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China said Thursday it was against referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court, dimming chances that its longtime ally will face additional scrutiny over its dismal and well-documented system of sprawling political prison camps, starvation and mass executions.

The U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee is considering a resolution calling on the Security Council to refer Pyongyang to the court, a step that would mark the global community's strongest effort so far against the North's human rights record.

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China believes disputes over human rights issues should be handled through "dialogue and cooperation on the basis of equality and mutual respect.

"We think bringing human rights issues to the International Criminal Court won't help improve the human rights condition in a country," Hua told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.

It isn't clear whether the resolution will be approved, and Hua didn't say whether China would use its Security Council veto to block a referral if it came to that.

Despite showing annoyance with Pyongyang's threatening actions, especially its development of nuclear weapons, China has continued to provide it with diplomatic cover.

Chinese experts insist Beijing has relatively little influence over its hard-line communist neighbor, while outsiders say China is fearful that angering or placing heavy pressure on the North could lead it to lash out, or worse, cause the regime to collapse.


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