China clamps down on dissent during Biden visit

BEIJING - Chinese police are clamping down on the nation's beleaguered dissidents to ensure visiting US Vice President Joe Biden does not meet any activists during his trip, rights defenders said Saturday.

Police have stepped up surveillance on dissidents and warned them against making any high profile protests or attempting to meet Biden during his five-day visit, they said.

"The Chinese government has been pulling out all the stops to intimidate any and all dissidents, human rights lawyers and social activists from taking any high profile actions," Phelim Kine, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, told AFP.

"The word has gone out that they should keep a very low profile... and that any attempt at such a meeting (with Biden) would carry reprisals."

Biden did raise human rights concerns during his meetings with Chinese leaders, US officials said, but they refused to go into details of whether any individual cases were raised.

Before the visit, Washington appealed to China to free rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who has not been heard from since last year, and restore the rights of dissident writer Ran Yunfei, released from detention earlier this month.

"Yesterday (Friday), state security police began following me," Li Yu, a democracy activist and outspoken blogger in Sichuan province, told AFP.

"I don't know why they are following me, but I can't help to think that it is because the US vice president is visiting."

Li said other political activists in Sichuan, which will host Biden over the weekend, were facing similar police surveillance.

Meanwhile prominent human rights lawyers Teng Biao and Liu Xiaoyuan declined to comment to AFP on Biden's visit, saying they had been told by the authorities not to accept interviews with foreign media.

Biden's meetings with President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping have largely focused on the economic ties between the two heavyweight nations and China's position as the largest foreign holder of US debt.

On Friday, Wen minister expressed confidence in the US economy after a historic downgrade of the United States' top-notch credit rating earlier this month.