BEIJING (TBEN) — As world leaders gather in New York for the annual UN General Assembly, emerging superpower China is also targeting another UN body that is meeting in Geneva across the Atlantic.
Chinese diplomats speak out and lobby others at an ongoing session of the Human Rights Council to thwart a possible call for further investigation of what it calls their anti-extremism campaign in Xinjiang, following a UN report on abuses against Uyghurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups in the western China border region.
The simultaneous encounters, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, illustrate China’s divided approach to the United Nations and its growing global influence. Beijing looks to the UN, where it can count on support from countries it has befriended, and in many cases helped financially, as a counterbalance to US-led blocs like the Group of Seven, which have become increasingly hostile to China.
“China sees the UN as an important forum it can use to advance its strategic interests and goals and reshape the world order,” said Helena Legarda of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.
Although China champions the United Nations as a model of multilateralism, it rejects criticism or decisions that the ruling Communist Party considers contrary to its interests. The diplomats responded back to the report published last month by the UN human rights agency, in which they expressed concern about possible “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang – and vowed to suspend cooperation with the agency and destroy what it described. as a western plot to undermine the rise of China.
China had pushed hard to block the report on Xinjiang, delaying its publication for more than a year. The information eventually came out, but only minutes before the haunted UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet left office.
Like the United States, China feels a certain freedom to ignore UN institutions when it wants: The Trump administration pulled the US from the Human Rights Council in 2018, accusing it of anti-Israel bias. The Biden administration jumped back this year, prioritizing Israel’s defense in the body of 47 member states.
Like the United States, China is using its influence to get its way – effectively hindering an investigation by the UN’s World Health Organization into whether China was the birthplace of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ken Roth, former director of Human Rights Watch, said Chinese President Xi Jinping is trying to redefine what human rights are, including by making economic development an important criterion. China, Roth said, “more than any government in the past is trying to undermine the UN human rights system” — by pressuring UN officials, retaliating against witnesses and bribing governments.
“One of their top priorities right now — perhaps after Taiwan — is to avoid conviction by the Human Rights Council,” Roth said. talked about internationally.
Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University in China, said advocating the UN’s role in maintaining international order does not mean China agrees with every UN body, citing the COVID-19 origin study and the recent Xinjiang report.
“When the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issues such a report, in China’s eyes it is the same as any organization in the world, whether official or private, that defames China,” Shi said.
But China doesn’t want its anger at the bureau of rights under UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to spill over into its deeper relationship with other parts of the world dealing with refugees, climate, internet, satellites, hunger, nuclear weapons. , energy and much more.
China exercises power as one of the five vetoed members of the Security Council and helps build relationships with the United States and others who have needed China’s support for previous resolutions on Iran and North Korea.
That influence has diminished somewhat with the overall deterioration in US-China ties, Shi said. Then, in May, both China and Russia vetoed a US-backed resolution to impose new sanctions on North Korea.
Under Xi, who came to power 10 years ago, China has expanded its early UN involvement from primarily international development to political, peace and security issues, Legarda said.
She noted how China has incorporated its concepts and language into UN resolutions and used the UN system to promote a “Global Development Initiative” proposed by Xi in a video address to the General Assembly last year.
“This is a reflection of China’s more assertive and ambitious foreign policy under Xi,” Legarda said.
China has stepped into a diplomatic void created by a lack of US leadership, said Daniel Warner, a Geneva-based political analyst. Former President Donald Trump shunned many international institutions, Warner said, and successor Joe Biden was preoccupied with domestic affairs.
Chinese have top positions at three of the UN’s 18 specialized agencies: the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Organization for Industrial Development and the International Telecommunications Union, where the United States has put forward a candidate to succeed outgoing chief Houlin Zhao. Until last year, a Chinese official headed the International Civil Aviation Organization.
For China, it’s both a question of prestige and influence, Warner said.
“The United States and Western countries were very involved in the first United Nations,” he said. “China doesn’t want that kind of leadership. They are not talking about liberal values, but they want to make sure that their interests are defended in the UN system.”
Chinese diplomats spearheaded a joint statement — which they say was backed by 30 countries, including Russia, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela — detailing the “disinformation” behind the UN report on Xinjiang and the “mistaken conclusions’ drawn therein was rejected. And the Chinese ambassador in Geneva said Beijing could no longer cooperate with the human rights agency — without specifying how.
Sarah Brooks, a China expert at the International Society for Human Rights advocacy group in Geneva, said China could cut its funding for the office — which has recently come in at $800,000 a year, far less than Western countries that give tens of millions.
Still, Brooks said it would be a “huge blow” if funding from China stopped, in part because many countries value and support the charities Beijing helps pay for.
“The look of it is really damaging,” she said. “You have a country that says, ‘Hi, I want to be responsible, but I have such thin skin… I’m still going to lash out at the organization that drafted it.'”
Keaten reported from Geneva. Edith M. Lederer of the United Nations contributed to this report.