Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 ó In its first major policy decision regarding China, the Bush administration plans to sponsor a United Nations resolution next month condemning Beijing's record on human rights, officials said today. But it was unclear how vigorously it would seek the international support necessary to make the resolution a diplomatic success.
The decision follows a debate over the wisdom of maintaining the Clinton administration's emphasis on using the resolutions to censure China at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The efforts have won insufficient backing from other countries, and even some human rights advocates dispute the effectiveness of the exercise.
Although the American effort in recent years to organize international criticism of China's rights abuses has been a major irritant in relations with Beijing, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was preparing a recommendation for the White House to move ahead, the officials said.
By deciding not to change course, the Bush administration will be sending a signal that at least in the early going, its relations with Beijing will depend on issues besides trade and security.
At home, the administration will be satisfying the demands of a Congressional coalition that includes Senators Jesse Helms, the conservative Republican of North Carolina, and Paul Wellstone, the liberal Democrat of Minnesota. Many saw the decision on the China resolution as an early test of the administration's commitment to human rights.
A number of rights groups have called for persistence on the resolution, pointing out that religious persecution has been particularly intense in China in the last year.
But rights advocates are divided on how useful the measure really is in improving rights in China, especially if the administration does not lobby its allies to garner support.
State Department officials who toured European capitals this month to test support for a resolution found very mixed reactions and little enthusiasm for joining the Americans at the annual Geneva meeting of the rights commission next month.
Not only are the Europeans cool to the plan, but the administration will also be proposing it to a panel dramatically changed in composition. The 53-member human rights commission now includes Libya, Malaysia, Vietnam and Syria.
Even as the administration appeared to be doing what some rights groups wanted, there was skepticism about its motives.
As Mike Jendrzejczyk, the Washington director for Asia of Human Rights Watch, put it, "Is this going to be done for domestic consumption, or to have a serious impact in Beijing ó which will require high-level lobbying by the secretary of state and the president to get co-sponsors of the resolution?"
Stronger criticism came from John Kamm, a rights advocate who heads the Dui Hua Foundation, and who has been conducting an unofficial dialogue with Beijing on the release of political prisoners.
"I'm asking someone to explain to me how a resolution that will almost certainly fail and will not be supported by our allies can help the human rights situation in China," Mr. Kamm said. "I think the Chinese government will portray a failed resolution as a validation of their human rights policies."
Some diplomats ó and rights specialists ó argue that sponsoring a resolution satisfies an urge to wave a banner of protest but precludes the United States from bringing effective pressure on the Chinese to improve their record. After past rights resolutions in Geneva, those people say, Beijing has generally refused to discuss reforms because it has feared looking as though it was caving in to outside pressure.
"By sponsoring a resolution we greatly reduce the chance of a renewed bilateral human rights dialogue in which we could have handed over a comprehensive list of political and religious prisoners," Mr. Kamm said.
Experience has shown, Mr. Kamm said, that the more often a Chinese political prisoner is asked about by outsiders, the "better chance" the prisoner has of release.
The State Department's annual human rights report, due to be released next Friday, is expected to detail China's crackdown against the Falun Gong spiritual movement, as well as widespread use of torture.
As the State Department mapped its strategy on the rights resolution, the administration was also planning to nominate a new ambassador to Beijing, Clark T. Randt, a Hong Kong-based businessman, officials said. Mr. Randt was in Washington this week, but it was not clear how extensively he was consulted on the planned resolution.