Even the President himself has admitted that more needs to be done in the area of human rights, but he argued too that it is a problem for the world, not just for China, and in that he is right. Brutality and the suppression of free speech can be seen in many countries, and oppression exists in pockets of deprivation in the most highly democratic and civilised nations anywhere to be found. Human rights are about equality, tolerance and fairness, qualities sometimes lacking in all our self-interested societies.
It is easy to judge the traditions and conduct of others with moral superiority, but all of us, whether a government or an individual, have our frailties – and our strengths. Who are we to judge and condemn? It is better to help, instead.
For many hundreds of years and more, lands have been invaded with the intent not just to conquer, but also to change a way of life that was deemed unsuitable – to impose a culture that the visitors thought was best, for everyone, eliminating the ancient traditions that were the foundation of these lands and peoples. We saw it with the missionary movement that, while well-intentioned, did so much damage; with the near elimination of native tribes in the US and Australia; in the invasion of Iraq; and we see it now as ISIL imposes its extreme religion at such great cost to so many.
Cultural attitudes such as to human rights, spirituality, or democracy, are best changed through example and encouragement, through choice based on wisdom, and an understanding of the needs and wishes of the people involved. Public criticism of the ways of another country is not always helpful: concern and advice can be expressed in many ways.
The dilemma about China is in knowing that human rights for some of her citizens are being dishonoured, cruelly, and yet recognising too that our ways - which are not perfect - are not necessarily right for China: China must find her own way of achieving fairness for all her people. As she ventures more onto the international stage through investment and co-operation, this hitherto closed and private nation can see and choose what western examples it may serve to take home, examples that will work for this extraordinary country, and help it evolve, just as we have to learn and grow also. After all, once upon a time, human rights did not count in my country, and perhaps in yours also.