Australian PM will discuss human rights in China

Aug. 06, 2008, 10:38 p.m. (ET)

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) Australia's prime minister urged the international community Thursday to maintain pressure on China over human rights, though he conceded Beijing's record has improved.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd spoke just before departing for a four-day trip to Beijing to attend Friday's opening ceremony of the Olympics and meet with Chinese leaders.

"I believe the responsibility of the international community is still to speak with a strong and united voice on these questions while recognizing that over time some progress has been made in China," Rudd told Nine Network television.

"Remember, it was not all that long ago they were in the middle of the cultural revolution with people getting put up against a wall and basically knocked off," he said.

China's human rights record and its policies in Tibet and Sudan have been flash points for criticism in the run-up to the Olympics as activists use the games to highlight their causes.

Four foreign activists staged a dramatic protest Wednesday by scaling a pole close to the Olympic stadium and unfurling banners calling for independence for Tibet.

Rudd, who is expected to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, said he would continue to encourage a peaceful dialogue between China and those calling for independence for Tibet.

"Let's not overstate it, you're not going to turn the events of centuries around in the matter of a few days, but what you can do is continue to apply the appropriate level of scrutiny," he said.

"I intend to do that, while building on what I think is a very important (relationship) with China, which is also Australia's largest trading partner."