WASHINGTON - Amnesty International and a pro-Tibet group voiced shock Friday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed not to let human rights concerns hinder cooperation with China.
Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.
"But our pressing on those issues can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis," Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.
T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA said the global rights lobby was "shocked and extremely disappointed" by Clinton's remarks.
"The United States is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues," he said.
"But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future US initiatives to protect those rights in China," he said.
Students for a Free Tibet said Clinton's remarks sent the wrong signal to China at a sensitive time.
"The US government cannot afford to let Beijing set the agenda," said Tenzin Dorjee, deputy director of the New York-based advocacy group.
China has been pouring troops into the Himalayan territory ahead of next month's 50th anniversary of the uprising that sent Tibet's spiritual leader the Dalai Lama into exile in India.
"Leaders really need to step up and pressure China. It's often easy to wonder whether pressure makes a difference. It may not make a difference in one day or one month, but it would be visible after some years," Dorjee said.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had sent a letter to Clinton before her maiden Asia visit urging her to raise human rights concerns with Chinese leaders.
Before she left, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said human rights would be "an important issue" for Clinton and that she would "raise the issue when appropriate."
China has greeted President Barack Obama's administration nervously, believing he would press Beijing harder on human rights and trade issues than former president George W. Bush.