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Congress Seeks to Push White House to Criticize China at UN Commission - 2004-03-03

The House of Representatives has approved a resolution calling on the Bush administration to introduce a resolution critical of China at the United Nations Human Rights Commission session in Geneva. The non-binding resolution by the House, which was passed by a vote of 402-2, comes amid continuing criticism by lawmakers of China's human rights record.

In last year's session of the 108th Congress, China came under heavy criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans, and this continued when lawmakers resumed work in January.

The resolution brought to the floor of the House on Tuesday expresses a "sense of Congress" that the United States should continue to insist that China adhere to fundamental human rights principles.

"Despite the hopes and expectations of some that robust trade with China would usher in at least a modicum of respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, the simple fact of the matter is that the dictatorship in China oppresses, tortures and mistreats tens of millions of its own citizens," said chief sponsor Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a long-time critic of Beijing.

Citing the State Department's latest human rights report, Mr. Smith said Beijing continues to commit numerous serious abuses of human rights, with "back-sliding" on key areas such as arrests, extra-judicial killings and mistreatment of prisoners.

Lawmakers also focused on what many see as failed hopes that increased trade with China would bring about an easing of pressures on China's citizenry.

"We trade, they torture. We trade, they abuse. We trade, they incarcerate, they arrest and they mistreat," said Congressman Smith.

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) says the Bush administration was wrong in declining to sponsor a resolution on China at last year's U.N. Human Rights Commission session in Geneva.

"In announcing its decision, the administration asserted that China had made progress on human rights and religious freedom," she told her colleagues. "Madame speaker, this was a profound mistake. China took America's unwillingness to lead the charge in Geneva as a sign of weakness, as a statement that China's human rights issues had faded from the consciousness of the American public policymakers."

The "sense of Congress" resolution is not binding and will do little more than send a signal to the administration about feelings on Capitol Hill about China's human rights records.

In urging the United States to take the lead in organizing support at the United Nations for a resolution critical of China, the lawmakers say the document should highlight specific rights violations, in areas ranging from religious freedom, treatment of minorities and Tibet, to its population policies.