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Biden says disputes remain over treatment of U.S. journalists in China

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) chats with Chinese Vice Premier Li Yuanchao before their luncheon at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing December 5, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool

BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the United States and China have "profound disagreements" over the treatment of American journalists in the country.

The comments by Biden are the highest-level statement out of Washington on the state of press freedoms in China.

Biden's statement came two days after the United Kingdom protested to China for barring a Bloomberg News reporter from an event in Beijing attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and British Prime Minister David Cameron. The reporter had travelled to China to cover Cameron's visit.

Biden, addressing U.S. executives in Beijing, said "innovation will thrive where people breathe freely, speak freely, are able to challenge orthodoxy, where newspapers can report the truth without fear of consequences".

"We have many disagreements, some profound disagreements on some of those issues right now - the treatment of U.S. journalists," Biden said.

"But I believe China will be stronger, more stable and more innovative if it respects universal human rights."

When asked about Biden's remarks, China's foreign ministry said the country manages foreign reporters according to law.

"In recent years, we have provided an extremely convenient atmosphere for foreign reporters reporting in China, and the results have been plain for all to see," ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a regular press briefing.

"For the working and living environment for foreign reporters - if you take an objective and just view, you will be able to reach a correct conclusion," Hong said.

Biden's comments illustrate Washington's concern over China's intensified efforts to restrict the activities of foreign news organisations.

Both the New York Times Co and Bloomberg News have not been given new journalist visas for more than a year after they published stories about the wealth of family members of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and President Xi Jinping, respectively.

In November, the Chinese government rejected the visa application of Paul Mooney, an American journalist whom Thomson Reuters had extended an offer to work in China.

Foreign reporters working in China face numerous difficulties, including lack of access to top officials and harassment and even violence when covering sensitive events like protests.

China says foreign media are granted wide-ranging freedoms.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ryan Woo)