China is defending its human rights record after recent criticism from the United States, arguing that economic gains are proof of the country's progress in that area. However, the Chinese government is under fire from a rights group for its policy of repatriating North Korean refugees who flee to China.

China is pointing to its progress in raising the living standards of its people in response to recent criticism of its human rights record by U.S. legislators and the administration of President Bush. The U.S. government is considering sponsoring a resolution against China's human fights record before the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Tuesday he hopes the United States will pay attention to China's recent achievements. Mr. Liu says the Chinese government has been committed to the protection and promotion of human rights, and adds that the only right way to solve disagreements on this area is through dialogue. Mr. Liu also says China has managed to develop its economy rapidly, and the government is working to perfect its social security system. This week, delegates to China's National People's Congress are considering amending the country's Constitution to include recognition of human rights. However, since Chinese courts do not recognize legal arguments based on the Constitution, it is unlikely the amendment will have any immediate affect on the lives of mainland citizens. China has long said that its definition of "human rights" varies from Western notions, and argues that the wellbeing of the overall population is more important than protecting individual rights. The Foreign Ministry's Mr. Liu also rejects criticism by the group Human Rights Watch about China's handling of North Korean refugees. Mr. Liu says the government has adopted a responsible position on this issue by handling it based on domestic and international laws.

China has promised Pyongyang to return any North Korean citizens who cross into China, although authorities have allowed some refugees passage to South Korea if their cases become internationally known.

More than one hundred thousand North Koreans have entered China in the past decade to escape poverty and repression at home. Human Rights Watch also calls on China to allow the United Nations refugee agency to operate at the North Korean border.