship,' he said, adding that both President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao had acknowledged the 'universality of human rights'.