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China tells US 'think three times' on rights

China urged the United States yesterday to "think three times" before sponsoring a resolution critical of its human rights record at this year's session of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission.

Lorne Craner, US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, said last month the United States was seriously considering sponsoring a resolution against China's rights practices.

"We are against the United States raising an anti-Chinese human rights resolution at the session of the Human Rights Commission," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"(We) hope the US side will think three times before acting and use constructive means to handle differences properly so as to maintain the stability and development of bilateral relations and cooperation on international and regional issues."

Relations between the United States and China, often strained by disagreement over issues such as human rights, trade and Taiwan, have improved in recent years.

China has backed the US-led global campaign against terror and brought North Korea to the negotiating table with the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia to try to defuse a crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

The 53-member commission, the top UN human rights watchdog, begins its annual six-week session on March 16. Censure brings no penalties but spotlights a country's behaviour.

The United States did not sponsor a resolution against China last year because Beijing had undertaken considerable reforms and was willing to let UN and US rights investigators enter the country.

Washington was now considering the resolution because few promises had materialised, a US official who asked not to be identified said. Even if the resolution failed, it was important to air the grievances, the official said.

Particularly disturbing, Mr Craner said, was the recent arrest of democracy activists, defence lawyers representing dissidents, HIV-AIDS activists, journalists reporting on the Sars outbreak and protesting workers.

London-based human rights monitoring group Amnesty International has said hundreds of thousands of people are detained in China in violation of basic human rights.

Torture and ill-treatment were widespread, Amnesty said, adding that freedom of expression and information continued to be severely curtailed.

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