WASHINGTON: The United States has warned that the toughest crackdown in years on Chinese activists threatens to cloud the high-profile state visit by President Xi Jinping.
Yet the issue of human rights is unlikely to dominate the agenda when Xi is welcomed at the White House on Friday.
As China emerges as an economic and military rival that Washington both competes and cooperates with, other issues tend to get top billing at the summit table.
Prime US concerns are cybercrime, China's island-building in the disputed South China Sea and building momentum for a global deal to combat climate change.
Still, human rights will get attention.
Since taking the presidency in 2013 and becoming the most powerful Chinese leader in three decades, Xi has cracked down on encroachment of what he views as Western-style freedoms in China's increasingly prosperous and connected society.
His administration has tightened controls on religious minorities, including a government campaign to remove crosses and demolish Christian churches in an eastern province, a move that has drawn condemnation on Capitol Hill.
Ten senators have voiced concern over Xi's "extraordinary assault" on civil society ahead of the pomp-filled summit.
This summer, Chinese authorities rounded up more than 250 human rights lawyers and associates. According to Human Rights Watch, 22 are still held.
US concerns go beyond oppression of government critics. US officials have said that draft legislation in China to police nongovernmental organisations could affect foreignrights activists and the personal and corporate privacy of academics and business groups, a potential setback to deepening the US-China relationship even in the areas that aren't politically contentious.
A lack of candor in Chinese state media reports about economic turmoil roiling global markets has exposed the risks and limitations inherent in Beijing's strict press controls.
"The US is not short of entry points to discuss human rights with China," said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch.
"The US is in an excellent position to make the case that better human rights protections are not just about defendingthe activist community in China."
At a dialogue with China on the issue last month, Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski said thatimprovements on human rights were needed by China to set apositive tone for the summit.
But when David Saperstein, the US ambassador at-large for religious freedom, visited China a few weeks later, authorities detained a Christian lawyer the day before Saperstein was due to meet him, and detained and harassed other religious figures with whom he met. Saperstein called the actions "outrageous."