The UN has been in serious talks with China at the Belt and Road Forum, an international conference that saw 37 world leaders converge on the Chinese capital of Bejing. Despite China’s efforts at collaboration, leaders from the UK, France, Germany, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada chose to not attend the talks.
The Belt and Road Forum aims to develop improved international cooperation. But the focus quickly turned to China’s human rights commitments, as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres raised the topic in talks with Chinese authorities.
Guterres highlighted the ongoing and unjust detention of the Uyghur Muslims of the Xinjiang region in China and in his three-point message emphasized that human rights must be respected when fighting terrorism. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters,
“Human rights must be fully respected in the fight against terrorism and in the prevention of violent extremism,”
The Belt and Road Initiative
The Forum sets the stage for the Belt and Road Initiative, an international infrastructure project that was announced in 2013. China’s President Xi Jinping has called on more nations to join the initiative and claims that so far 115 nations have signed up to the project. Speaking about the project he said,
“We are convinced that a more open China will further integrate itself into the world and deliver greater progress and prosperity for both China and the world at large.”
The UK is one of the nations that has not signed up to the project amidst concerns that China is setting debt traps for poorer countries. Prime Minister Theresa May said that although China was a “natural partner”, the Belt and Road project must reach “international standards”.
China’s Belt and Road initiative has already loaned over £70 billion to overseas nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Critics believe that these loans sign developing nations up to insurmountable debt as well as pressure to submit to China’s authoritarian influence.
Human Rights concerns
China’s human rights record has already been tarnished with a number of violations. As stated by Guterres on his visit to China on 27 April, the use of counter-terrorism as a backdrop to persecute the Uyghur Muslim people is illegitimate. Up to one million people are detained in camps in China, prohibited from practicing their religion and forced to assimilate under the guise of ‘re-education’. The Chinese government now stands accused of cultural genocide in the eyes of the international community.
Clampdowns on human rights lawyers and human rights defenders saw nearly 250 individuals unjustly targeted by security forces between 2015 and 2018. Freedom of expression also took a hit in 2018 when China’s main messaging service WeChat collected personal information of its 900 million users available to the government.
The UN Secretary-General has faced ongoing criticism for a weak response to China’s actions towards the Uyghur people. In a Washington Post op-ed, Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch said that Guterres,
“is becoming defined by his silence on human rights — even as serious rights abuses proliferate”
“Guterres has not said a word about it in public. Instead, he praises China’s development prowess and rolls out the red carpet for President Xi Jinping.”
At the Forum Guterres supported the calls of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, who has been trying to send a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang since December. Bachelet last month complained that she had yet been given the go ahead by China for a fact-finding mission to the region.
The International Observatory of Human Rights have campaigned extensively calling for the end of unjust detention of the Uyghur people.
Watch IOHR TV ‘Revolt in London Against China’s Cultural Genocide of the Uyghur Community’