Empty seats of the United States delegation are pictured one day after the U.S. announced their withdrawal during a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

China expressed regret on Wednesday over a U.S. decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, with state media saying the image of the United States as a defender of rights was "on the verge of collapse".

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced the decision to pull out of the council on Tuesday over what she said was chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform.

Rights group have criticized the decision as sending a message that the United States was turning a blind eye to abuses across the world.

"China expresses regret at the U.S. decision to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a regular briefing.

"China will continue, working with all sides, to make its contribution to the healthy development of human rights around the world via constructive dialogue and cooperation," he added.

Asked about U.S. criticism of China's rights record, Geng said the United States was ignoring the facts and that anyone who was without prejudice could see the enormous progress China had made on rights.

The official publication of China's top anti-graft watchdog said in a commentary on Wednesday the U.S. decision to leave the council "has put the American peoples' boastful image of being a defender of human rights on the verge of collapse".

The separation of immigrant families on the U.S.-Mexico border showed the hypocrisy of the United States and that it "cannot and should not" criticize other countries' rights record, it said.

Human rights have long been a source of tension between the world's two largest economies, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

China regularly rejects criticism of its human rights record and points to its success at lifting millions out of poverty.

But the ruling Communist Party brooks no political dissent and since President Xi Jinping took office dozens of rights lawyers and activists have been arrested or jailed in a crackdown activists say is worse than any in decades.

Beijing also releases an annual report lambasting the United States for its rights problems, invariably citing racism, political standards and gun violence.