- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2001

GENEVA A senior member of Congress has warned the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva that a refusal to censure China and Cuba for human rights abuses would mark a huge setback for oppressed, freedom-loving dissidents.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and vice chairman of the House International Relations Committee, told reporters Monday that a failure to condemn China by the 53-nation commission would be a "a very serious blow to the dissidents and to those who struggle daily under these oppressive regimes."

Mr. Smith, along with Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both of Florida, met here with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, along with diplomats and foreign leaders.

The effort, coming amid the U.S.-China standoff over a downed reconnaissance plane, marked a bid to secure votes for draft resolutions critical of the rights records of China and Cuba.

The effort to censure China is certain to continue, independent of yesterday's agreement by Beijing to release the 24-member U.S. military crew after 11 days in captivity on China's Hainan Island.

"China is a big and very strong country, but treats its own citizens with profound disrespect and our hope is to stand with the oppressed and not the oppressor," Mr. Smith said Monday.

On March 30, Chinese Ambassador Qiao Zonghuai told the U.N. rights body that the United States "out of its own selfish interests and domestic political considerations, insists on tabling an anti-China draft resolution."

Mr. Qiao called the human rights charges "groundless allegations" and said they provoke "confrontation."

The Chinese envoy also leveled the charge: "The U.S. concern for human rights is a sham. What it really practices is power politics… . The U.S. advocacy of humanity is a fake, what it really pursues is hegemonism."

Turning to Cuba, Mrs. Ros-Lethinen said there has been an increase of arrests and harassment of dissidents by the Castro regime and noted the latest U.S. State Department report concludes Cuba "continues to violate systematically the fundamental civil and political rights of its citizens."

The push by the members of Congress was also aimed at countering the strong campaign waged by Beijing and Havana to defeat any initiative critical of their human rights record.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin's current two-week tour through six Latin American countries, of which five Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Uruguay, and Venezuela are members of the U.N. Commission, is part of Beijing's traditional annual global diplomatic offensive to ensure the committee passes a no-action motion, diplomats say.

The commission is slated to vote on the China issue next week. Last year, the no-action motion passed by 22 votes to 18 with 12 abstentions and also passed in 1999 by 22 to 17 with 14 abstentions.

However, the U.N. body last year adopted a resolution against Cuba, co-sponsored by the Czech Republic and Poland by 21 votes in favor, 18 against, and 18 abstentions.

Senior diplomats close to China, speaking on the condition of nonattribution, say Beijing feels confident it has the numbers this year to block a vote.

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