UN rights review shows limits of China’s influence

Global South nations at the United Nations were split about Beijing’s crackdown on civil society

China’s human rights record faced public scrutiny at the United Nations in Geneva last week. 

While Beijing was able to lobby some countries from the Global South to praise human rights conditions in the country, analysts and advocates say its charm offensive had a limited effect.

“A lot of governments issued friendly recommendations to China in Geneva, which demonstrated [Beijing’s] influence,”  Raphael Viana David, the China and Latin America Program Manager at the International Service for Human Rights, told VOA by phone, adding:

But despite the enormous pressure that many developing countries feel [from Beijing,] there were some bold statements from Latin American countries.

A total of 161 UN member states commented on China’s human rights record during the country’s fourth review since 2008.

Several Western democracies urged Beijing to ratify international treaties and cease human rights persecutions against ethnic minorities.

Nations from the Global South were split between those that praised the human rights conditions in China and others that expressed concerns about Beijing’s crackdown.

Social governance

Costa Rica recommended that Beijing “removes excessive restrictions on the functioning of independent NGOs.” 

Belarus suggested that China “combat separatism and promote modernization of social governance system and capacity in Xizhang,” using the term that Beijing has adopted in its official English statement about Tibet.

At a regular news conference last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing follows a “people-centered approach” to human rights to “deliver a better life,” adding:

During the review, China announced that it will adopt 30 new measures, covering areas of people’s wellbeing, legal protection for human rights, international cooperation on human rights, and the work related to UN human rights mechanisms.

Human rights have been eroded in Hong Kong. Photo: Flickr

Despite Beijing’s efforts to lobby support from developing countries, some expressed mixed views about China’s charm offensive.

Rayhan Asat, a Uyghur human rights lawyer who engaged with diplomats from several countries, told VOA by phone:

Before the [the review], China had sent something like instructions to [some of these] countries about what they should say to the other UN member states so that’s why some of them repeated the narrative that Beijing presented.

According to Asat, there were countries in the Global South that found China’s lobbying efforts quite “demeaning.” 

“They [thought] China’s approach disrespectful to the UN process,” she said, adding that such sentiment did not stop these nations from echoing Beijing’s point of view because of China’s economic sway.

Still, before last week’s review, several media outlets reported that China had asked the UN to prevent activists, whom Beijing characterized as “anti-China separatists,” from attending.

Global South

Apart from these efforts, Viana David from the International Service for Human Rights told VOA that the Chinese government also tried to influence media reporting in Global South countries, as well as limiting access for NGO representatives. He said:

China brought a huge delegation and [while] NGO representatives arrived an hour and a half before the review to try to queue to enter the room, their strategy still closed some space for civil society participation.

Responding to reports about China’s attempt to lobby support from non-Western countries, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang said Beijing attached “high importance” to the review “with an open, candid attitude,” adding: 

[The Chinese government] will communicate with all parties for mutual learning and joint progress.

Yet analysts said Beijing’s efforts to influence the human rights review revealed fundamental problems. 

Image: Courtesy of the United Nations

“[It] is still very much an exercise of diplomatic struggle,” Patrick Poon, a visiting researcher at the University of Tokyo, told VOA by phone.

Poon, who participated in the UN Human Rights Council’s first review of China in 2009, said the process was not based on independent experts’ assessment of the human rights situation in China. He added:

[It showed] how eager China was at influencing other member states in the process but we can’t let China feel they can just get around this mechanism so easily.

After last week’s session, Beijing’s top diplomat in Geneva Chen Xu stressed that China would be ready to work with the global community to “steadfastly advance and safeguard human rights.”

But Viana David from the International Service for Human Rights said it will be interesting to see how many recommendations are accepted by Beijing between now and the next session of the UN Human Rights Council in June. 

Constructive player

“The document that shows which recommendations China accepts will be the test of Beijing’s willingness to address [human rights] challenges,” he told VOA.

“This will show us how much China is willing to be a constructive player in a geopolitical context where [it] seeks to assert itself as a responsible leader,” he added.

William Yang is a correspondent for Voice of America based in Taiwan.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.