Uyghurs and Tibetans demonstrate against China outside U.N. offices during the Universal Periodic Review of China by the U.N. Human Rights Council, on Nov. 6, 2018 in Geneva. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)
China's human rights violations are notorious and many. Included in what is a long list are an estimated 1 to 2 million Turkic Muslims illegally detained in re-education and labor camps in the Xinjiang region, and attempts to eradicate Tibetan and Uyghur languages. There's a lack of free speech, elections and assembly, arrests of human rights lawyers and the use of torture. There's also been ongoing credible reports of organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience.
Such violations, and the global public criticism they have caused, drives an increasingly powerful and assertive Beijing to promote what it calls "human rights with Chinese characteristics." The Chinese Communist Party's notion of human rights prioritizes development and national sovereignty over individual rights, which is to say, the party is committed to globally destroying the core principle of human rights that protects the vulnerable individual from the powerful excesses of government and business.
This principle of protecting the individual with natural or human rights was developed over millennia by religious and philosophical thinkers. Today, the process of universal legalization and enforcement of human rights is arguably the core function of the United Nations, established in 1945 to never again allow the horrors of war and its attendant human rights violations.
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes a conception of human rights that is universal and includes: freedom of speech, assembly, culture, belief and religion; freedom from torture, arbitrary arrest and slavery; freedom to elect government representatives and equality before the law; freedom of movement within the borders of one's state, as well as freedom to leave one's state; and freedom to choose one's employment and trade union. But the declaration lacks enforcement. There are 11 wars currently ongoing as a direct result of the failure to enforce this 1948 document.
China is a ringleader globally in actions designed to erode these universal human rights. It uses its growing economic power to influence countries in the United Nations and intimidate, harass, and censor civil society such that the ability of the United Nations to protect human rights is increasingly hampered. This obstructionism leads to two key prescriptions.
First, and at a minimum, civil society should be better welcomed and protected at the United Nations. This prescription is uncontroversial for most civil society groups and democratic states at the U.N. But countries that truly support human rights and the mission of the U.N. must go further.
Until China and its allies improve their own human rights practices at home, and their behavior at the U.N., the human rights process itself should be protected from their obstructionism. That should include gradual exclusion of China from the various human rights review and enforcement processes at the U.N., including its peacekeeping operations.
China, as arguably the world's worst human rights abuser, should be subject to U.N. human rights review and must provide representatives and answers at those reviews. But from ethical and practical standpoints, it should not be allowed to continue to obstruct those processes by leading or voting in their deliberations. China's rulers are against human rights, as defined by the 1948 U.N. declaration, and so they should not be included as a participant in U.N. procedures meant to promote those rights.
While this prescription of exclusion for reasons of fundamental lack of support may seem unfair to some, that sense of unfairness arises primarily from a belief in the fundamental equality of states. But states are run by leaders, and leaders in democratic states have the mandate of millions of voters, while leaders in dictatorial states have no real mandate other than their own, and sometimes an elite clique of the powerful.
China is an authoritarian country run by a single dictatorial leader, Xi Jinping, who is surrounded by yes men. Xi claims to represent China but has no democratic legitimacy or mandate to do so. Allowing him to determine China's position on human rights, rather than true civil society groups concerned with democracy and human rights in China, is itself a violation of the 1948 declaration.
Communist Party-ruled China is not only unequal to democratic states, it has proven that it rejects the principle of equality of states in that it lobbies to deny equal power of all states on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). The powerful privileges of permanent membership and a veto on the Security Council are currently and undemocratically limited to China, Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. That leaves 188 states without equal representation on the U.N.'s most important body.
Secondly, the prescription of excluding China might be rejected based on realist principles of inclusion of major powers in order to arrive at peaceful compromise. But again, Beijing's lobbying against admitting newly powerful states to permanent membership on the Security Council shows the hypocrisy of its logic.
Were Beijing consistent, it would support either or both of two reforms: exclusion of the increasingly weak Russia from the UNSC, or inclusion of the world's top economies: Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, Italy, Canada, and South Korea (in that order). All of these states are more powerful economically than Russia, and have the technological capability to field large and technologically-advanced militaries, including a nuclear deterrent. Yet Russia has a permanent seat on the UNSC, and these more powerful countries do not.
Rather than support the most powerful members of the international community in a peace-making compromise, China seeks to divide and conquer these UNSC aspirants by pitting South Korea against Japan, Italy against Germany, Pakistan against India, and Argentina against Brazil. This is done through clever diplomacy at the U.N., linked to financial incentives and disincentives in the form of international business.
A third and final argument against excluding China from U.N. peacekeeping and human rights review mechanisms is that such exclusion would cause diplomatic friction at the U.N. This is undoubtedly true, but it does not recognize that allowing China to continue to erode human rights at the U.N. is also a major change that will cause not only diplomatic friction but increases the threat of military conflict in the future, both among states and within states. If China is allowed to destroy the 1948 consensus on human rights that was explicitly designed to create peace between nations, the likelihood of international and civil war increases.
We also see that increasing human rights violations by Beijing's allies, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Myanmar.
Beijing's erosion of human rights globally, more than any other country and contrary to China's own messaging, is creating militarized conflict — in country's such as the Sudan and Myanmar — whose costs far exceed any diplomatic friction that might result from removing China from the U.N.'s peacekeeping and human rights processes.
Such removal would decrease China's obstructionism and signal its allies and the world that the U.N. takes human rights enforcement seriously and is willing to defend human rights to the full extent even if that requires diplomatically controversial measures.
China's Communist Party is a global ringleader in degrading human rights, and has adopted deception, intimidation, and financial incentives at the UN as a means. Allowing China to continue participation with U.N. peacekeeping troops and human rights review processes is a violation of the U.N.'s own Declaration on Universal Human Rights. The U.N. needs to correct China's glaring violations within its own buildings before it can hope to lead the protection of human rights globally.
Anders Corr holds a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University, and has worked for U.S. military intelligence as a civilian. He frequently appears in the media, including Bloomberg, 'Financial Times,' 'New York Times' and 'Forbes'.