China ignores pledges on rights, U.S. charges

Friday, August 22, 2003

BEIJING -- The Bush administration has accused China of backsliding on human rights commitments it made to address U.S. concerns, including specific promises that helped persuade President Bush not to pursue a resolution condemning Beijing at a U.N. forum in Geneva this year.

The human rights charges come at a sensitive moment for U.S.-China relations. The United States has praised China for playing a key role in pressing North Korea to abandon its nuclear arms program and for arranging six-nation talks next week in Beijing about the nuclear dispute.

December talks

But in meetings with Chinese diplomats and also increasingly in public, U.S. officials have argued that China has not kept a pledge made during bilateral talks in December to invite U.N. human rights investigators to examine allegations that China jails people without due process, restricts freedom of religion and allows torture in prisons. U.S. officials said China also promised in December to allow a U.S. commission on religious freedom to visit. But the trip was postponed this month after China insisted the group not visit Hong Kong, where churches helped organize mass antigovernment protests this summer.

"There were commitments made last December, and those commitments have not been met," Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner, the State Department's top human rights official, said in a telephone interview. "As far as we're concerned, the Chinese have not done well, and it's disappointing."

Craner said Bush decided not to introduce a resolution criticizing China at the annual session of the U.N. Human Rights Commission in April in part because of the pledges China had made. The United States has introduced a resolution every year for most of the past decade, angering the Chinese government.

Bush's decision came after Craner and other U.S. officials visited Beijing in March and China said it intended to keep its word, Craner said. The Chinese government also indicated it would meet U.S. requests to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to open an office in Beijing, to declare that minors are entitled to religious instruction and to discuss parole reviews for political prisoners jailed under outdated laws, Craner said.

In addition, John Kamm, a human rights activist in San Francisco who often acts as an intermediary between China and the United States, said Chinese officials promised him in March that they would release two prisoners whose cases had been raised by U.S. officials.

But five months later, the Chinese government has yet to follow through. Instead, according to Kamm and U.S. officials, Chinese diplomats have questioned whether their government made any human rights commitments at all. "There's a lot of disappointment, very serious disappointment in Washington," Kamm said. "There were definitely promises made, including the release of prisoners, and they have not kept them. It's not just about human rights at this point. The question being raised in Washington now is, 'How much can we trust commitments that are made by the Chinese?' "

Asked about the U.S. complaints, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement that defended China's human rights record but did not deny the government had made promises to U.S. officials.

"We are willing to carefully and skillfully handle the dispute in a constructive manner together with the American side," it said.

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