NEW YORK - China yesterday succeeded in blocking a U.S.-sponsored censure in the U.N. Human Rights Commission, playing up the surveillance plane episode to its own advantage.
As in past years, Beijing derailed efforts in the Geneva-based commission to condemn its human rights record 10 times since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre by using a procedural maneuver.
This year, 23 of the 53 nations on the commission voted in favor of a pre-emptive "no action" motion introduced by China. Seventeen nations opposed the motion and the remaining 12 nations abstained. Congo did not register a vote.
The Bush administration faced several difficulties in this year's effort.
Many of the administration's top human rights and foreign affairs posts remain vacant three months after the new president was inaugurated.
Moreover, the composition of the commission this year, which was selected in a vote by all U.N. member states, is unusually heavy with human rights offenders. Members include Algeria, Burundi, Cuba, Congo, Indonesia, Liberia, Syria and Vietnam.
In addition, the two-week standoff over the surveillance plane and its 24 detained crew members threw an overtly political cast over the discussions.
The Americans were reluctant to press the case against China while Washington and Beijing were negotiating the release of the air crew, observers said.
"They did very little lobbying for the resolution during the period when the crew was held in China," said one longtime observer. "There has been extremely little activity here on the resolution."
The Chinese delegation and their allies in Libya, Cuba, Syria and Russia, among others - all voting members of the commission this year - invoked the mid-air collision in debate prior to yesterday's vote.
Chinese Ambassador Qiao Zonghuai delivered an angry speech in which he criticized the United States for its selectivity in punishing human rights violations. He said America practices "rampant racial discrimination." He then said: "In the name of exercising the so-called right of surveillance, [Washington] has sent military planes to violate the sovereignty and people's right to life of another country."
The Pakistani delegate, Munir Akram, provided the day's only comic relief when he supported China's no-action vote, saying to the Americans: "I'm sorry, but this is not an apology."
The Libyan representative said that the Cold War was not yet over.
U.S. Ambassador Shirin Tahir-Kheli denounced the no-action motion.
"No country should consider itself beyond review," she said. "China should follow the same international standards that every other country does."
For the first time this year, the United States stood alone in sponsoring the resolution to censure China, without a customary European co-sponsor.
The resolution criticized China's treatment of Falun Gong adherents, as well as Tibetans, Christians, Buddhists, and others.
But it also recognized Beijing's lessened interference in the daily lives …