Of late, China has gone from passively taking criticism on human rights issues to throwing its own combination punches, accusing Canada of genocide on indigenous people, and expressing serious concern about human rights violations against refugees and migrants by the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Japan.
On 22 June, at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, China and Canada each represented dozens of countries as they led their respective sides in attacks and counterattacks against their opponents.
China’s representative spoke first, calling for a thorough investigation into Canada’s killing of indigenous people and urging Canada to “immediately stop violations of human rights”. Canada’s representative then spoke for over 40 countries in calling for China to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the High Commissioner (Michelle Bachelet)”, to look into the “arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities”.
“In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Where’s China’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission?” - Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister
Some historical events that have recently come to light in Canada have given China a handle on it. In late May, the remains of 215 indigenous children were found on the grounds of a former residential school in British Columbia; on 24 June, 751 unmarked graves were discovered near the site of a former school in Saskatchewan.
Jiang Duan, a senior official at China’s mission to the UN in Geneva, represented other countries including Russia and Belarus in calling for a “thorough and impartial investigation into all cases where crimes were committed against the indigenous people, especially children, so as to bring those responsible to justice, and offer full remedy to victims”.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also joined in the war of words, noting: “In Canada, we had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Where’s China’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission?”
"We urge the US to face up to, reflect upon and take concrete measures to address its own serious human rights issues, respond to the call of ethnic minorities, and uphold justice for history and the world.” - Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian responded that “Canada is in no position to criticise China, and what they need to do most is to reflect on its poor track record on human rights.”
Of course, Zhao also criticised the “ringleader” of the Western countries: the US. He said: “The sins committed by the US can no longer be swept under the carpet... When the US weaponises human rights issues and tries to fabricate lies to criticise other countries and seek political manipulation, it should not forget the wrongfully-taken African American lives in Tulsa and should not forget that the wounds of racial discrimination and conflict are far from healed. We urge the US to face up to, reflect upon and take concrete measures to address its own serious human rights issues, respond to the call of ethnic minorities, and uphold justice for history and the world.”
Amid its intense spat with Canada and the US over human rights, China has clearly picked its side in the territorial tussle between the UK and Argentina over Islas Malvinas (the UK calls them the Falkland Islands), emphasising that China firmly supports Argentina’s sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas.
In 1982, a war broke out between the UK and Argentina over Islas Malvinas. Argentina lost the war and the UK gained control of the islands. While China morally supports Argentina's sovereignty claim over the Islas Malvinas, considering its relationship with the UK, China rarely made its stance known on this matter.
On 24 June, deputy permanent representative to the UN Geng Shuang clearly expounded China’s stance on the Islas Malvinas at a session of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation. He said: “We hope Britain will actively respond to Argentina’s request, start dialogue and negotiations as soon as possible with a view to finding a peaceful, just and lasting solution in accordance with relevant UN resolutions.”
Clearly, China played the Islas Malvinas card to pressurise the UK. Recently, the UK has repeatedly attacked China over Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Huawei, and is seen by China as parroting the US’s anti-China stance. The UK’s aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, together with a fleet of warships, will also be entering the South China Sea in two to three month’s time to support the US’s “freedom of navigation” operation conducted to pressurise China. Chinese military experts suggested that should a British warship enter Chinese territorial waters, the People’s Liberation Army should follow the approach Russia adopted in the Black Sea and also fire live ammunition to deter the British warship.
China also did not spare Japan, which criticised China over Xinjiang and human rights issues like the West. At the 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council on 23 June, China and South Korea voiced their concerns over Japan’s decision to discharge the nuclear wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea. A Chinese representative criticised the Japanese government for unilaterally deciding to do so despite doubts and opposition from at home and abroad and without fully consulting with neighbouring countries and the international community. He said that this is “extremely irresponsible” and urged Japan to “withdraw the wrong decision immediately”.
But today, China has achieved great success in poverty alleviation. Its economy rebounded quickly after containing the Covid-19 pandemic, and the people’s morale has been greatly boosted as well. This gives the government the confidence to fight back against the West.
The main reason why China continuously fought back against the Western camp is that the US’s Joe Biden administration has been uniting its allies to exert greater pressure on China over the issues of Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the origin of the Covid-19 coronavirus since it took office. However, the targets of China’s counterattacks are mainly the US and a few of its closest allies, such as Canada, the UK, Australia, and Japan. China did not accuse the European Union (EU) countries that have also criticised China on the Xinjiang and human rights issues like the US and Canada. This is because France, Germany, and Italy did not oppress China as the US did at the recent G7 summit. China thus hopes to seek common ground while setting aside differences with these EU countries and maintain basic cooperation with them.
For a long time, China was mostly on the defensive instead of taking the offensive on the human rights issue. Oftentimes, it does not have the upper hand when its opponents attack because of its weak national strength and large population of poor people. But today, China has achieved great success in poverty alleviation. Its economy rebounded quickly after containing the Covid-19 pandemic, and the people’s morale has been greatly boosted as well. This gives the government the confidence to fight back against the West.
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