The Bush administration said Thursday its decision not to pursue a resolution critical of China in the U.N. Human Rights Commission this year does not mean all its concerns about China's human rights record are resolved. But it is crediting China with some "significant and important" steps.
Word of the administration's decision came less than three weeks after release of the State Department's annual report on human rights that said China's overall record on the issue remained poor and that it committed numerous and serious abuses.
But officials here say China has been responsive to recent U.S. appeals on a number of high-profile cases including that of a Uighur Muslim prisoner released Thursday, and has taken steps on structural reform, prompting the decision to forego the effort to censure China in the U.N. human rights forum at Geneva.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli insisted the decision was unrelated to the visit to China by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that begins in a few days.
He said China had in recent months acted to release or reduce the sentences of 58 political prisoners of interest to the United States, and among other things has also agreed to visits by U.N. human rights envoys and will allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to open in office in Beijing by June.
Mr. Ereli said the action does not alter the over-riding critical U.S. view of China's human rights situation as reflected in the February 28 report, but was enough to cause the administration to decide against seeking action in the U.N. commission, which opened its annual meeting in Geneva Monday:
We're not saying that everything -- that all problems are solved and that human rights is no longer an issue, and that there aren't practices and conditions in China that cause us concern. We're simply saying that there have been important steps taken, and that in recognition of these steps, this year we will not be introducing a resolution," said Mr. Ereli.
The United States has presented resolutions critical of China almost annually in Geneva since Beijing's 1989 military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square, but China has been able to avoid censure each time.
The United States decided not to bring a China resolution in 2003 because of commitments by China to act on U.S. concerns, but a senior diplomat here said the promises went largely unfulfilled.
Under questioning, Spokesman Ereli said there was no contradiction between the decision to forgo a China resolution this year and the Bush administration's continued opposition, on human rights grounds, to proposed lifting of the European Union's arms embargo against China imposed after the Tiananmen violence.
"Let's recall what led to that arms embargo. That was the repression of the Tiananmen demonstrators, and there are hundreds of demonstrators that remain imprisoned. And there is a complete unwillingness to revisit and examine that incident in a critical light. So with regard to the conditions leading to the embargo, those have not changed at all. Period," he added.
Mr. Ereli joined White House Spokesman Scott McClellan in welcoming Thursday's release on medical grounds of Uighur Muslim businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer.
She had been jailed since 1999 on charges of endangering state security for mailing Chinese newspaper clippings to her husband, a Uighur activist in the United States.
The United States had repeatedly raised her case with the Chinese government. Her release was also welcomed by human rights groups including Amnesty International.
In a statement, Amnesty said Ms. Kadeer's release is a joyful victory, but said it is tempered by concern for the many other who remain unjustly jailed in China.
It also noted the impending visit by Secretary Rice and said the timing creates the impression China is using political prisoners to play what it termed hostage politics.