March 23, 2018 / 10:47 AM / 8 months ago

U.S. and China clash at U.N. rights forum on Beijing text

GENEVA (Reuters) - China and the United States clashed on Friday at the United Nations, where the U.S. delegation rejected a resolution brought by Beijing that it said sought to glorify Xi Jinping’s “win-win” agenda and subordinated human rights to development or trade.

The dispute is a sign of how a disagreement between Washington and Beijing over trade may be spilling over into other international arenas.

It came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese goods, sparking a call from Beijing to “pull back from the brink”.

China led a resolution at the U.N. Human Rights Council - its second-ever in nearly 12 years - that calls for “mutually beneficial cooperation”. Senior Chinese diplomat Jiang Duan urged states to adopt the text, whose co-sponsors included Pakistan and Egypt, by consensus.

But U.S. diplomat Jason Mack called for a vote on China’s resolution, which was then easily adopted by the 47-member forum. The U.S. delegation cast the only “no” vote, while 28 states voted in favour, including China, and 17 abstained with one delegation absent.

“It is clear that China is attempting through this resolution to weaken the U.N. human rights system and the norms underpinning it,” Mack said.

“The ‘feel good’ language about mutually beneficial cooperation is intended to benefit autocratic states at the expense of people whose human rights and fundamental freedoms we are all obligated as states to respect,” he said.

The United States would not participate in attempts to weaken states’ obligations to uphold fundamental freedoms “or to subordinate them to other aims such as those related to development or trade”, he added.

Mack, referring to Chinese spokespeople, added: “They have been clear about their intent to glorify their head of state by inserting his thoughts into the international human rights lexicon.”

“A true example of cooperation in promoting and protecting human rights would be for China to release citizens it has wrongly detained or to protect the right of religious minorities

to freely practice their religion,” he said.

Australia, Britain, Japan, and Switzerland were among those abstaining, although many envoys spoke against the text. Australia said it “lacks balance, and focuses only on relations between states instead of individual rights,” while Japan said it was “not suitable” and Switzerland criticised its “vague and invidious language”.

John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, chastised states for merely abstaining. “How can defenders in China have confidence you’ll stand with them, if you won’t stand against a resolution you know is wrong?” he said in a tweet.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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