September 17, 2015 / 8:55 AM / 2 years ago

China defends Xi visit to U.N. forum despite activists' detention

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's achievements on women's issues are obvious to an impartial observer, the government said on Thursday in announcing President Xi Jinping's attendance at a U.N. women's summit, brushing off concern about its detention of women activists in March.

The five activists were taken into custody on the weekend of March 8, International Women's Day, after they had planned to demonstrate against sexual harassment on public transport.

They were released a month later, after a vocal campaign against their detention by Western governments, non-governmental groups and Chinese rights campaigners.

Asked whether Xi had the right to talk about women's issues considering the activists' detention, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the government pays great attention to "encouraging women to use lawful means to ensure their rights".

"As long as you don't wear colored glasses and have an objective view, you will reach a fair conclusion about the important achievements women have made in China," he told a daily news briefing.

"As for the relevant case you mentioned, China's judicial authorities dealt with it in accordance with the law."

Speaking earlier, Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said this month's U.N. women's summit had been proposed by China and that Xi would give "an important address". It coincides with the 20th anniversary of a major U.N. meeting on women in Beijing.

International rights groups have questioned whether it is appropriate for Xi to speak at the summit given the detention of the five women amid a broader crackdown on non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Wu Rongrong, who was among the five detained, said she did not think it was fitting for Xi to go.

"On the question of whether he can really be a representative for women's rights, I agree with other NGOs in saying it's not quite right," she said by phone.

She added that she and the others who were detained had not been able to return to activism because of their status as suspects in a criminal case, and that the case created a chilling effect in women's rights circles in China.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called attention to Liu Xia, the wife of jailed Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, via her Twitter feed on Wednesday. Liu Xia has been under effective house arrest since 2010.

Power and other Western leaders had previously called for the release of the five women's rights activists.

Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel

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