China said Thursday that its Tibetan and Uighur minorities enjoyed happiness and "unprecedented" freedom as it hit back at US criticism by urging Washington to examine its own record.
"China has made important progress on human rights. People in various regions in China including Xinjiang and Tibet are enjoying happier lives and they are enjoying unprecedented freedoms," State Councilor Yang Jiechi said in a joint press appearance after two days of US-China talks.
"We hope the United States will improve its own human rights situation on the basis of mutual respect and non-intervention in each other's internal affairs," he said.
The US State Department in its annual human rights report said that conditions had deteriorated in Tibetan areas and Xinjiang.
More than 110 Tibetans have set themselves alight since 2009 to protest what they see as China's harsh rule. Overseas groups said Chinese forces opened fire Saturday on Tibetans who celebrated the birthday of their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Xinjiang, a vast northwestern region of China, has seen periodic unrest as the largely Muslim Uighur community complains of discrimination and a lack of rights at the hands of members of China's majority Han community.
Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said that the United States spoke out about the treatment of Tibetans and Uighurs as the two countries held wide-ranging annual talks, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
"The goal of this conversation was to emphasize the importance of human rights to our bilateral relationship," Burns said at the joint press appearance.
"We firmly believe that respect for universal rights and fundamental freedoms will make China more peaceful, more prosperous and ultimately more secure," he said.
Burns was filling in for Secretary of State John Kerry, who officials said raised human rights among other issues during the first day of talks before he returned to Boston where his wife has been hospitalized.