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Yale 62

What’s Right?

By William Stork

It may be difficult for one in the Western Hemisphere to fully get a sense of this, but in this part of Asia, which saw horrendous genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, this is a serious issue, as it should be for everyone.

Increasingly China is being questioned and taken to task about its treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, with reports of re-education camps, force sterilization, and more. To this call is being asked whether Beijing still deserves to hold the forthcoming Winter Olympics, a topic that the IOOC has yet to respond to. (As one that participated in the LA Olympics, I concur with Mitt Romney – support the Olympics but do not attend any of the events.)

Recently China’s big chiefs met in the annual ‘two sessions’ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which determine Beijing’s future policies, and they do so in the wake of the UN and other nations concern about this aspect of China’s human rights efforts. Should Beijing not offer a satisfactory response, there will be even greater calls for boycotting the Beijing winter Olympics next February.

Following the Anchorage meeting, several international firms [Nike + Adidas, H&M, Burberry] called out the CCP for human rights issues in regard to the Uyghur forced labor to produce cotton. In response, there is now a boycott of these firms, and their China locations have disappeared from all China-based internet maps.

China, however, rejects the idea that ‘human rights’ should not be subject to a nation’s own needs and interpretations, especially where national priorities are at play. And, interestingly, other nations at the UN are sympathetic, perhaps due to their own situations or perhaps wanting to be part of China’s New Silk Road largess or increased ties building on the economic accord that the EU forged with China prior to the coming of the Biden administration.

How loud these competing voices can get is yet to be determined, but United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet late last month criticized China for restricting basic human rights and political freedoms – including in Hong Kong – in the name of national security. Europe’s top diplomat at the United Nations criticized China by name in September. And Germany’s ambassador to China said Beijing should open a new dialogue on major issues, including human rights, if it hopes to improve relations with Europe.

Are there extensions to this situation that have gone unnoticed? Are people aware that this discord over China’s ‘human rights’ is entering the economic arena? Rising criticism about China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and its crackdown on Hong Kong are threatening to jeopardize ratification in the European Parliament of the new investment treaty reached by Beijing and Brussels at the end of December. The British government announced in January a new policy to end supply chain links to Xinjiang.

I won’t go into the sanctions imposed by the Trump regime, though they may have some relevance. But here and now, on 22 February, the Canadian parliament voted 266-0 to approve a resolution labeling China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority genocide. (China replied that the Canadian vote was hypocritical given the treatment of its own indigenous people.) Days later, the Dutch parliament voted to label Chinese policies in Xinjiang genocide. China blasted the move, calling it the “lie of the century.” As part of its vote on Xinjiang genocide, the Canadian parliament called for exploring moving the Winter Olympics, a proposal that Beijing fiercely rejected. China will “seriously sanction” any country that boycotts the Beijing Olympics, the editor of the nationalist tabloid the Global Times warned.

So where does the U.S. stand? It seems as if domestic priorities are at the present. However, during the pre-election rhetoric, Biden
called Chinese activity in Xinjiang genocide, with new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken telling the US Congress during his confirmation hearings that he agreed with predecessor Mike Pompeo that China was committing genocide in Xinjiang. (Pompeo slapped the label on Beijing on his last day in office in January). Already the new US Trade Representative has linked trade and human rights in a report released in early March.

Certainly the Anchorage meeting of top Chinese and U.S. officials got off to an Alaskan ‘frosty’ start. Certainly, that the ‘discourse’ started off as it did was a definite effort by both sides to pander to their individual publics, and to do so in such undiplomatic words and format. Equally certain, each side was able to point to ‘issues of concern’ publicly. The response of China to U.S. stated concerns about Uighur human rights was that the U.S. did not have reasons to complain about the internal affairs of China when it had such a human rights and other concerns to deal with, making allusions to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Capitol riot of 6 January. It reminded me of one of Mother’s sayings, “people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” (don’t complain about actions of others for which you might also be guilty). Yet, once that prologue was recorded by the media, then the two sides retreated to have their substantive meetings, about which we have yet to hear more, at least not here in Hong Kong. Nor has there been a lot of ink spilled over the additional 15 that have been sanctioned by the U.S.

My sense is that the ‘Blinken doctrine’ has arrived. “Our relationship with China will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be,” he confirmed, adding that Washington’s goal is to engage the Chinese from a “position of strength”. Yet the goals of US policy seems to be the same, only tactics and tone are adjusted for the Biden Administrations efforts … “Real strength is not bluster or bullying”, Blinken indicated as a rebuke to the efforts of the previous administration.

To my mind and that of others, the attempt is being made to distinguish the difference between US efforts to focus on their disagreements with officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – including Hong Kong officials – and the people of China. It is definitely an ideological attempt to counter the CCP’s authoritarianism, and to seek to engage the former close allies of the US in cooperative efforts with regard to the Chinese government.

This was first seen in the QUAD discussions before the Anchorage meeting, which set that tone for the concerns about the East Asian area, to counter Chinese govt expansion in the South China Sea and also with regard to concerns about Taiwan and also Korea. In his news conference Biden claimed ‘that he had gotten Beijing’s “attention” by holding a cyber summit with Australia, India and Japan about how to hold it accountable to international rules in the Pacific region.’

This has been followed up by getting agreement from EU, UK, and Canada to join the US in sanctioning Chinese govt officials. That has been followed up by getting European support in joining with the U.S. in developing a joint economic strategy to compete with China and at the same time Blinken used a meeting of NATO to describe the Chinese ‘threat’ and to get EU support. China is “actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share” and he called upon NATO allies to join the U.S. in countering that threat, especially in recognizing the technological, economic, and cyber coercive measures.

Blinken was clear, though, that his concern should not discourage in allies in finding ways to cooperate with China. He added that the U.S. would eagerly confer with and listen to its NATO allies, essentially rebuking the “America First’ policy of the previous administration. The U.S. policy, reaffirmed in the Biden press conference, is to rebuild on ideological terms the international system that had previously served then nation well.

An intriguing footnote: Biden has removed the Trump-imposed sanctions on the International Court

Credits: Photos: (1) SCMP (2) YouTube (3) (4) (5) (6) borgen project.  SCMP for information

For more good reading on the subject: “Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang”, The New Yorker, 12 April 2021

Also see Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Problem from Hell” – America and the Age of Genocide The former UN Ambassador also had this tweet of 12 March

Samantha Power @SamanthaJPower
The 1948 Genocide Convention, the UN’s first human rights treaty, defines genocide as attempted destruction of a group. This report shows how this is precisely what China is doing with the Uighurs.

Examine the evidence for yourself:


We welcome your comments.

1 comment to What’s Right?

  • Peter Cassar Torreggiani

    Very Interesting and comprehensive piece William, many thanks.

    Here in Europe we have the Council of Europe’s human Rights Commssion, which includes individual petition when all national judicial levels have been scaled in one’s own national courts. It is an extremely effective final continental appeal system, (except in the case of Russia. but then the border between Europe and Russia is more the UN than Europe)

    In 1974 in the International European Movement Congress of Europe in London a campaign started so that in the 21st century the European experience be shared globally to move the UN beyond what the present Pope Francis calls Declarationalistic Nominalism, which means to be satisfied with a declaration of principles but no action follow up.

    At the US State Department a committee chaired by Harvard Law Professor Mary Ann Glendon was set up last year to study why the UN Human Rights Commission seems to be a popular venue for abusing governments to declare their support of human rights. This is what seems to be going on. ss even Qaddafi’s Libya at one stage played a prominent role for a while.

    Very interestingly in 1995 at the UN an address by Pope St John Paul II suggested a new Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nations be promulgated in the new Millennium. The international community needs this, especially if it grants the right of individual petition to national citizens against human rights abuses at world courts. It is direct and practical to discuss with dictatorial nations such as Russia, China, and many Arab regimes. We had this in Europe before the collapse of communism, because Human Rights were the western civilizations pivoted in the Conference for Security and co-operation in Europe, leading to the Helsinki accords.

    I think this is the way to go globally, even if we will need to find the best way to navigate the global family relational issue to arrive at the fundamental reason for human dignity.