WASHINGTON (AFP) - Chinese President Hu Jintao will be bombarded by charges and protests over alleged human rights abuses when he makes his first US visit since taking over the helm two years ago, rights groups said.
They urged President George W. Bush to raise with Hu an array of human rights concerns in China, such as lack of religious and media freedom, political crackdown in Tibet, forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and bloody suppression of protests over rising social problems in the countryside.
Immediately after Washington announced last week that Bush would meet Hu on September 7, Amnesty International sought and secured police permission to hold protests outside the White House during the summit talks.
"As the only superpower, the United States has a duty and responsibility to raise this very important issue of human rights in China," said T. Kumar, Amnesty's director of advocacy in Washington.
Bush should press from Hu a "timetable with specific benchmarks" for improvement on human rights in China in the run up to the Olympics in Beijing in 2008, he said.
Among Amnesty's key concerns was the whereabouts of a boy picked by the Dalai Lama as the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and missing since 1995, Kumar said.
Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has not been seen since he disappeared as a six-year-old and is reportedly put under house arrest by China. Beijing denies he is under detention but refuses to reveal his whereabouts.
Kumar also said the political crackdown in Tibet and the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region had led to "arbitrary detention and imprisonment, incommunicado detention, unfair trials, and sweeping restrictions on religious, cultural and social rights."
Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights group, said that civil liberties had taken a heavy blow despite China's rapid economic progress.
There is increasing pressure from Beijing on websites and newspapers and so-called petitioners' movements highlighting problems among the poor, said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watchs Asia Division.
"Mr Hu's visit is a chance for the US to indicate whether it is going to really raise human rights issues with China or whether China is simply too important of an economic player for the US to hold to the same position in terms of support for human rights that it does in other countries," he said.
Hu has been warning that large-scale protests and riots, which have become common among Chinese frustrated over land seizures, evictions, poor working conditions, graft and environmental damage, would not be tolerated, Zarifi said.
Human rights is a key stumbling bloc in US-China ties.
President Bush began his second term at the White House earlier this year with a tough inauguration speech, pledging to overthrow tyranny and spread freedom and democracy to the "darkest corners" of the world.
But analysts say Bush cannot act tough with China at a time when he was banking heavily on Beijing to help end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive and back his "war on terror."
Many however believe that Bush, whose key constituency is the Christian right, would be compelled to raise the question over the lack of religious freedom in China, which launched a nationwide crackdown earlier this year on unregistered Christian churches.
Hu is also expected to face demonstrations in the United States from members of the Chinese Falun Gong spiritual movement, which faced a massive crackdown in 1999 that led to many thousands being sent to labour camps.
In an apparent bid to ease rights concerns ahead of Hu's visit, Beijing announced this week it would allow the UN human rights investigator dealing with torture to visit China.
Although China has opened up to some UN human rights experts in recent years, it has never received the world body's specialist in charge of examining allegations of torture.