The outgoing US ambassador to China on Thursday urged Beijing to improve its human rights record, in parting remarks just days before he is to leave the country.
Rights are “universal” values that represent more than economic benefits, Gary Locke said, speaking to journalists at the US embassy.
“We call on China to continue to improve – well we call on China to improve its record in this area,” Locke said.
“There’s been great prosperity and an increase in the quality of life and the standard of living here in China,” he said.
“But human rights is more than economic prosperity and the economic conditions of people, but also fundamental universal rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the ability to practice one’s own religion.
“We’re very concerned about a recent increase in arrests of activists and journalists ... and we very much are concerned about the arrests and detentions of people who are engaged in peaceful advocacy.”
Locke, who arrived in Beijing in August 2011, drew attention during his tenure for travelling far from Beijing to visit ethnic Uygur and Tibetan areas, where rights groups say China imposes tight security along with cultural and religious repression.
The diplomat also earned a reputation as a humble dignitary – in contrast to many Chinese officials – after being seen carrying his own luggage and using a regular car.
He oversaw two diplomatic dramas in 2012 that required intense negotiation with Chinese authorities.
In February that year Wang Lijun, the right-hand man of Bo Xilai, then the head of the metropolis of Chongqing, fled to the US consulate in Chengdu, blowing open the scandal surrounding his boss.
Wang soon left the premises to be dealt with by Chinese authorities, and was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison.
A few months later, blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped house arrest in the eastern province of Shandong and sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing.
After days of tense talks involving then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chen and his family were allowed to go to the US.
Locke, whose grandfather emigrated to the United States from Guangdong province, stood out as Washington’s first ethnic Chinese ambassador to the country.
“I’m proud of my Chinese heritage. I’m proud of the great contributions that China has made to world civilisation over thousands of years,” he said on Thursday.
“But I’m thoroughly American. I’m proud of the great values that America has brought to the entire world and all that America stands for.”
Additional reporting by Reuters