BEIJING -- China yesterday released a strongly worded counterattack on Western criticism of its human rights abuses in the form of a "white paper" detailing often spurious claims of marked progress in providing political freedoms here.
Western diplomats said it represents an effort to head off the growing U.S. political debate on whether the United States should continue to extend to China a favorable trade status absent improvement in China's human-rights record.
"In a way it's a positive sign in that they're at least putting their position on paper," said one Western envoy of the 62-page statement -- China's first official definition of human rights. "This could be the beginning of a more meaningful dialogue with China on human rights."
China tentatively began such a dialogue with Western nations this year, inviting several foreign delegations for the first time to discuss human-rights practices.
In yesterday's statement, China continued to reject international criticism of its human-rights record as unwarranted interference
in its internal affairs. Noting China's long history of oppression by foreign powers and the rapid improvement in living standards here since the Communist revolution in 1949, the statement focuses primarily on "the right to subsistence [as] the most important of all human rights."
The statement denies that China has any political prisoners, that "ideas alone" can constitute a crime and that anyone is sent to labor camps without a trial.
Chinese jails and labor camps are widely believed to hold at least 100,000 prisoners because of their political views, including at least 1,000 pro-democracy activists jailed after the 1989 protests. Many of these prisoners have not stood trial, according to international human rights groups.
The document also claims that the Chinese people have extensive political freedoms, asserting that democratic elections are held for people's congresses at various levels of government. But candidates for these elections are often screened or selected by local Communist Party leaders and the legislative bodies are essentially powerless organizations in practice.