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US Declines to Sponsor UN Human Rights Resolution against China - 2003-04-12

The United States, in a departure from recent practice, has decided not to sponsor a resolution critical of China at the current meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva. U.S. officials are linking the decision to some positive human rights moves by China and a desire to work on the issue with the new government of President Hu Jintao.

The State Department said only last month in its annual survey of human rights conditions worldwide that China's record on the subject "remained poor."

However administration officials say they are beginning to see what is termed "limited, but significant progress" in discussions with the country's new leadership, and have decided to pursue further dialogue with Beijing authorities, rather than another critical resolution in Geneva.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher credited Beijing with several positive steps including its decision to allow representatives of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit China, and the release of a "significant number" of political prisoners including leading democracy advocate Xu Wenli.

The spokesman said there had been setbacks as well, but on balance U.S. officials believe there is a basis for working with the new Chinese government, which took office in mid-March. "We think there's an opportunity to move forward with China, using the mechanisms that we have, the dialogue that we have, the relationships that China has agreed to establish with international organizations. And we're going to try to see where that can take us. We saw a fair amount of progress, we've seen some backsliding, and now we think we do have an opportunity to move forward. And after all, this whole process has to be devoted to what's the best way to get progress for human rights of the people of China," he said.

The United States has routinely introduced or endorsed resolutions critical of China at the annual human rights meeting, though it could not do so last year when it was not a member of the 53 nation commission. China has usually succeeded in blocking those resolutions through diplomatic maneuvering.

The U.S. decision not to seek a resolution this year, which came just before Thursday's deadline for the submission of such motions, drew immediate criticism from human rights organizations.

The U.S. chapter of Amnesty International said that by failing to sponsor a resolution, the Bush administration is helping China evade scrutiny of a human rights record it described as "dismal and deteriorating."

The group Human Rights Watch said the United States was undermining those inside China trying to bring about change.

Spokesman Boucher also said the United States would not co-sponsor a resolution in Geneva condemning Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya, saying it preferred the milder sanction of a so-called "chairman's statement" critical of Moscow. He noted that Moscow had allowed a referendum on the breakaway republic's political future last month, which he said was not "perfect or satisfactory," but did provide a basis for trying to move towards a political solution to the conflict.

The spokesman rejected the notion the decisions on China and Russia were related to their support for the U.S. led war on terrorism or were to curry support for the war with Iraq. He said such factors "do not enter into" the administration's human rights discussions.