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Latest update : 2009-02-22

Before returning home from her Asian tour, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a gesture to Chinese civil society by receiving two dozen women's rights activists at the US embassy in Beijing and visiting a state-approved church.

REUTERS -  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended her visit to China on Sunday by attending services at a state-sanctioned church, having a conversation with women's rights activists and doing a brief Web chat.

The events on the last day of her one-week Asian tour aimed to highlight Clinton's commitment to civil and religious rights in a way that would not offend the Chinese government, which resents what it views as interference in its internal affairs.

"Every society has challenges and problems and issues and obstacles and it's important that people like all of you continue to raise those and speak out," Clinton said as she met about two dozen women's rights activists at the U.S. embassy.

She warmly praised the activists, who included legal rights advocates, environmentalists and an 82-year-old doctor, Gao Yaojie, who exposed official complicity in the spread of AIDS in central China at unsanitary, often state-run clinics.

"Change really does come from individual decisions, many millions of individual decisions, where someone stands up like Dr. Gao and says 'No, I am not going to be quiet,'" Clinton said. "That's what we have to encourage."

Clinton made clear during her visit that while she would raise human rights in China she would not let U.S. concerns about them get in the way of joint work on the global economy, climate change and security issues.

China and the United States are both dependent on a revival of the U.S. economy and will rise or fall together, she told the Shanghai-based Dragon TV in an interview.

China is the world's biggest holder of U.S. treasuries and Clinton said continuing to invest in them was "a very smart decision".

"So by continuing to support American treasury instruments, the Chinese are recognising our interconnection. We are truly going to rise or fall together. We are in the same boat and thankfully we are rowing in the same direction."



Having visited Tokyo, Jakarta, Seoul and Beijing over the last week, Clinton began her day by attending a service at the Haidian Christian church, which was opened in Beijing's university district in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.

China has about 40 million active Christians, and their numbers are evenly divided between state-run and underground churches, according to expert estimates.

Religious freedom is enshrined in China's constitution, but the government expects Christians to worship in "patriotic" churches under state control with clergy vetted by the state.

Last year a Christian activist was detained on his way to a service attended by U.S. President George W. Bush.

In an effort to protect the rights activists whom she later met at the U.S. embassy, U.S. officials asked reporters not to name those who did not wish their presence to be public.

Gao received an award in Washington two years ago after Clinton wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao asking that he intervene with local officials who had sought to prevent the elderly doctor from traveling.

 "I am already 82. I am not going to live that much longer," Gao told Clinton. "This is an important issue. I am not afraid."

Date created : 2009-02-22