GENEVA (AP) _ The United States appealed to the European Union on Tuesday to back its efforts to censure China before the U.N. Human Rights Commission, saying it was a matter of principle.

``There has been a deterioration in the human rights condition over the past year,'' said Harold Hongju Koh, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, voicing concern about the ``deprivation of the right to democracy and the right of political participation.''

The State Department announced last Saturday that it would revive efforts for the 53-nation human rights commission to criticize China. It dropped its annual campaign last year in preference for diplomacy and dialogue after Beijing said it would sign important human rights treaties.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said China ``strongly opposed'' the U.S. decision to support a resolution of censure.

``We demand the U.S. side reverse its erroneous decision immediately and abandon its practice of interfering in China's internal affairs,'' Sun said Tuesday in Beijing.

Beijing has always managed to mobilize support from the United Nation's developing country majority to push through a ``no-action'' motion and head off any formal criticism. The situation is unlikely to change this year.

Regardless of the outcome, the U.S. decision to push for formal criticism of Beijing puts the 15-nation European Union in a tricky position. While voicing concern at Beijing's recent clampdown on pro-democracy activists, the EU decided earlier this month that it wouldn't sponsor a critical resolution.

If the EU stands by that decision, it will open itself to accusations of betraying human rights ideals.

The U.N. commission is the top U.N. human rights watchdog, although much of its work is politicized. At its current session, which runs through April 30, it is due to examine violations in Iraq, Iran, the Congo, Myanmar and former Yugoslavia, to name but a few.

Any resolution on China is likely to be debated toward the end of the commission.