WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized the Chinese government Thursday for sentencing human rights activist Hu Jia to jail and said the United States will launch new human rights talks with Beijing.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has pressed China for the immediate release of Hu Jia, pictured.
Hu used the Internet to publicize his criticism of the Chinese system and the activities of other dissidents.
He was sentenced to 3½ years in jail.
"It is a decision that is deeply disturbing to the United States," Rice said at the NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.
"It is exactly the kind of decision that we have tried to convince the Chinese is not only not in the interests of human rights and in the interests of rule of law but actually not in China's interest," she said.
She said the United States is about to restart a human rights dialogue with China, "to have a place where we can bring up not just individual cases but also structural issues about what kinds of things are considered criminal in China that in most of the world would not be considered so."
The secretary of state did not directly answer a question about whether the case would effect U.S. participation in the Olympics.
"The president has spoken to the fact that this is a sporting event, but I -- we've also said that we take seriously our obligation to talk to the Chinese about human rights before, during and after," she said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Rice had pressed Chinese authorities during her visit to Beijing in February for the immediate release of Hu. Watch Hu Jia's wife react to his sentencing »
"The United States is dismayed by the sentencing," Casey said at his midday briefing.
"Mr. Hu has consistently worked within the Chinese legal system to protect the rights of his fellow citizens.
"In this Olympic year, we want to see the Chinese take the opportunity to put their best face forward and take steps to improve their standing on human rights and religious freedom." E-mail to a friend