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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joseph Biden warned China on Monday the United States would press hard on human rights, over which the two sides have a "vigorous" disagreement and criticizing Beijing's latest crackdown on dissent.
Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both used unusually blunt language on human rights at the start of an annual meeting of top officials from the two nations, saying the United States was concerned about Beijing's recent clampdown, which has involving arrests, detentions and secretive confinement of human rights lawyers, protesters and dissidents.
"No relationship that's real can be built on a false foundation. Where we disagree, it's important to state it. We will continue to express our views on these issues," Biden said at the opening of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue meeting in Washington.
Clinton said the United States had made clear both publicly and privately its concerns over Beijing's human rights record, which has long been a major irritant in relations.
"We see reports of people including public interest lawyers, writers, artists and others who are detained or disappeared," Clinton said in her remarks, drawing a parallel to the wave of political unrest sweeping the Middle East.
"We know over the long arc of history that societies that work toward respecting human rights are going to be more prosperous, stable and successful. That has certainly been proven time and time again, but most particularly in the last months," she said.
The United States and China last month wound up human rights talks in Beijing with a senior U.S. official underscoring the Obama administration's deep concern over China's rights record and warning broader ties could suffer.
This week's two-day Washington meeting of top officials from across the U.S. and Chinese governments follows a contentious period, after China has jailed, detained or placed in informal custody dozens of dissidents, human rights lawyers and protesters it fears will challenge Communist Party rule.
Chinese authorities subsequently released human rights lawyer Teng Biao after a 70-day detention -- but Biden and Clinton's comments on Monday indicated that the U.S. pressure would continue.
China's leaders have become increasingly unyielding in the face of Western pressure over human rights issues, and say that those complaints amount to illegitimate meddling.
Beijing's alarm about dissent grew after overseas Chinese websites in February spread calls for protests across China inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" of anti-authoritarian uprisings across the Arab world.
But before the dialogue and in their opening remarks to the meetings, Chinese officials have not mentioned the U.S. criticisms.
In Beijing on Friday, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai was asked at a news conference about China's view of the U.S. raising human rights at Washington meeting and said dialogue was possible on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
"I think the Chinese people themselves have the greatest right to speak about China's progress in human rights endeavors," Cui said. "We also hope that in observing human rights development in China, the outside world abides by seeking truth from facts."
Biden acknowledged that the U.S. stance on human rights might "rankle" some in Beijing, but said it was too important an issue to be kicked to the sidelines.
"I recognize that some in China see our advocacy (of) human rights as an intrusion and lord only knows what else. But President Obama and I believe strongly, as does the secretary, that protecting fundamental rights and freedoms such as those enshrined in China's international commitments as well as in China's own constitution is the best way to promote long term stability and prosperity -- of any society," he said.
Both Clinton and Biden emphasized the broader U.S.-China relationship must move forward despite disagreements on specific issues, which include not only human rights but also China's market access policies, financial market reforms and U.S. charges that Beijing keeps its yuan currency artificially undervalued to gain trade advantage.
Additional reporting by Chris Buckley and Paul Eckert, editing by Philip Barbara