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When China's Hu Jintao speaks on human rights, check his definition of the term

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Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

(Read caption) China's President Hu Jintao speaks before offering a toast during a State Dinner hosted by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, Wednesday, Jan. 19, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao made a comment yesterday that on the face of it seemed to be an unusually frank admission.

“A lot still needs to be done in China in terms of human rights,” he told reporters at a joint press conference during his state visit to Washington.

A bit of a given to you and me, perhaps, but not the sort of thing Chinese leaders normally acknowledge.

The trouble is, Mr. Hu did not mean what you might think he meant.

You might think, for example, that one important thing that needs to be done is to free Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning political dissident who is serving an 11-year sentence. For co-authoring a public appeal for democratic freedoms, he was found guilty of “subversion of state power.”

To President Obama, who pressed Hu for Mr. Liu’s release, that is an open-and-shut violation of a universal human right – the right to free speech.

To the Chinese president, however, it is a case of a subversive, treasonable plotting to bring down the state.

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