China and America prepare for a human-rights showdown at the UN
By The Economist
January 8th, 2022
LAST YEAR the Human Rights Council in Geneva passed resolutions condemning abuses in Afghanistan, Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Sudan and Syria. But as in every other year since its creation in 2006, the United Nations body was silent on China. Fearful of reprisal, and uncertain of victory, member governments have been reluctant even to propose resolutions condemning, say, the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong or the harsh repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
With the new year comes the possibility of change. On January 1st America took a seat on the council for the first time since 2018, when Donald Trump left it in a huff over its repeated criticisms of Israel. Human-rights activists hope that under President Joe Biden, America will at last press the UN to shine a light on China. They may be disappointed yet again. China also has a seat on the council, and has a solid record of staving off rebukes from the world body. A great-power showdown may be in the offing in Geneva, but it is far from clear that America will win.
China’s Communist rulers have long made stifling criticism of themselves a central goal of foreign policy. That has become harder in recent years. The regime’s horrific treatment of Uyghurs and the crackdown in Hong Kong have prompted condemnation and sanctions from rich democracies (and retaliatory sanctions from China). America went as far as to label China’s actions in Xinjiang “genocide”, though China’s government is brutally persecuting the Uyghurs, not slaughtering them. Like a number of other countries, America will not send an official delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.