Geopolitics

Economic blackmail fails to silence China’s human rights critics

Beijing ramps up the pressure to gag companies and stifle international debate

China has perfected the use of economic blackmail to silence critics, muzzle major global brands and stifle international institutions.

By spinning a web of “lies,” Beijing has shown how impotent the world’s leading democracies have been to stop the human rights crisis in the region of Xinjiang.

Doublespeak prevails even in discussions with the United Nations as it seeks unfettered access to the area. 

At least one million Uyghurs and other ethnic Muslim groups have been held in Xinjiang internment camps. 

Last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced deep concerns about reports of torture, sexual abuse and forced labor in what Beijing calls “reeducation centers.”

“[Her visit] is being negotiated at the moment between the office of the High Commissioner and the Chinese authorities,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the CBC network after months of behind-the-scenes work.

The facts:

  • Major western democracies rolled out sanctions against the ruling CCP last week for human rights violations against ethnic Uyghur Muslims.
  • They included the United States and the European Union, as well as the United Kingdom and Canada.
  • Beijing hit back with a raft of countermeasures.
  • Human rights groups and the UN have expressed grave concerns amid allegations of torture, forced labor and sexual abuse.
  • China’s ruling Communist Party has branded the allegations “lies.”

What was said: “I hope an agreement will be reached soon and that the human rights commissioner will be able to visit China without restrictions or limitations,” Guterres said. That is looking distinctly unlikely.

Reaction to the news: “The purpose of this visit should be to promote interaction and cooperation, and not to carry out so-called investigation on the presumption of guilt,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing in Beijing on Monday.

Hyperbole hysteria: Xu Guixiang, a Xinjiang government spokesman, told the media on Monday that western democracies were plotting to “destabilize” China with “hysterical” accusations.

Political power play: “They have lost their minds and their conscience, they are enthusiastic about political manipulation and the abuse of sanctions, to a level that is hysterical,” Xu said.

Delve deeper: China has targeted global brands, such as H&M, Burberry and Nike, for speaking out about the alleged use of forced labor in the Xinjiang cotton industry. Data released by the “End Uyghur Forced Labour” website illustrated the depth of the problems. 

Tainted trade: “The Uyghur Region supplies more than a fifth of the world’s cotton. Up to 84% of cotton production from China is sourced from the region. One in five cotton garments on the global apparel market is tainted by forced labor,” it said.

Shut up or shut down: “I don’t think a company should politicize its economic behavior. Can H&M continue to make money in China? Not anymore,” spokesman Xu said.

China Factor comment: At the heart of this dispute is the belief in Beijing that China’s economic muscle can eventually tear down the liberal structures built by democracies since the end of World War II. President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian regime continues to chip away at a range of issues from Hong Kong to the democratic island of Taiwan and from the militarization of the South China Sea to economic blackmail to access the world’s second-largest economy.

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