China Gets a Seat on The UN Human Rights Council Despite Alleged Abuses

Published April 5th, 2020 - 07:03 GMT
In this picture taken on April 4, 2020, a man wearing a face mask, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, walks through the arrivals hall at Hong Kong International Airport. DALE DE LA REY / AFP
In this picture taken on April 4, 2020, a man wearing a face mask, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coronavirus, walks through the arrivals hall at Hong Kong International Airport. DALE DE LA REY / AFP
The coronavirus outbreak originated early this year in China, in the city of Wuhan

China has been been given a place on the UN Human Rights Council despite a long-record of human rights abuses.

The coronavirus outbreak originated in China late last year, reportedly in the ‘wet’ livestock markets in the city of Wuhan. 

The country has recorded 3,326 deaths from coronavirus and 81,639 cases but many speculate that this number is much higher and that China is trying to cover up the true reality of the spread.

Delay and deceit over the origins of the outbreak cost precious time — and many thousands of lives both in China and subsequently in the rest of the world.

But now Jiang Duan, minister at the Chinese Mission in Geneva, has been appointed to the UN Human Rights Council’s Consultative Group where he will serve as the representative of the Asia-Pacific states.

He will serve as one of five representatives for blocs of countries and is joined by delegates from Spain, Slovenia and Chad.

A new US intelligence report leaked this week suggested the Chinese Communist Party is still lying about the true number of cases and deaths. It has led to an increasingly intense war of words between it and the US. 

The intelligence community handed over a classified report to the White House last week, one of the officials told Bloomberg News, and the report concluded that China's numbers are fake.

Speculation arose over China's reporting after its government said earlier this month that there were no new cases in Wuhan, where the pandemic stemmed from, and images of stacks of thousands of urns outside funeral homes in Hubei province showed up.

There have also been questions surrounding China's ever-changing methodology for counting and reporting its coronavirus cases and deaths.

For weeks, the Chinese government did not count asymptomatic individuals, even if they tested positive – and only on Tuesday added more than 1,5000 asymptomatic cases to its total.

Observers, experts and politicians have warned that China has lied and covered up key information during virtually every stage of its coronavirus response - from the initial outbreak to the number of cases and deaths, and is still not telling the truth.

Beijing initially tried to cover up the virus by punishing medics who discovered it, denying it could spread person-to-person and delaying a lockdown of affected regions - meaning early opportunities to control the spread were lost.

Then, once the virus began spreading, the Communist Party began censoring public information about it and spread disinformation overseas - including suggesting that US troops could have been the initial carriers.

Even now, prominent politicians have warned that infection and death totals being reported by the regime are likely to be wrong - with locals in the epicenter of Wuhan suggesting the true tolls could be ten times higher.

But as other countries struggle to cope with the pandemic, it has appeared to get on top of the crisis. 

Unconstrained by considerations such as legality and privacy, the authoritarian regime used (and is still using) mandatory quarantine and other draconian measures, such as tracking individuals through their mobile phones, infra-red cameras to measure fever, and facial-recognition software to stop the pandemic in its tracks. 

The Chinese Communist Party is strict in its rule. 

Criticism is muffled at home by the ‘Great Firewall of China’, which prevents 1.4 billion people receiving online information from the outside world. Communications between Chinese people are monitored and censored. Those who speak out pay a fearsome price.

There is also the terrible fate of the country’s Muslim minority, the Uighurs of western China. Their historic culture has been obliterated, with a million or more dispatched to mind-control camps where they are forced to breach their religious customs. 

A doctor in the country also caught the public's attention after he was reprimanded by police and accused of spreading 'fake news' for warning on social media of 'SARS at a Wuhan seafood market' on December 30. Li's post came two weeks before coronavirus broke out in the city of 14 million which has been locked down since January 20. 

Li Wenliang, 34, later succumbed to the deadly contagion in the early hours of Friday morning local time despite attempts to resuscitate him. 

Earlier this year a leading campaign group said China is using its economic and diplomatic might to carry out the 'most intense attack' ever on the global system for protecting human rights.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) made the allegation in its annual report, launched at the United Nations headquarters in New York two days after its executive director Kenneth Roth was barred from entering Hong Kong during his trip to release the study there.

The NGO accused President Xi Jinping's government of overseeing 'the most brutal and pervasive oppression that China has seen for decades,' including building a 'nightmarish surveillance system' in Xinjiang province.

To fend off global efforts to hold it to account, Beijing has 'significantly increased' efforts to undermine the international institutions created in the mid-20th century to defend human rights, HRW said.

'Beijing has long suppressed domestic critics. Now the Chinese government is trying to extend that censorship to the rest of the world,' Mr Roth said in the 652-page report.

'If not challenged, Beijing's actions portend a dystopian future in which no one is beyond the reach of Chinese censors, and an international human rights system so weakened that it no longer serves as a check on government repression,' he added.

News of China's position on the UN Human Rights Council comes as the country came to a standstill on Saturday to mourn patients and medical staff killed by coronavirus, as the world's most populous country observed a nationwide three-minute silence.

Officials said the observance was a chance to mourn virus 'martyrs' - an honorific title bestowed by the government this week on 14 medical workers who died fighting the outbreak.  

At 10am, citizens paused, cars, trains and ships sounded their horns, and air-raid sirens rang out in memory. 

In Wuhan - the city where the virus first emerged late last year - sirens and horns sounded as people fell silent in the streets. 

Staff at the Tongji Hospital stood outside with heads bowed towards the main building, some in the protective hazmat suits that have become a symbol of the crisis worldwide.

Xu, a nurse at Tongji who worked on the frontlines treating coronavirus patients said: 'I hope they can rest well in heaven.'

Workers in protective wear paused silently beside barriers at one residential community - a reminder that there are still tight restrictions on everyday life across Wuhan.

State media showed Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials standing outside a Beijing government compound, wearing white flowers.

National flags were lowered to half-mast across the country, including in the capital's Tiananmen Square.

Pedestrians in one of the city's busiest shopping districts stopped walking and kept their heads low in silent tribute, while police patrolling stood at the side of the road with their riot shields down and bowed heads.

Shopper Wang Yongna said: 'During this process, a lot of people including the medical workers... have made extraordinary contributions. They are all heroes.'

Park-goers paused their activities too, some with hands together in prayer.

Trains on Beijing's subway network also came to a standstill. 

The hashtag 'China remembers its heroes' racked up nearly 1.3 billion views on the Twitter-like Weibo platform on Saturday.

The medics dubbed 'martyrs' included doctor Li Wenliang, a whistleblower in Wuhan who was reprimanded by authorities for trying to warn others in the early days of the contagion.

Li's death from coronavirus in February prompted a national outpouring of grief and anger at the government's handling of the crisis.

The ruling Communist Party has sought to direct criticism to local authorities in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, who have been accused of downplaying the severity of the virus at first.

Despite drastic measures to lock down the province in late January, the epidemic spiralled into a global pandemic with more than one million cases.

Some restrictions in Hubei were eased in recent weeks after the officially-stated number of new infections dropped to near zero.

Saturday's commemoration coincided with the annual Qing Ming holiday - the 'tomb sweeping' festival - when Chinese people visit the graves of relatives and leave offerings in remembrance.

Although China claims to have curbed the spread of the virus, some restrictions were tightened again this week to prevent a second wave of infections.

Authorities have discouraged visits to cemeteries to mark the festival.

Last year, nearly ten million people visited cemeteries across the three-day holiday, according to state news agency Xinhua.

At Beijing's enormous Babaoshan cemetery, mourners had to make an online reservation to visit a grave in a limited number of time slots, with only three relatives allowed per tomb.

Nobody was going in or coming out of Wuhan's Biandanshan Cemetery Saturday afternoon, and security staff stood at the gate. 

Some residents burned paper money on the streets Friday, the eve of the festival, instead.

A 50-year-old Wuhan resident with the surname Li said: 'We can only stay at home, we can't go to the graves. We can only remember our relatives at home.'

Cemeteries across China are offering a 'cloud tomb-sweeping' service in which families can honour their ancestors by watching a live stream of cemetery staff attending to graves on their behalf.

Websites are also offering people the chance to pay their respects at a 'virtual' tomb, including by lighting a digital candle and leaving a dish of digital fruit.

China today reported one new confirmed case in Wuhan and 18 among people arriving from abroad, along with four new deaths, all in Wuhan. 

China now has recorded a total of 81,639 cases and 3,326 deaths, although those figures are generally considered to be understated because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.

China's slow, cautious emergence from the global pandemic comes as the US is struggling to deal with an outbreak that has taken more than 1,860 lives in New York City alone. 

Hard-hit European nations Italy, Spain and France are also seeing rising numbers of cases and deaths, although strict social distancing measures such as those adopted by China appear to be having an effect.

The State Council, China's Cabinet, ordered that national flags be flown at half-staff around the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, and the suspension of all public recreational activities.

The horns of automobiles, trains and ships joined in what China's official Xinhua News Agency called a 'wail in grief' for three minutes. 

China has held such moments of silence in the past, often to mark World War II-er

China was once the cradle of the coronavirus pandemic but it has bounced back with astonishing speed, writes EDWARD LUCAS as he reveals the country may have won the war for global supremacy as well
China has — it seems — won its battle against the coronavirus. It may have won the war for global supremacy as well.

That would be a paradoxical outcome. The coronavirus outbreak originated in China, reportedly in the ‘wet’ livestock markets in the city of Wuhan. The (to us) bizarre habits of eating virus-infested wildlife such as snakes and bats — as well as the critically-endangered pangolin — on sale in these markets is a minority taste in modern China.

But in an interconnected, densely populated urban environment it is an epidemiological nightmare — and a danger that the Chinese authorities have ignored.

Delay and deceit over the origins of the outbreak cost precious time — and many thousands of lives both in China and subsequently in the rest of the world.

Indeed, the Chinese Communist Party is still lying about the true number of cases and deaths, according to a new U.S. intelligence report leaked this week. It has led to an increasingly intense war of words between the two nations.

There are obvious reasons for that. Unconstrained by considerations such as legality and privacy, the authoritarian regime used (and is still using) mandatory quarantine and other draconian measures, such as tracking individuals through their mobile phones, infra-red cameras to measure fever, and facial-recognition software to stop the pandemic in its tracks.

While we in the West struggle with lockdown and social distancing, life in almost all of China is returning to normal as restrictions are partially or wholly lifted, transport between cities resumes, factories start producing and warehouses start stockpiling goods again.

A timely new book by an Asian expert, Kishore Mahbubani, puts the question bluntly: ‘Has China Won?’.

His argument is that the decisive and effective Chinese leadership has outstripped the United States, whose economic, political and social model is failing — and the Trump administration’s cack-handed response to the coronavirus pandemic is surely proof of this.

Though Mahbubani overlooks some of China’s flaws, the veteran Singaporean diplomat’s scathing critique of Western conceit, greed and myopia is all too justified.

It makes this week’s bombastic talk in Downing Street of a ‘reckoning’ with China once the pandemic is over seem dangerously over-confident.

It is one thing to stand up to Vladimir Putin’s crooks and spooks in the Kremlin. Russia’s shrunken, stagnant economy exports little apart from natural resources.

But China is another matter. Our thirst for cheap goods has fuelled the boom there, making it the world’s manufacturing powerhouse and a vital part of our supply chain.

Untangling those relationships will be a slow and costly business, even if we do so together with our allies.

As Charles Parton, once the top ‘China-watcher’ in the British government, argues in the latest edition of Standpoint magazine, we do not have a strategy for dealing with China. But China has a strategy for dealing with us.

For years the Beijing regime has been playing divide and rule against a squabbling and self-indulgent West.

But it put its tactics into a new gear during the pandemic.

First it sprayed the media landscape with absurd conspiracy theories — claiming, for example, that the coronavirus was engineered in an American lab as part of a plot to damage China.

Then it highlighted the weaknesses in other countries’ approach to the outbreak under the guise of helping them. It used its manufacturing clout to ship what seemed like huge quantities of medical supplies to hard-hit countries, accompanied by demands for diplomatic and political concessions.

Again this story was largely manufactured for the media. Much of this ‘aid’ represented deliveries based on existing commercial contracts.

But the image of a confident, capable and generous China, a true superpower, contrasts all too sharply with the flailing response of Donald Trump in America. Or indeed the increasingly hapless efforts of our own government.

But for all our frustration at our own leaders, we cannot ignore how this pandemic has highlighted China’s long-term strategy and motivation. Be in no doubt: the People’s Republic of China aims by 2049 to dominate the world.

That is not paranoid scaremongering. It is the explicit goal of the Chinese leader — Emperor — Xi Jinping.

He wants his country to be ‘fully developed, rich, and powerful’ — and at first sight, few would quarrel with that.

The Chinese people’s brains and hard work have indeed lifted the country from the destitution and terror caused by the insanity of Chairman Mao’s hardline ideological experiments. Where communism failed, capitalism has triumphed.

Booming Chinese metropolises make our own cities seem shabby and backward. Chinese products are often better, more modern and more reliable than their Western counterparts.

We should rejoice at the Chinese’s people’s new-found prosperity, just as we should admire their culture.

But we should fear the ruthless regime that rules them.

For though the Chinese Communist Party speaks of friendly East-West cooperation, its unbridled ambitions are anything but friendly.

It wields ruthless diplomatic, economic, military and technological power in pursuit of this aim: a world run along Chinese rules.

These rules should chill our hearts.

The first is that the Party’s word is law. Criticism is muffled at home by the ‘Great Firewall of China’, which prevents 1.4 billion people receiving online information from the outside world. Communications between Chinese people are monitored and censored. Those who speak out pay a fearsome price.

We already know of the terrible fate of the country’s Muslim minority, the Uighurs of western China. Their historic culture has been obliterated, with a million or more dispatched to mind-control camps where they are forced to breach their religious customs.

Uighur families are forced to accept ethnic Han Chinese men as ‘lodgers’ — unwelcome guests who not only police the family’s most private moments, but demand sexual favours from their hosts.

Shamefully, Muslim countries, normally vocal in support of their co-religionists, have stayed silent about these abuses.

I recently met Liu Xia, widow of China’s best-known political prisoner, the late Liu Xiabo.

And let us not forget Li Wenliang, the brave 33-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan.

After he warned fellow medics of this new infection that could trigger fatal pneumonia and urged them to wear protective clothing, the police forced him to sign a statement admitting that his warning constituted ‘illegal behaviour’. He died last month after contracting coronavirus from patients.

At least we know of his fate. Another whistle-blowing doctor in Wuhan, Ai Fen, simply vanished.

The regime is also trying to suppress foreign criticism. Chinese embassies across the world have been lambasting news outlets for critical coverage, spraying accusations of racism, Sinophobia and prejudice.

A letter from Zeng Rong, the spokesperson at the Chinese Embassy in London published in a British newspaper yesterday took exactly that line, lambasting a report that carried criticisms of China for its mishandling of coronavirus and arguing for tough new trade restrictions as a result.

‘Disregarding China’s huge sacrifice in the fight against Covid 19 is slander,’ the spokes- person wrote.

This followed a similar outburst on Thursday, when China accused the U.S. of ‘moral slander’ — that word again — after the American intelligence community claimed it was downplaying its number of coronavirus cases.

This is part of what Mr Xi calls ‘wolf diplomacy’ — a newly assertive, take-no-prisoners approach to the outside world. It involves bullying and threats, even over the tiniest and most symbolic opposition.

It works. Our leaders are scared to speak out on human rights.

Meanwhile, the bullies of Beijing also try relentlessly to isolate the ‘other China’ — the democratic, friendly and prosperous country of Taiwan.

It happens to have conquered the coronavirus far more efficiently and humanely than the communist authorities on the mainland, with 348 cases and 5 deaths to date. It gives real aid to other countries struggling with the pandemic.

No matter — the island state is treated as a rebel province. China has nobbled the World Health Organisation, to the point its UN officials refuse even to mention the word ‘Taiwan’ in public.

When a brave TV reporter from Hong Kong quizzed the WHO’s Bruce Aylward about this, he simply hung up on her. The video of that went viral on the internet: there are some things that even the bossiest bureaucrat cannot control — yet.

Of course libraries could be filled with books about the crimes perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party against its own people in past decades, at the cost of tens of millions of lives. Countless atrocities are also perpetrated against the environment.

Chinese people rightly point out that our own record is far from perfect. We in Britain got rich by polluting the environment — remember William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ in Jerusalem? We hunted species to extinction too.

In addition, Britain and other Western powers took ruthless advantage of China’s weakness, not least during the infamous Opium Wars of the 19th century. But the modern Chinese state makes the British Empire even at its most callous seem benign.

Business, political and administrative power are fused. The huge home market, and ruthless treatment of outside companies, mean the economic playing field is tilted inexorably in China’s favour.

Any Western company that does business in China has to submit to Chinese rules, which include the presence of a Communist Party cell inside the business, with the right to dictate to the nominal management. Intellectual property is systematically purloined.

We can see the terrifying consequences of inaction with Huawei. A so-called independent company, this technology giant is, in reality, a wholly owned and controlled subsidiary of the Chinese party-state.

Its devices and software are cheap. But the real cost comes later — by allowing Huawei to play a role in our new 5G mobile network as our Government has done we give the brutal bureaucrats of Beijing the keys to our country’s future.

Some of our closest allies, Australia and the U.S, have vetoed Huawei’s presence in their infrastructure, but not us. Yet China’s mass surveillance machine is not just aimed at keeping its own population under control. It is also harvesting data about the outside world.

Now China is launching an audacious bid to shape the future of the internet. The current, anarchic structure is no longer reliable, Chinese officials argue.

They are right that the internet, reflecting its roots as a network for amateurs and academics, was never designed for its modern role as the central nervous system of our civilisation.

It offers enormous scope for criminals, hooligans and other malefactors.

But the Chinese proposal should chill our blood. Proposed by the telecoms group Huawei, together with state-run companies China Unicom and China Telecom, and the country’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the ‘New IP’ standard will be voted on at a November meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, an intergovernmental body that has long wanted control of the internet.

The proposal would replace the current decentralised model of the internet, where decision-making about sending and receiving data rests with individual users and their computers, with a ‘top down’ model that would in many countries give state-run telecoms companies control of our browsing and internet use.

Yet the tide is turning. Many Conservative MPs are furious about this country’s kow-tow to China over Huawei. They also note the damage it is doing to our relationship with countries we share intelligence with.

With Huawei influence baked into our telecommunications networks, these countries will no longer be willing, or able, to share secrets with us in the way we have taken for granted since the 1940s.

Other countries are waking up too.

The European Union now counts China as a ‘systemic rival’. Australia has passed an unprecedented package of new laws, criminalising foreign meddling in its politics, and enforcing a mandatory register for those lobbying on behalf of outside powers. We should urgently consider similar measures.

The book that sounded the alarm in Australia was Silent Invasion, by a leading academic called Clive Hamilton. In a tacit affirmation of his thesis, he struggled to get it published. But when it did appear it became an instant best-seller.

His next book Hidden Hand is about China’s invasion of Britain. Out in early May, it will make alarming reading — and should shame those at the heart of our establishment who have taken money and favours from the regime in Beijing.

Our plight may seem dire. But we have two effective responses: solidarity and spontaneity.

Communist bureaucrats believe that just as they follow rigid plans and hidden instructions, the rest of the world must work the same way. When we act on our own initiative, they are baffled.

A free society is full of people and organisations with freedom of action. As individuals, businesses, charities, universities, we can exercise that freedom, downgrading ties with the communist regime, and promoting contacts with Taiwan, the campaigners in Hong Kong, and those who stand up against bullying inside China.

The splendid mayor of Prague, Zdenek Hrib, showed the way last year. Chinese representatives threatened sanctions because of his support for human rights. No problem, said Hrib. We will boost ties with Taiwan instead.

There is also safety in numbers. It is easy to punish an individual person, newspaper, business or country. But if the opposition is replicated dozens, scores or hundreds of times across nations, the bullies are powerless. China is a big country. But it cannot stand up to the whole world.

We need to show solidarity with all those who come under fire from China. Because if we do not stand by them, who will stand by us when it is our turn to be in the firing line?

Many may feel that this is no time to be picking fights. The real ‘reckoning’ when the crisis passes should not be between Britain and China, but with the bureaucrats and politicians who delayed and bungled their response to COVID-19, inflicting colossal economic, human and social costs on the rest of us.

But we should remember that the great virtue of our system is that we are able to hold our rulers to account for their mistakes. Let us hope that we can keep it that way. The same cannot be said about China. 

This article has been adapted from its original source.

You may also like


Sign up to our newsletter for exclusive updates and enhanced content