A Western-led vote at the UN Human Rights Council to open debate on the human rights situation for Muslim Uyghur people in China's Xinjiang region was lost by 19 votes to 17 after Chinese diplomatic lobbying.
The draft decision had been co-written by several Western states, but following a rush of diplomatic maneuvers by Beijing, the motion was rejected.
Of the 47 members on the council in Geneva, 19 voted against with 17 voting in favor. Another 11 members abstained.
The proposal to open a debate on the topic came after outgoing UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet released a delayed UN report, just minutes before the end of her term, on Xinjiang pointing to possible crimes against humanity.
Successful lobbying from Beijing
The co-sponsors of the bill included the UK, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Australia and Lithuania.
They had made a last-minute rush to try and shore up support for the vote as it became clearer that its chances of passing were waning.
China, one of the council's members, voted against the motion along with several Asian, African and Latin American member nations.
The abstaining parties included Brazil, Mexico and Ukraine, among others.
Seats on the council are rotated with terms lasting for three years.
A difficult vote for some
The attempted proposal marks the first time China's human rights record has been brought up in the 16-year history of the council.
The request to hold a debate on the situation in Xinjiang would have been one of the least intrusive forms of criticism possible from the human rights body.
But for many member states, criticizing China brings with it potential problems.
"It's always difficult for countries to vote against a permanent member of the Security Council," one Western diplomat told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, adding that it was a "genuinely difficult call" for some due to their economic ties with China.
Ahead of Thursday's vote, China's UN ambassador Chen Xu said Beijing "firmly opposes and categorically rejects" the proposal, accusing the West of turning a "blind eye" to their own human rights issues while pointing fingers at others.
US envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council Michele Taylor said she was disappointed by the vote.
"No country should be immune from a discussion at the Council," Taylor said. "We will continue to work closely with our partners to seek justice and accountability for victims of human rights abuses and violations, including the Uyghurs in Xinjiang."
ab/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)