WASHINGTON (AFP) — China's crackdown on Tibetan protests has dealt a major embarassment to US President George W. Bush's administration, which removed the Asian giant from a human rights blacklist just three days before the bloody repression, experts say.
Rights groups and some lawmakers were dismayed by the State Department's decision last Tuesday to drop China from its list of the world's worst human rights violators despite what they called Beijing's worsening rights record even as it prepared to host the Olympic Games in August.
As Chinese troops moved Friday to quell the worst protests in 20 years against Beijing's rule in Tibet amid claims of heavy casualties, Bush could come under pressure to restore human rights as top priority in bilateral relations, experts said.
"Clearly the Bush administration has been very, very leery of dealing with the Chinese on the human rights issue," said John Tkacik, a former China expert in the State Department, who feels Washington's Asia policy has been skewed by heavy US reliance on China to end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.
"So if your only priority is North Korean nuclear weapons, you subordinate everything else to what China wants and that's unfortunately what seems to have happened here," he said.
The Tibet crackdown is a "big embarrassment for Bush, coming just a couple of days after the State Department decision to delist China as a top human rights violator," said T. Kumar, Amnesty International's Washington-based Asia-Pacific advocacy director.
In a move seen by some as kowtowing to China, Bush has pledged to attend the Olympic Games and effectively endorsed Beijing's contention that the Olympics have nothing to do with politics.
Frank Wolf, a senior House Republican lawmaker and human rights crusader, has asked Bush not to attend the Beijing games, comparing it to the Berlin 1936 Olympics at the time of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany.
Bush's presence would be akin to President Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting in the same stands as Germany's Adolf Hitler in 1936, said Wolf, who plans legislation banning US officials from traveling to the Beijing games at taxpayers' expense.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday urged the Chinese government to "exercise restraint" in responding to protests in Tibet and called for the release of detained monks.
"We call on the Chinese government to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests, and we strongly urge all sides to refrain from violence," Rice said.
"We urge China to respect the fundamental and universally recognized right of all of its citizens to peacefully express their political and religious views, and we call on China to release monks and others who have been detained solely for the peaceful expression of their views," she said.
But the perceived softening of the Bush administration's human rights policy on China is also expected to draw broader criticism in the Democratic party-led Congress, where Beijing's repression in Tibet and other Chinese rights abuses have raised concerns.
"The violent response by Chinese police forces to peaceful protestors in Tibet is digraceful," said House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noting "disturbing" evidence of Beijing's pre-Olympic crackdown on religious leaders, journalists and lawyers in recent months.
There are already two non-binding resolutions proposed in the House of Representatives calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics and Congressional aides said lawmakers were preparing a "comprehensive" binding bill on China's human rights record.
"For example, the bill may compel US officials visiting Beijing to raise human rights issues and have officials specially dealing with human rights issues in key US goverment departments," one aide said.
Human rights groups said Beijing had become numb to US criticism of Chinese rights abuses highlighted in an annual State Department report documenting abuses across the globe.
"US policy is not even remotely reflecting the severity of the abuses that is documented in the report," complained Amnesty's Kumar.
The latest department report, released last week, had a 63-page China section describing alleged brutality against prisoners, executions without due process, religious repression. It also cited examples of torture and forced relocations ahead of the Olympics.
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