- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2001

China yesterday lashed out at U.S. criticism of its treatment of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, calling remarks by the Bush administration "totally unacceptable."
A day after new Secretary of State Colin Powell put Beijing on notice that the United States will continue to speak "frankly" about China's human rights record, a senior Chinese official said the Falun Gong comments could harm relations between the two countries.
"China demands that the U.S. government respect the stand of the Chinese government on the Falun Gong and stop interfering in China's internal affairs," Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhu Bangzao said in Beijing yesterday.
Mr. Zhu was reacting to comments Wednesday by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemning China's continuing crackdown on the Falun Gong and its treatment of religious and political dissidents. The comments were the first by the new Bush administration on China's human rights record.
Prodded several times by reporters during his daily briefing, Mr. Boucher yesterday declined to discuss whether Mr. Powell's pointed remarks on human rights made to the outgoing Chinese ambassador, Li Zhaoxing, at a private meeting Wednesday represented a shift in tone or substance from the Clinton administration.
"It's too early" to characterize the new administration's overall approach on China, said Mr. Boucher.
He said the secretary used the previously scheduled meeting with Mr. Li, the first high-level contact between the two countries since President Bush took office, "to outline how he intended to work with China and approach the relationship with China."
"If you want to do compare-and-contrast term papers or stories, that's your bailiwick, not mine," Mr. Boucher told reporters yesterday.
The Falun Gong question flared again this week when five adherents set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square, in apparent protest against the government's persecution of the movement. One of the protesters, a woman, died in the incident, which has not been reported in the Chinese-language official press.
Some 10,000 Falun Gong followers have been placed in labor camps and nearly 60 have died in police custody, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights monitoring group.
China contends that the Falun Gong movement, best known for its meditation and spiritual exercise rituals, is "evil" and a "cancer" and that its New York-based founder, Li Hongzhi, is bent on overthrowing the Communist regime in Beijing. Mr. Li earlier this year urged his followers to become more active, but denies he wants to bring down the government.
The movement has been banned in China since mid-1999.
Falun Gong is an "anti-human, anti-society and anti-science evil [sect] that has seriously endangered" Chinese society, Mr. Zhu said in a statement released yesterday to the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
At his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Mr. Powell tried to walk a fine line on China, saying there were areas where China and the United States could cooperate and areas where they will clash.
"A strategic partner China is not, but neither is China our inevitable and implacable foe," Mr. Powell said at the hearing.
"China is a competitor, a potential regional rival, but also a trading partner willing to cooperate in areas where our strategic interests overlap," he said.
Mr. Powell also made clear that the Bush administration intended to continue the Clinton administration's acceptance of the "one-China" policy, while stressing that the dispute between China and Taiwan should be settled peacefully.
But the harsh words over human rights this week could set the early tone for relations between the two powers.
Beijing is particularly sensitive about its international image as it lobbies to host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. A delegation from the International Olympic Committee is due in China next month, and it's not clear how the country's human rights record will affect the final site vote, set for June.
Ben Barber contributed to this report.

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