China warned Friday that it is considering vetoing a Security Council resolution that would shield U.S. troops serving in U.N.-approved operations from prosecution before the International Criminal Court.
China's ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, voiced concern that the U.S.-sponsored resolution would provide legal cover for U.S. forces responsible for the kind of prisoner abuse that has been reported in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although China supported an identical resolution last year, Wang said Beijing shares the concerns of other countries about the U.S. military's "misbehavior, which is a violation of international and humanitarian law."
"We don't want to see this resolution protecting these" activities, he said.
"I think that now we have a difficult position in supporting this," Wang added. "There are three ways of voting -- support, abstention and veto -- but I think my government is considering all these three."
China's warning represents the latest phase of a diplomatic backlash against the United States after revelations of prisoner abuse.
A week ago, the United States was confident the resolution could pass. It would exempt from prosecution "current and former officials" from countries that, like the United States, have not ratified the treaty that established the court.
But the United States withdrew the resolution from consideration last week as opposition mounted, according to some council members. U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell telephoned Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing earlier this week to address China's support for the resolution, according to Wang.
A spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, Richard Grenell, said the United States simply accommodated China's request for more time to consider the resolution. But he said that "we expect to get passage" before the current resolution expires on July 1.
Experts on the International Criminal Court maintain that U.S. forces have no chance of facing prosecution for alleged crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither the United States nor Iraq has ratified the treaty, so they are beyond the court's jurisdiction, and Afghanistan has signed an agreement with the United States that prevents Americans from being handed over to the court. The court also gives countries the first chance to prosecute crimes committed by their own nationals.
U.S. officials maintain that China, which has also not signed the ICC treaty and previously supported U.S. efforts to limit its scope, is using the veto as leverage to gain concessions on other issues. "They don't care about the ICC," one senior council diplomat said. "It all has to do with Taiwan."
China is furious with the United States for supporting Taiwan's bid for observer status at the Geneva-based World Health Assembly, U.S. officials said.
The United States needs at least nine votes and no veto from the 15 Security Council members to pass the resolution. It has commitments for seven.
France, Spain, Germany, Brazil and Chile have indicated they will abstain, according to Security Council diplomats. Romania's ambassador said he will abstain unless his vote is decisive in defeating the U.S. initiative. Benin remains undecided.
The International Criminal Court, established by treaty at a 1998 conference in Rome, was created to prosecute people responsible for the most serious crimes, including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The treaty has been signed by 135 nations and ratified by 94. Under bilateral agreements with the United States, 89 countries will not surrender U.S. troops or other personnel to the court, which is located in The Hague.
The Clinton administration signed the treaty in December 2000, but the Bush administration renounced it in May 2002.