WASHINGTON - The Bush administration, in its first major decision on China, will sponsor a U.N. resolution faulting Beijing's human- rights record, administration officials said Friday.
"There is a consensus in the administration to go ahead with the resolution because that's what the facts require," a senior official told Reuters. The resolution will be offered when the U.N. Commission on Human Rights holds its annual meeting in Geneva in March.
Formal paperwork authorizing the action was still being processed, and it was unclear when an official announcement of the U.S. position would come. But the decision has been made, the officials said.
The annual question of such a resolution traditionally has been a source of extreme irritation between the United States and China.
How President George W. Bush and the Chinese government handle it this year could help set the tone for Sino-American relations during his administration.
The United States, reflecting strong American concern over Beijing's record, usually sponsors or supports a resolution at the U.N. meeting in Gen eva criticizing Chinese human-rights abuses.
Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House in recent days have put bipartisan pressure on Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to make a strong effort to persuade the U.N. commission to adopt a resolution criticizing China's human-rights record.
China has been faulted for its increasingly harsh treatment of protesters from the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, widespread use of torture and for placing curbs on the Internet.
Except for last year, the U.S. campaign on behalf of a U.N. censure largely has been lackluster and symbolic, drawing little backing from other countries.
China over the past decade almost always has escaped even a direct vote on the issue.
As a result, some China experts and U.S. policy-makers have questioned why the United States should again participate in an exercise of questionable value that does little or nothing to change the behavior of a major world power with whom Washington has many other serious issues.
A senior U.S. official acknowledged that trying to win support for the China resolution "will be a hard fight."
"There might not be much support out there, but we think (sponsoring a resolution is) the right thing to do," he said.
But whether that would mean Bush or Powell would get directly involved in trying to sway opinion has not been determined.
Bush is facing another decision that could be even more sensitive than human rights - whether to sell new weapons to Taiwan and, if so, how many. That decision is not expected until April.
BEIJING - Another member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group committed suicide by setting himself on fire today, according to Chinese state media. It was the second time in less than a month that group members were reported to have resorted to self-immolation to bring attention to their cause.
Tonight, state television showed police officers covering the body with a sheet and quoted a witness as saying, "He poured gasoline over his head, lit it, and burst into flames."
Five people, including a 12-year- old girl, set themselves ablaze in Tiananmen Square on Jan. 23 while adopting the group's meditation poses. One person, the girl's mother, died.
Since then, clips from police videotapes of the incident have been widely broadcast on Chinese state television to justify the government's suppression of what it has called an "evil cult."
The earlier self-immolation was witnessed by a group of foreign journalists in Tiananmen Square, the scene of almost daily small nonviolent protests by individual Falun Gong members for the last 18 months. These mostly pass silently, in the blink of an eye, as members unfurl small banners and, in turn, are quickly whisked away in police vans.
There was no independent confirmation of today's suicide, which the official New China News Agency said took place around noon on a street in the western part of the capital.
Beijing is busily cleaning itself up for a visit by an inspection team from the International Olympic Committee next week. China desperately wants Beijing to play host to the 2008 summer Olympics. Protest suicides do not help that cause.
Since the five Falun Gong members set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square nearly a month ago, security in the square has been extremely tight, with police officers blocking the entrances and inspecting identification cards and packages to check for gasoline. But the group still has many followers in China and the incident today took place miles from the square, involving a man who is said to have practiced Falun Gong's blend of exercise and meditation since 1997.
The news agency identified the dead man as Tan Yihui, a shoeshiner from Hunan province, in central China. It said Mr. Tan, 25, was dead by the time the police arrived and extinguished the fire.
Officials said they discovered a six-page suicide note nearby that identified him as a member of Falun Gong and that said he wished to "forget about life and death and achieve perfection in Paradise."
Falun Gong officials have generally denied that those who set themselves on fire were genuine practitioners, noting that the teachings of its exiled leader, Li Hongzhi, specifically forbid suicide.
Still, Mr. Li - who lives in the United States - recently wrote an essay that seemed to encourage his followers in China to take more drastic actions than the silent protests that had characterized the group's resistance.
Also, after 18 months of persecution by the Chinese government, many group members have been almost continuously harassed by the police or have lost their jobs; they are apparently increasingly desperate and ready to act.
BEIJING -- A shoeshine man identified by Chinese authorities as a member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group set himself on fire outside a military institute here today, prompting a fresh wave of government attacks against a movement that has withstood nearly two years of often brutal state repression.
The official Chinese media reported that Tan Yihui, 25, committed suicide by pouring gasoline over his body and igniting himself a few minutes past noon on a street in western Beijing. Residents confirmed the self-immolation and television reports showed police officers covering a charred, shriveled corpse with a white body bag and zipping it shut.
Tan is the sixth Chinese identified as a Falun Gong member to set himself on fire in the capital in the past month. Five others set themselves ablaze on Jan. 23 in Tiananmen Square. One woman died and the others, including a 12-year-old girl, remain hospitalized.
That incident led the government to launch a vitriolic public relations campaign against Falun Gong featuring footage of the burned girl crying for her mother. It also drew international attention to China's crackdown on the group, which has had thousands of its members arrested and as many as 120 die in police custody, several allegedly after being tortured.
Falun Gong's refusal to yield despite such tactics has presented the ruling Communist Party with a challenge unlike any other it has faced. Judging by state news reports, today's suicide will lead the party to intensify what it described this week as a "war to the end."
The public suicide comes just four days before a delegation from the International Olympic Committee is scheduled to arrive in Beijing to evaluate the city's bid for the 2008 Summer Games. Human rights activists cite China's campaign against Falun Gong as one reason it should not be allowed to host the event.
Police cleared Tiananmen Square at least once today and officers searched trucks entering the city. Authorities at railway and bus stations across the country are also trying to prevent Falun Gong adherents from reaching Beijing, often demanding passengers denounce Li Hongzhi, the group's U.S.-based leader, before allowing them to travel.
The government considers Falun Gong an evil cult with ties to anti-Chinese forces in the West and blames it for the deaths of hundreds of practitioners. But for years, the group operated with some state support, attracting followers from a wide cross-section of society, including intellectuals, soldiers, old party members and millions of others searching for values in fast-changing China.
Falun Gong members, who practice a mix of Buddhism, Taoism and traditional Chinese breathing exercises, insist their movement is peaceful and nonpolitical. The group's leaders also say the people who set themselves on fire cannot be true Falun Gong followers because their faith forbids violence and suicide.
That has not stopped many human rights advocates from portraying the self-immolations as dramatic acts of protest against the Falun Gong crackdown. Others believe the individuals were adherents driven over the edge by a government forcing believers from their homes and taking away their jobs. But China's leaders -- and many of its citizens -- insist the people were cult victims deluded into trying to enter heaven.
The mystery only deepened with today's suicide, which occurred in a plain neighborhood dominated by military households. State news reports quoted Tan's neighbors describing him as a Falun Gong adherent from the city of Chengde in central China and said a six-page suicide note was discovered near his body.
WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged President George W. Bush to submit to a U.N. meeting slated for next month a resolution condemning China's human rights record, a U.S. official said Friday.
The official said Bush has yet to make a final decision on the matter, but indicated Washington is set to sponsor the resolution, which is to be presented to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva in mid-March.
Following the military crackdown on the pro-democracy movement at Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989, the United States has sponsored nearly every year resolutions condemning China's human rights record, except in some years, such as 1998, when China released jailed dissidents.
The resolutions called for improvement in the country's human rights situation. In response, China countered through various motions and succeeded in blocking their adoption.
As a result, officials in the Bush administration have called for the U.S. to compromise with China on human rights instead of doggedly sticking to the submission of resolutions.
However, a crackdown by Chinese authorities on the Falun Gong sect has raised strong protests from Congress and human rights groups.
BEIJING - China, battling Western human rights criticism of its ruthless crackdown on the outlawed Falun Gong, said on Saturday another self-immolation by a purported adherent showed it was the movement which breached human rights.
The suicide showed Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi's alleged exhortation to followers "not to be afraid of dying in order to achieve 'nirvana' is absolute heresy that violates human rights," the People's Daily said.
"Cherish your life and don't be victims of Falun Gong any longer," the Communist Party newspaper said in a commentary.
State media said a member of the spiritual movement set himself ablaze on Friday in a Beijing neighbourhood that is home to several Communist Party leaders.
State television showed police lifting the charred body of a man it said set fire to his gasoline-soaked clothing. It said a six-page suicide note linked the man to Falun Gong.
It identified the dead man as Tan Yihui, a 25-year-old shoe-polisher from the central province of Hunan.
"He poured a container of gasoline on his head, flicked a lighter and burst into flames," it quoted a witness as saying.
Falun Gong said in a statement it could not verify if the man was a member.
"We are extremely sad and shocked to hear (of) the death of a Chinese citizen who was said to have set fire to himself in Beijing. So far, we have no way to verify this person's background," the group said.
It restated its tenet that it is against Falun Gong teachings to take human life, and that includes suicide.
The movement reacted similarly to the first self-immolation, by five purported Falun Gong adherents who included a 12-year-old girl, in Tiananmen Square last month. One woman, the girl's mother, died.
The Chinese leadership banned Falun Gong as an "evil cult" in 1999 and has launched a major campaign to denigrate it across the country.
It compares the Falun Gong to Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo, or Supreme Truth, accused of deadly gas attacks on a Tokyo subway, and the U.S. Branch Davidian sect whose stand-off with authorities ended in a deadly blaze in Waco, Texas.
"Self-immolation by burning oneself is one of the most notorious characteristics of the evil cults," the People's Daily said.
Falun Gong, which is based on elements of Taoism, Buddhism and traditional Chinese meditation and exercises, says none of the Chinese accusations is true, that it is a non-political movement aimed only at improving people.
The latest purported Falun Gong suicide took place four days before International Olympic Committee officials are due in Beijing to evaluate the city's bid for the 2008 Games.
Beijing narrowly lost out to Sydney in the race to stage the 2000 Games, in part because of its human rights record.
The pressure on China is likely to mount with the new U.S. administration of George W. Bush deciding to sponsor a U.N. resolution condemning China on human rights next month.
Administration officials said on Friday the formal paperwork authorising the resolution was still being completed, but the decision had been made to present it at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
BEIJING - Casting doubt on official Chinese claims that another of its followers set himself on fire, the Falun Gong spiritual movement called Saturday for an independent investigation into the incident.
In a statement, Falun Gong said it was ``extremely sad and shocked'' by news of Tan Yihui's death but could not verify reports by Chinese state media that he was a member of the meditation sect, which is banned in China.
The statement said China was using the 25-year-old shoe shiner's reported self-immolation Friday in Beijing to defame Falun Gong.
``In the past, there were many cases where police pushed Falun Gong practitioners out of the windows in high-rise buildings to fabricate scenes of suicides to gain international approval for their brutal crackdown,'' said the statement from Falun Gong representatives in the United States.
Chinese state media said that in a note found near his charred body, Tan wrote that followers must sacrifice themselves for the group. If true, the reported suicide is the latest indication that China's relentless 19-month crackdown on Falun Gong is pushing some practitioners to extremes.
Last month, a purported follower was killed and four others were seriously burned when they set themselves ablaze on Tiananmen Square in a radical departure from what had largely been a campaign of peaceful protests and civil disobedience by Falun Gong members against the government's ban on the group.
``I really can no longer be tolerant,'' Tan's note said, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. ``I must bravely stand up and be a warrior to protect the Fa!'' Tan allegedly wrote, using another name for the practice.
Falun Gong called for an independent investigation into Tan's death. It said Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong's U.S.-based founder, has ``at no time and under no circumstances'' encouraged followers to burn themselves in order to ascend to heaven.
``It is strictly against the teachings of Falun Gong to take the life of a human being, which includes suicide,'' the statement said.
Xinhua blamed Tan's death on what it claimed were Li's calls for followers to ``ascend to Heaven and achieve perfection.''
The suicide prompted renewed state media condemnation of Falun Gong and appeals to practitioners to sever ties with the group.
Chinese leaders, worried by Falun Gong's multimillion following and ability to mobilize protests, banned the group in July 1999. The government claims the group is an evil cult that has led nearly 1,700 followers to their deaths, mostly by encouraging spiritual healing over modern medicine.
HONG KONG - The top U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong said Washington is watching recent controversies over free speech and politics to see whether they are ``bumps along its new path or portents of difficulty ahead'' under Chinese sovereignty.
In a speech in Texas that was posted on his official Internet site, Consul-General Michael Klosson cited warnings from Beijing about news reporting and local activities of the Falun Gong spiritual sect. He also noted the pending departure of the last high-ranking official to be appointed during British colonial days.
Hong Kong retains many of its Western ways, and Klosson said it can serve as a good example, showing mainland China ``its own potential future - a way toward prosperity that rests on openness, tolerance, the rule of law, sound management and transparent dealings.''
Klosson said Hong Kong has remained vibrant and free since returning to China in July 1997, but in a speech Thursday in Houston, he noted several incidents that raised concerns. The consulate has posted the speech on the Internet.
Some thorny local issues ``highlight that Hong Kong's situation merits continued attention from the United States and other major partners which have interests at stake,'' Klosson said.
Almost a year ago, a senior mainland official based in Hong Kong warned local media not to report the viewpoint of Taiwanese independence advocates as ``normal news.'' Another mainland official told Hong Kong businessmen they should not trade with Taiwanese companies seen as supporting independence for the island.
China and Taiwan separated politically amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing says Taiwan must reunite with the mainland someday, even if that requires a war. Most Taiwanese are leery of accepting Beijing's terms.
Klosson also noted the recent controversy over Falun Gong's activities in Hong Kong.
Beijing has outlawed the meditation sect as an ``evil cult'' and is waging an often-violent crackdown on the mainland. Falun Gong remains legal in Hong Kong, but Beijing and local allies are furious at recent campaigns here attacking the suppression in China.
They are seeking a crackdown, and some observers say Hong Kong's response will be one of the most crucial tests of its freedoms.
Klosson said Washington also was concerned about the departure of Hong Kong's No. 2 government official, Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan.
Chan was appointed by the last British colonial governor, Chris Patten, and has been viewed as a stabilizing force throughout Hong Kong's political transition.
Chan says she is leaving to spend more time with her family, but analysts here believe her feuding with Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is the real reason.
``Her announcement generated lots of speculation, and time will tell whether the excessively pessimistic prognosis of some observers will be borne out,'' Klosson said.
What Is Falun Gong? See "Falun Gong 101", by Massimo Introvigne
"Falun Gong 101. Introduzione al Falun Gong e alla sua presenza in Italia" (in italiano), di Massimo Introvigne
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