How China Is Using Its BRI Project To Vandalize Human Rights And Harass & Manipulate Partner Nations: OPED

It is worthwhile to examine how China has been posturing at the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva or New York when the Security Council discusses human rights abuse anywhere in the world.

India has had a long and bitter experience of China using double standards while reflecting on human rights. In more straightforward language, we have sufficient instances and evidence to show that China politicizes human rights to meet its political interests.

One recent example is that previously China blocked the proposal of designating Pakistani terrorist Abdul Rahman Lakhvi Makki based on what a Chinese representative said were “technical reasons.”

But in the recent meeting of the SC, when the subject came up again, China withdrew its objection and let the proposal go through. How come the so-called technical snag was overcome without beating an eyelid?

Previously also, China created hindrance when the question of designating Masud Azhar had come up before the Security Council.

The politics behind China rejecting the resolution against Azhar was that China wanted to make sure that Pakistan-based jihadists like Azhar did not raise the human rights issue of the Uyghur of Xinjiang, a matter with which not only the HR NGOs and activists are concerned but the UNHRC to has expressed its unhappiness about the abuse of human rights of the entire community of Uyghurs.

Protesters at the United Nations with the flag of East Turkestan (By SFT HQ Students for a Free Tibet)

BRI To Vandalize Human Rights

China is using its Belt and Road Initiative also to vandalize human rights. China is using this platform for economic coercion, inducement, harassment, and manipulation of the countries that have shown interest in the B&RI.

China has been playing the card of “people-centered development,” which de-prioritizes the pre-eminence of human rights.

In its domestic policy, China has adhered to the principle of people-centric development, but it has never spoken about the impact of that policy on less affluent and more marginalized segments of the population.

The effect is palpable, at least in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The representatives of that community on various international platforms have voiced the issue of abuse of the human rights of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. The Uyghur Diaspora in Germany has been very active and usually demonstrates in front of the UNHRC in Geneva.

However, it was only in 2018 that calls were made for the UN investigation into the allegations of mass human rights violations. Beijing manipulated the delay in the action by the HRC, and then Covid-19 intervened.

In July 2019, 22 states presented a letter to the HRC in which they urged that Beijing should accept a team of UN–sponsored inspectors to report on the situation in XUAR.

Beijing is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. It is equally responsible for ensuring that human rights are upheld and respected. But when the case riveted on China, it took recourse to political maneuvering.

In response to the 22 members who had signed the letter, Beijing mobilized 37 states prompting them to defend China’s record of the human rights of the Uyghurs. They even lauded the positive steps taken by Beijing. Incidentally, many Islamic countries were China’s protagonists at the HR Council.

Almost all signatories to the counter-proposal were partner states of China’s B&RI, including some authoritarian states whose role in human rights is doubtful.  

Notwithstanding obstructions created by China, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was able to visit the Xinjiang Autonomous Republic in May 2022.

But her visit was largely restricted. Her report on the visit was not published until her last day in the office. Allegations surfaced that Beijing was exerting pressure for not disclosing the report’s contents.

File Image: Xi Jinping

Nevertheless, the report’s highlights suggested that China’s anti-terrorist legislation had resulted in severe human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.

Among other abuses, it had reported the denial of reproductive rights, eradication of privacy rights, and free movements for the Uyghurs. There were enforced disappearances and, above all, “targeted eradication of Islam and religious sites.”

The High Commissioner revealed that China was reaching the Uyghur Diaspora threatening and intimidating its members and disallowing normal contact between the Diaspora and relatives back in China. These are punitive measures to harass and demoralize the Uyghurs.

Taking note of the report of the former High Commission, the 51at session of the HRC considered a motion seeking the house debate on the situation of human rights in XUAR.

But China, this time, blatantly resorted to politicizing human rights. It alleged that the motion was a US plot. It warned the developing states that they could be targeted next. This is how China attempted to draw a wedge between the member states of the UNHRC.

The motion was defeated, and China called it a victory over the “Western type of human rights” imposed on the rest of the world.

The point is that in the first place, China has brazenly abused its position as a member of the Security Council by adopting a partisan attitude on human rights, as we explained in the opening paragraphs of this write-up.

Secondly, it has given a political touch to the issues of human rights, and thirdly, it has created a wedge among the member states by dangling the carrot of B&RI in front of them.

Of the 19 states that voted against the motion (excluding China), all states have BRI agreements. Of those states that abstained, 8 out of 11 have BRI agreements with China.

This is a serious development for the UNHRC. It indicates that China would want to have a bloc of BRI states that it would be leading. Of the 47 member states of the HRC, only 13 states do not have a BRI agreement with China. They are more susceptible to coercion and economic punishment.

Keeping in view the track record of China with respect to human rights, many doubts are raised by two specific incidents we have mentioned here; one is of the Pakistani terrorists escaping the punishment of designation as international terrorists, and the second case of trivializing the human rights of the Uyghurs.

It becomes very doubtful in the eyes of UN authorities whether China should be allowed to continue as a member of the Security Council.