US Congress Assembles Panel on China Rights
US congressional leaders on Friday pushed ahead with plans for a watchdog commission to monitor human rights in China, potentially adding a new irritant to Sino-US relations.
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi tapped Sen. Chuck Hagel, a senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, as chairman of the 23-member panel, which will keep tabs on Chinese political prisoners and document alleged abuses of human rights and religious freedoms.
Established under a landmark US-China trade bill approved last year, the commission will issue annual reports -- the first of which is due on Oct. 10 -- based on its findings.
Over objections from Beijing, the commission could recommend sanctions and other legislative actions, so long as they are consistent with World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
The panel's formation could exacerbate US-China tensions, already frayed over arm sales to Taiwan and the collision between a US spy plane and a Chinese jet fighter.
Beijing's arrest of Li Shaomin, a US citizen and associate professor at the City University of Hong Kong, has also angered US lawmakers. Li, who was charged with spying for Taiwan, joins three other American-affiliated ethnic Chinese academics in custody in China.
"It is clear that we will be dealing with a somewhat ambiguous and inherently unstable relationship with China for some time to come," Hagel said in a statement.
"I look forward to studying how we might further our goal of helping the Chinese people gain greater protection for their basic rights and strengthen their legal system," the Nebraska lawmaker added.
In addition to human rights, the commission will monitor legal reforms undertaken as part of Beijing's bid to join the WTO, which sets global trading rules.
The commission was proposed as part of last year's landmark trade bill at the urging of pro-trade Democrats, who demanded continued oversight of Beijing's human rights record in exchange for supporting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) for China -- WASHINGTON (Reuters)
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