The US on Friday prodded China to improve its human-rights record, a day after US President George W. Bush vowed to spread world freedom and end tyranny during his second term in office.
Human rights is a key stumbling bloc in US-China ties and unless China practises democracy and respects human rights, it cannot be among America's "best" friends, the State Department said.
"As China has taken on world standards in so many other areas, we want to see them adopt the world standards of human rights as well," department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
He said the US, China's biggest export market, had been able to develop relations to a "great extent" in many other areas with Beijing but human rights "remains a problem that we have to deal with."
"I think if you look around the world and you see where are our best relationships, you'll always find that our relationships are better with the nations that are democratic and respect human rights than they are with nations that don't," Boucher said.
Bush began his second term at the White House on Thursday with a tough inauguration speech, pledging to overthrow tyranny and spread freedom and democracy to the "darkest corners" of the world.
"America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains or that women welcome humiliation and servitude or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies," he said.
Bush did not not cite China or "war on terror" ally Pakistan among Asian economies where limits on individual freedom contradict the ideals he defined.
Analysts said it would be difficult for Bush to act tough with China on human rights and democracy at a time when he was banking heavily on Beijing to help end North Korea's nuclear-weapons drive and back his "war on terror."
"The rhetoric and the language of Bush's speech was just absolutely striking -- sweeping promises and uncompromising tone -- but the president will find continued, decent relations with the Chinese very much a necessity," said Robert Hathaway of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
He called Bush's goals "lofty rhetoric."
Bush, he said, would continue to value a working relationship with China, "and therefore inevitably you'll see a relegation of some of these lofty goals to more of a backburner position in terms of his administration's priorities.
"I will be somewhat surprised if human rights and democracy had a greatly elevated position in his second term," Hathway said.
Eric Heginbotham of the US Council on Foreign Relations said Bush's plan would strengthen the hand of actual critics of his current China policy, which was largely "to forge close cooperation in the short term to address a number of key global issues," like terrorism and nuclear proliferation.