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Powell: US Likely To Criticize China Human Rights At UN Meeting - 2004-03-12

Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed China's human rights record in a telephone talk Friday with his Chinese counterpart foreign minister Li Zhaoxing. U.S. officials say Mr. Powell told him the United States is all but certain to sponsor a resolution critical of China at next week's meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Officials here are not being categorical about U.S. intentions. But a senior diplomat said China would have to do "an awful lot" in the few days remaining before the commission meeting to alter the administration's view that there has been "backsliding" in China's human rights performance over the last year.

He said in the phone conversation initiated by Mr. Li, the Secretary of State expressed "disappointment" about the overall human rights picture in China, even though there have been "a couple" of positive developments of late, including the March 5 release of pro-democracy dissident Wang Youcai.

The senior diplomat said the United States has discussed the issue "frankly" with the Chinese officials, who he said have been aware for some time of the "direction the United States is heading" on the issue of a resolution in Geneva.

In Congressional testimony last week, Mr. Powell said there had been regression in China's human rights performance since 2002, when the Bush administration credited Beijing with having made "incremental but unprecedented" progress.

Based on that, the United States decided a year ago to break with an informal tradition and not sponsor a resolution in Geneva condemning China.

The State Department's most recent global human rights report, issued last month and covering 2003, said China's human rights performance remained poor.

It cited among other things arrests of Internet essayists and labor protestors, harsh repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, and a continuing crackdown on Muslim Uighurs under the guise anti-terrorism action.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last week for a non-binding resolution calling on the administration to use the Geneva meeting to demand that China end rights violations and meet internationally-recognized standards.

Its chief sponsor, New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, said China had used parliamentary maneuvers to block enactment of previous resolutions in Geneva, but said the United States has a moral duty to raise the issue anyway.

The 53-nation U.N. panel opens its six-week annual session in Geneva on Monday.