Keith Harper, the US ambassador to the UN.
Keith Harper, the US ambassador to the UN. Photo: UN.

Beijing defended itself Friday against criticism at the United Nations of its human rights record, saying it was pursuing “a path with Chinese characteristics” on the issue.

The United States and 11 other countries took China to task at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, demanding it immediately release all detained activists and lawyers.

“We are concerned about China‘s deteriorating human rights record, notably the arrests and ongoing detention of rights activists, civil society leaders and lawyers,” Keith Harper, the US ambassador to the body, said Thursday.

Under President Xi Jinping, China‘s ruling Communist Party has tightened controls over civil society, detaining or interrogating more than 200 human rights lawyers and activists in what analysts have called one of the biggest crackdowns on dissent in years.

China defended itself Friday, with foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei saying that “no country is perfect” and accusing Washington of “seriously interfering with China’s domestic affairs and judicial sovereignty”.

Beijing protected the rights of its citizens “by combining principles of the universality of human rights with China’s realities”, Hong said. “We have found a path with Chinese characteristics and made remarkable achievements.”

Harper’s remarks echoed recent comments from UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, who also called for detained lawyers to be released.

China is currently in the spotlight over the disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers who reappeared on the mainland, and the use of televised confessions from suspects, among a host of other issues.

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