China has been able to dominate international organisations and the developing world by using its economic heft
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was once again unsuccessful in upholding its core mission as it failed to debate the issue of human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang, based on its recent report. The report released by the office of the high commissioner states that the Chinese government’s wrongdoings against the Muslims of Xinjiang under the guidance of President Xi Jinping may constitute international crimes, particularly “crimes against humanity” and serious human rights violations. However, on 6 October, the 47 members of the UN Human Rights Council rejected the resolution to hold a debate next year on the issue, with 19 votes against, 17 in favour, and 11 abstentions. Most of the Muslim authoritarian countries voted against the motion and India and Ukraine abstained. The failure of the UNHRC to have a debate on its own report has dealt a serious blow to its credibility. It also demonstrates China’s growing diplomatic clout over international organisations and the developing world, based on its rising economic power.
The Xinjiang province is a resource-rich north-western province of China, with about 12 million Muslims, mostly Uyghurs. It has been in news since 2017 when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constructed 1200 detention camps with a whopping investment of US$700 million under Xi’s regime. Beijing used the pretext of counterterrorism, splittism, and illegal religious activities to send more than a million Muslims to these detention centres. Uyghurs, Kazaks, and Uzbeks were sent to these detention centres for “offences,” including “wearing a veil,” growing “a long beard,” and “violating the government’s family planning policy”. The Uyghur women were subjected to forced implantation of contraceptive devices, sterilisations, and abortions through state-sponsored campaigns. These state-sponsored campaigns caused a fall in the natural population growth by 84 percent in the Khotan and Kashgar cities of Southern Xinjiang. To turn Uyghur Muslims from their culture, Beijing forced Uyghur Muslims working in government departments to pledge not to perform Namaz (five prayers a day) and even destroyed religious places such as mosques and shrines. The Muslim women in the detention camps were tortured, systematically raped, and sexually abused by CCP members.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other authoritarian Muslim regimes toed Beijing’s official line and commended China’s efforts in “protecting human and promoting human rights through development.
As the news of detention camps and the imprisonment of Uyghurs leaked, human rights groups called for independent investigations into human rights violations in Xinjiang by the Chinese state. Most of the democratic powers including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania along with the European Union (EU) repeatedly voiced concerns at regional and global forums. They criticised China, banned goods from Xinjiang and declared the Chinese repressive policies against Uyghurs as “genocide”. Even enacted laws to impose sanctions on the CCP officials and diplomatically boycotted the Winter Olympics held in Beijing.
China, on the other hand, used its economic clout over the Muslim countries to sabotage most of the calls from US-led democracies at global forums like the UNHRC. As expected, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other authoritarian Muslim regimes toed Beijing’s official line and commended China’s efforts in “protecting human and promoting human rights through development”. Furthermore, such is Beijing’s economic clout over the major Muslim countries that since 2017, 682 Uyghur exiles from these Muslim countries were detained and sent back to China.
Since the last decade, Beijing has taken numerous steps to increase its influence over international organisations such as the United Nations and associated bodies. It has increased voluntary donations to these organisations by nearly 350 percent. Similarly, China’s share to UN’s regular budget has skyrocketed to 15.25 percent in 2022 as compared to around 2 percent in 2000. China has used its economic clout to insert its personnel into the key positions of these organisations to further harness its strategic goals and interests. When it comes to the UNHRC, China helps authoritarian countries to get seats in the rotating body of this council. Moreover, the United States’ withdrawal from the council over the Israel-Palestine issue, gave further space to China to expand its influence.
China, with the support of authoritarian countries with poor human rights record, has made the council a mockery. Beijing also adopted tactics to curtail the independence of personnel and positions mandated to monitor and record human rights violations within China. For example, when the United Nations Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet visited China, conditions imposed by Beijing did not enable an independent and complete assessment. Bachelet was criticised by some western governments and rights groups for the guided tour. Furthermore, Bachelet herself admitted “tremendous pressure” on her office over a long-delayed report on China’s Xinjiang region by CCP and via diplomatic channels.
With the support of authoritarian Muslim regimes, the developing world, and rising economic clout over international organisations, China has become more belligerent and is using global platforms for managing perceptions.
China has also used the developing countries as a tool to reshape the international organisations in its favour where a battle between the liberal international order and China’s high-tech authoritarianism is underway. For instance, in July 2020, Beijing imposed new national security law in Hong Kong that criminalised dissent. While a coalition of democracies and UN experts criticised this move, 53 other countries praised Beijing’s actions. Out of these 53, 80 percent have Chinese investments.
With the support of authoritarian Muslim regimes, the developing world, and rising economic clout over international organisations, China has become more belligerent and is using global platforms for managing perceptions. Beijing has not only vowed to “fight” any United Nations move on human rights abuses in Xinjiang but has also used the world body to further its propaganda. It is this diplomatic belligerence of Beijing at the global and regional levels that has caused the US and EU to fail to secure enough swing states during the crucial vote. Western liberal democracies need to rethink China’s economic clout and engagement with international organisations as well as the developing world.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Ayjaz Wani (Phd) is a Fellow in the Strategic Studies Programme at ORF. Based out of Mumbai, he tracks China’s relations with Central Asia, Pakistan and ...Read More +