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US Criticizes China for 'Backsliding' on Human Rights - 2003-08-21

The Bush administration went public Thursday with criticism of China for what it says has been "backsliding" on its human rights performance. Officials say China has failed to fulfill promises made at a U.S.-Chinese human rights dialogue late last year.

U.S. officials have been appreciative of Chinese diplomatic support in recent months on key issues including its sponsorship of multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

But they are making no effort to conceal their disappointment on the human rights front, where they say Beijing has reneged on commitments that helped persuade President Bush not to seek a resolution critical of China so at this year's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission last May.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said U.S. diplomats have raised with China on several occasions concern over what is seen in Washington as "backsliding" in China's human rights performance after some promising developments last year.

"There has been backsliding and unfortunately that pattern has continued," he said. "Despite the progress in 2002 we've been disappointed to see the negative developments in 2003. The commitments made by China at the conclusion of the December human rights dialogue have not been met."

Mr. Boucher said despite commitments made last December, China has not allowed visits by U.N. envoys on torture, religious tolerance and arbitrary detention, and he said the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was "compelled" to postpone an August trip to China because authorities would not allow the panel to visit Hong Kong.

He also said there has been a number of "troubling incidents" in China in recent months including what he said was the execution of a Tibetan activist without due process, arrests of a number of democracy advocates, and harsh jail sentences handed down to internet essayists and labor protesters.

The spokesman acknowledged that the Chinese pledges made at last year's dialogue figured in the Bush administration's decision to forego a resolution criticizing China at the Geneva meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in April.

The United States had introduced such a resolution each year for most of the past decade in a move that irritated Chinese authorities, who have traditionally rejected human rights criticism as interference in China's internal affairs.

Mr. Boucher said there were no plans for another formal dialogue with China on the issue but said the United States intends "to keep on pushing" for more progress on human rights.