U.S. Sees Human Rights Eroding in China

Article excerpt

Human rights in China deteriorated significantly, especially at the end of last year, according to the State Department's annual report to Congress released yesterday.

In addition to the criticism, the human rights report cited some positive trends - including efforts by Chinese leaders to continue restructuring and create a more accountable, less intrusive government, to expand issues covered by the media and to expand village elections.

Although economic reforms have raised the standard of living for many Chinese, the case of China shows that "economic freedoms cannot compensate for the lack of political freedom," said Assistant Secretary of State Henry Koh.

The report, covering 194 countries in 5,000 pages, is the most extensive and detailed report on human rights ever issued by the State Department. The first report was released 22 years ago. It was meant to provide a factual basis for all three branches of government to make policy decisions.

This year's report is particularly critical of China, Cuba, Serbia and Sierra Leone.

"The [Chinese] government's human rights record deteriorated sharply beginning in the final months of the year with a crackdown against organized political dissent," the report said.

The document details repression of unofficial Protestant and Catholic religious groups, forced abortion and other coercive population policies and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.

The report comes just before Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright flies to Beijing tomorrow for talks with the Communist leadership.

Human rights organizations praised the document but questioned its value if the Clinton administration is to make trade, rather than human rights, its priority.

Mr. Koh, speaking before the House subcommittee on human rights yesterday, said Mrs. Albright would not mince words with the Chinese on human rights.

"It is her habit to engage in straight talk, even if it does not please her hosts," he said.

Human Rights Watch characterized the report as having "generally accurate assessments" and being an "important and impressive document."

Freedom House was also pleased.

"It is a more detailed and carefully documented report than in the past," said Nina Shea, of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House. "It shows the movement against religious persecution has had an effect. It is on the radar screen now."

Mary Beth Markey of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) said the report "has more information than ever before.

"It is much more detailed and that is gratifying, but there is no progress [on Tibet]," she said.

Mrs. Shea and Mrs. Markey said the report highlighted the failure of the Clinton administration's policy of "constructive engagement" with China.

"It shows dialogue is insufficient," said Mrs. Markey.

"Our human rights policy is in jeopardy of becoming a meaningless exercise," said John Ackerly, president of ICT.

"We have to see some foreign policy action," said Mrs. Shea.

President Clinton visited Beijing in June 1998, prompting hope that China would allow more freedom of expression. But at the end of last year, China began a sustained crackdown on all forms of dissent.

On Thursday, the Senate passed a resolution 99-0 encouraging the Clinton administration to lobby for a resolution criticizing China's human rights record at next month's U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Sponsors said that even though China signed an international covenant on civil and political rights Oct. 5, its human rights record has only worsened.

"We know human rights conditions have only deteriorated in China and Tibet," said Sen. Connie Mack, a Florida Republican.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee on human rights, warned that China would strong-arm poorer countries with threats to cut off aid if they supported such a resolution. …