July 23, 2015 / 9:20 PM / 2 years ago

China in 'race to bottom' with North Korea on rights: U.S. congressman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An influential U.S. congressman denounced religious persecution in China on Thursday, comparing some practices to those of the Nazis and saying that Beijing was in a “race to the bottom” with its neighbor North Korea on human rights abuses.

Republican Chris Smith, a senior member of the House foreign affairs committee and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, told a hearing on Capitol Hill it was time the Obama administration and the United Nations stood up to China.

“We need our government - we need our president - to have some red lines about human rights (in China) which have gone from bad to worse,” Smith told a commission hearing.

“China gets a pass on human rights ... They have for far too long and now that they are in a race to the bottom with North Korea about abuses against their own citizens; it’s about time the United Nations found its voice,” he added.

Smith said China was guilty of “multiple acts of genocide” for which it should held to account, including through treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and the Uighur Muslim minority aimed “not just to persecute, but to eradicate religion.”

He described some treatment of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong as “Nazi-like” and added: “It can’t go unaddressed.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said China’s crackdown on rights activists this month had been the most severe since the end of the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s.

According to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Concern Group, 249 people, including rights lawyers, have been detained or questioned in a crackdown this month.

Washington has said it is “deeply concerned” at what appeared to be a systematic pattern of arrests and detentions, but has been accused of subordinating such concerns to economic ties with Beijing.

Bob Fu, founder of the activist group China Aid, told the hearing Washington should exert pressure through sanctions and other steps, instead of “useless, toothless” dialogue.

He also said the administration should “reconsider” Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned September visit to Washington adding it should be “canceled, postponed or at least pre-conditioned” by the release of prisoners of conscience.

Rebiya Kadeer, U.S.-based president of the World Uighur Congress, called on the administration and Congress to urgently raise the issue of extra-judicial killings. [IDnL4N0ZT5VY]

She also expressed worries about the fate of 109 Uighurs sent back to China from Thailand and 60 more who were still there.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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