By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
BEIJING (AP) _ China’s new leader Xi Jinping will confer with President Barack Obama next month in California, months earlier than expected, as both sides seek to stem a drift in relations, troubled by issues from cyberspying to North Korea.
The June 7-8 meeting at a retreat southeast of Los Angeles, announced Monday by the White House, underlines the importance of the relationship between the countries as they work out ways for the U.S.-led world order to make room for a China that is fast accruing global influence and military power.
President Xi has said China wants its rise to be peaceful, but that Beijing will not compromise on issues of sovereignty _ a stance that has aggravated disputes over contested East and South China Seas islands with several countries, including staunch U.S. allies Japan and the Philippines.
Among the other pressing items on the presidents’ agenda: the spotty global economic recovery, U.S. allegations of persistent Chinese cyberattacks and espionage and Washington’s desire for China to do more in international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
Washington has also criticized Beijing, along with Russia, for blocking tougher U.N. Security Council measures aimed at ending the bloodshed in Syria. China, for its part, has repeatedly lashed out at the U.S. military’s ongoing strengthening of its presence in Asia, what it considers Washington’s support for Japan in its island dispute with Beijing, and the U.S. questioning of China’s human rights record and military buildup.
The meeting will be “of great significance to strengthening strategic communications, increasing strategic mutual trust … properly handling disputes, developing cooperative relations and building a new type of big-power relationship,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The issues are so many that the agenda was becoming crowded for any Obama and Xi meeting.
The two leaders have spoken by telephone since Obama was re-elected and Xi elevated to Communist Party chief in November. Xi was named China’s head of state in March for the first of what are expected to be two five-year terms.
The two met previously in February 2012, when Xi traveled to the U.S. as vice president and leader-in-waiting.
But before Monday’s announcement, their first face-to-face meeting as leaders of their respective nations had not been expected until September in Russia, on the sidelines of the summit of the Group of 20 large economies.
“They needed more than 20 minutes on the sidelines of another meeting,” said Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “If they want to see U.S.-China relations on a solid footing, to manage the differences and find issues to cooperate on _ North Korea, Iran, climate change _ it has to start at the top. U.S.-China relations are not managed from the bottom up but from the top down.”
The White House, in its statement, said the two presidents will “discuss ways to enhance cooperation, while constructively managing our differences, in the years ahead.”
The decision to hold a working visit instead of a pomp-filled state summit underscores the government’s decision to put protocol aside to focus on substance. Xi will make the stop-off in California after traveling to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico.
“The engagement has become more flexible, and that helps keep the contact at the highest levels, which is conducive to understanding each other’s viewpoints and taking more effective measures,” Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.
The Foreign Ministry’s Hong pointed to cooperation on issues including climate change, energy security, North Korea, and Iran. Disputes also exist, he said, without offering details, and require “proper handling and active controlling by both sides.”
U.S. diplomats have said that Chinese officials had wanted Obama to come to Beijing late this year or early next. His last visit was in 2009. Xi’s predecessor as president, Hu Jintao, was given a formal White House welcome in 2011.
To prepare for the California meeting, Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, will go to Beijing on May 26-28, White House press secretary Jay Carney said.
Group: More Afghan women jailed for ‘moral crimes’
By KAY JOHNSON
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The number of Afghan women and girls jailed for “moral crimes” has risen dramatically in the past 18 months, raising concerns that gains in women’s rights might be reversed with the withdrawal of most international troops next year, a rights group said Tuesday.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said 600 females are now detained under charges listed as moral crimes, a catch-all category that covers running away from home and sex outside of marriage. The number of females behind bars has jumped by 50 percent since late 2012, it said.
Many women who report rapes to police find themselves arrested for adultery, and many who flee violent abuse or forced marriages are jailed for running away from home, though that is not a crime under Afghan’s criminal code, said Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia.
“The majority of women and girls imprisoned for `moral crimes’ are actually victims themselves,” Kine said.
Of the 600 females now detained for moral crimes, about 110 are girls under 18, almost all of them charged with running away from home, said HRW’s Afghanistan researcher, Heather Barr. Many police and prosecutors cite provisions of Shariah Islamic law to order the detentions based on “intent to commit adultery.”
The number of women and girls jailed for alleged loose morals is the highest since the ouster of the Muslim fundamentalist Taliban regime in a U.S.-backed invasion in 2001, Barr said. The Taliban were known for harsh treatment of women under their strict interpretation of Islamic law during their five-year reign, ordering beatings for women failing to wear the full-body burqa garment in public and banning them from leaving their homes without a male relative.
Activists fear that hard-won women’s rights, one of the most visible improvements since the invasion, are in danger of eroding in Afghanistan, where many people remain deeply conservative and opposed to rights measures they see as imposition of Western values.
Tuesday’s report came three days after conservative parliamentarians fiercely opposed ratifying a presidential decree on protection of violence against women, rejecting provisions banning child marriage, domestic violence and jailing of rape victims as un-Islamic. Some activists worry the parliament may try to amend or even repeal the decree, which remains in force for now.
Barr said the sharp increase in prosecutions for moral crimes could be related to religious conservatives feeling more confident with the departure of international troops. Most foreign forces will leave by the end of 2014.
“I think it’s possible that as everyone anticipates the departure of foreigners, there is a feeling that in a sense things can go back to normal, and … people will be free to ignore (women’s rights) in the future,” Barr said.
“If that’s true, that’s really is a tragedy, because these ideas didn’t come from foreigners. These ideas came from Afghan women’s rights activists,” she said.
Human Rights Watch called on President Hamid Karzai to issue a decree banning police from jailing girls for running away from home. It also called on international donors to focus on preserving gains in women’s rights after 2014.