A Chinese government spokesman denounces allegations by United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger that China mistreats its workers.

The labor leader tells the Detroit Economic Club that China foments a climate that is hostile to workers and unions. But Jin Zhijian of the Chinese Consulate in Chicago denies the charge. Gettelfinger's remarks “are not the facts,” he says.

China has health and safety legislation that governs state-run and wholly owned enterprises, as well as joint-venture operations, Jin says.

Gettelfinger cites two Chinese labor activists who were arrested last year and charged with subversion after staging a protest to recoup back wages and pensions from a steel mill.

“They were tried in January, but the Chinese government has not announced the outcome,” Gettelfinger says. “If convicted, they could be executed.”

Jin confirms the verdict delay, but says all proceedings are being conducted in accordance with Chinese law. And the subversion charges are unrelated to the protest, he says, adding the Chinese government intervened on behalf of the workers who sought back pay and benefits.

“The workers' demands were met immediately,” Jin claims. He also says the death penalty does not apply in this case.

Amnesty International disagrees, supporting Gettelfinger. “‘Subversion’ charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment or the death penalty, continue to be used widely to detain and imprison rights activists in China,” the human rights advocacy group says.

While Jin says China is open to unions — most auto workers belong to unions, he claims — Gettelfinger urges auto makers to rethink China. “China imprisons more trade union activists than any country in the world,” he says.

Still, the auto industry pushes ahead. Daimler-Chrysler AG is close to an agreement for a joint venture to build vans in China for export. BMW AG and Brilliance China Automotive Holdings have agreed to build 3-Series and 5-Series cars for the Chinese market.

Volvo Cars says it will introduce a new model to the Chinese market every year. And Audi AG, Ford Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. have revealed plans to build and sell in China the A4, Mondeo and Mazda6, respectively.