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Staff writer

In a move expected to relieve Beijing but dissatisfy Washington, Japan has decided to not cosponsor a U.N. resolution drafted by the United States to condemn China’s poor human rights record, government sources said Friday, apparently to avoid worsening relations strained by China’s alarm over broadened Japan-U.S. defense co-operation.

However, Japan will vote against a “no-action” motion China has said it will submit to the U.N. Human Rights Commission if the resolution is actually presented to the U.N. body, the sources said.

The U.S. was expected to present the resolution to the commission as early as Friday. A vote on the resolution is scheduled for April 23, assuming it is not co-opted by a no-action motion.

The top U.N. watchdog on human rights is now holding its annual meeting in Geneva.

Since the military crackdown on democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, the U.S. has presented similar resolutions to the U.N. Human Rights Commission every year except 1991, through 1997, chiding China for its human rights violations. None were voted on because of successful no-action motions submitted by China.

The U.S. pulled back last year, hoping that Beijing would show greater tolerance toward political dissidents.

However, the U.S. announced recently that it would present a resolution this year following the arrest of political activists in recent months, including three leaders of the China Democracy Party.

The administration of President Bill Clinton, which faces strong pressure from Congress to take a tougher stance on China, not only on human rights but also on other matters such as the alleged Chinese theft of U.S. nuclear secrets, has asked Japan to cosponsor the resolution.

China, for its part, has asked Japan not to comply at meetings of various-level government officials, including foreign ministers. This has put Japan in a difficult foreign-policy dilemma.

Japan cosponsored all such U.S. resolutions through 1996. In 1997, Japan did not join the U.S. and other industrialized countries, claiming that some progress had been made in the communist country’s human rights situation.

The government sources said that although Japan is still concerned about China’s human rights condition, the situation is improving in the long term.

Japan believes it should encourage Chinese progress on the human rights front through talks, instead of putting pressure on China internationally, the sources said. In recent, years Tokyo and Beijing have regularly held dialogues on the issue.

Although some of the 15 European Union member nations are likely to cosponsor the U.S.-led resolution this year, there is almost no possibility — at least for now — that all the EU nations will join, they added.

The Japanese decision not to cosponsor the resolution this year apparently reflects a strong desire to prevent relations between Tokyo and Beijing from deteriorating further, especially ahead of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s planned visit to China this summer.

Chinese leaders have voiced strong concern about the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines announced in 1997. The guidelines were worked out under the new joint security declaration issued by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Clinton in Tokyo in 1996.

The new declaration apparently shifted the focus of bilateral security ties away from the joint defense of Japan against possible attacks from a third country and more toward cooperation during emergencies outside Japanese territory.

China is very alarmed at the possibility that Taiwan would be covered by the strengthened guidelines. Beijing still regards Taiwan as a renegade province and has not yet renounced the use of force, if necessary, to reunify the island with the mainland.

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