China in rage over human rights vote

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The Independent Online
Given any excuse, China will lambast the United States for trying to link human rights with trade issues. But Peking has proved to be a master at using an economic carrot and stick to escape censure on its human rights record.

Yesterday, diplomatic punishment was meted out to Denmark and the Netherlands for their role in sponsoring and backing a motion at the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights which was highly critical of China. The resolution was due to come up for a vote in Geneva last night with China already on track for a diplomatic triumph, as lack of international support left the motion doomed.

In Peking, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Shen Guofang, said China was suspending important official visits with Denmark, and postponing a Dutch trade mission due in June, headed by the economic affairs minister, Hans Wijers. Denmark, as is always the case in such situations, stands accused of "interfering in China's internal affairs and hurting the feelings of the Chinese people," said Mr Shen.

More ominously for Copenhagen was the pronouncement that "Sino-Danish relations have been damaged". Danish companies know their contract negotiations will be moved to the slow lane, trade and economic relations will be put on the back-burner, and they, like business executives from other countries which have caused Peking's ire, will have to wait for the ill winds to blow over.

It was France's decision to break the European Union's previous consensus on backing the motion which set the ball rolling. That was seen as linked to next month's visit to Peking by President Jacques Chirac, who is hoping to sign a few more Airbus orders. Canada, similarly, backed away.

Only once since the 1989 Tiananmen killings has China failed to block the motion from reaching an actual vote. This year, like last, it fell at the preliminary hurdle because of China's "no-action" motion. The reason, as given by France, Canada and a host of other countries, is that they have been persuaded by Peking's argument that such motions have a detrimental effect on human rights dialogue, compared with engagement.

Such a viewpoint is worth a proper debate. But the behind-the-scenes discussions at Geneva are far more down to earth. Xiao Qiang, director of the pressure group, Human Rights in China, said this week that the annual debate was more of a political game than a real argument over human rights. Meanwhile, the African and Latin American countries on whose support China has always relied have been trading their votes for the most financial support they can get. "They are trying to get the best offer out of Peking," said Mr Xiao. After this year, barring any 1989-style massacre, the annual vote is likely to be dead in the water. China has a very wide definition of what it is to be bullied by the West, and its tactics have worked.

n Geneva (AP) - Condemning imprisonment and executions of government opponents, the U.N. Human Rights Commission overcame African opposition and voted to put Nigeria under special scrutiny. As a result of the decision, the UN will, for the first time, appoint an investigator on Nigeria.