There are a lot of people in the world who can plausibly claim ignorance of China’s foul campaign against its Muslim minority, but UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is not among them. Six months ago, the UN’s own committee on the elimination of racial discrimination released a devastating report on how China arbitrarily and systematically detains Uighurs in the western part of the country. Just last month, the UN high commissioner for human rights pressed the Chinese for access to the Uighur minority, only to be stonewalled again.
And yet Guterres is acting as if it’s business as usual with China. This week he will travel to Beijing to attend a forum to promote China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, an ambitious plan where China provides often-predatory loans to other countries to build ports, railways and other transportation infrastructure.
In and of itself there is nothing right or wrong with this project. Wealthy countries loan poorer countries money all the time. Free trade is usually a good thing. What’s more, it’s part of the UN secretary general’s job to promote international cooperation.
But that’s only one part of the secretary general’s portfolio. He also should promote and exemplify the core values of the United Nations. And there is a risk that Guterres’s appearance at the Belt and Road forum will lend a powerful rogue nation some unearned legitimacy.
Also read: How China is defending its detention of Muslims to the world while selling the BRI dream
Just listen to what Guterres said in September in Beijing at a forum on China-Africa cooperation, only a few weeks after the UN committee issued its report on China’s treatment of minorities. “China is today a global leader in climate solutions,” he said, promising that the UN will continue to support China’s development efforts in Africa.
Why would Guterres say such a thing? Chinese engagement in Africa is, for the most part, notable for its partnerships with tyrants and thugs. Beijing partnered with Zimbabwe’s former dictator, Robert Mugabe, for years. And while it didn’t object to his ouster in 2017, it was happy to help prop up his regime while he purged his opposition and drove his country into ruinous debt and hyperinflation. In Sudan, China was a primary financier of the country’s north-south oil pipeline in the 1990s, a period marked by a vicious government campaign against local tribes along the pipeline’s path.
It should not be surprising that China’s foreign policy is often amoral. Its domestic policy is amoral as well. Look no further than China’s war against the Uighurs. The UN report from August discussed re-education camps in Western China where Uighurs are “held incommunicado and often for long periods, without being charged or tried.” There are credible reports that at least a million Uighurs have been sent to these camps. The Uighur language is banned in schools. Uighurs are targeted by sweeping electronic surveillance and effectively not allowed to travel abroad. For those lucky enough to leave China, the report found credible reports that many “have allegedly been returned to the country against their will.”
When Guterres was asked about China’s treatment of the Uighur minority last September, his response was not encouraging. “About the Uighurs,” he said, “as in relation to any other cities in the world, we, naturally, hope that fully preserving and fully respecting the unity of the country that people are treated with full respect for their human rights.”
Such equivocation from the UN Secretary General is provocative. His hosts in Beijing must be delighted, as they proceed with their ethnic and religious cleansing in the western provinces, that he has accepted their invitation to celebrate their Belt and Road initiative.
Also read: Why Pakistan champions Islamic causes globally but ignores Uighur persecution by BFF China
Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy. He was the senior national security correspondent for the Daily Beast and covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times, the New York Sun and UPI.
1. Author of this article has described in detail how Bilkis Bano, a victim of Gujarat anti-Muslim riots in 2002, in which innocent Muslims were mercilessly killed, has fought to get justice. Thanks are due to him for that. 2. I have to say something which is related to earlier riots in which another minority community was targeted: in 1984 hundreds of Sikhs were mercilessly killed. Fact is that even in 2019 many Sikh families who lost their near and dear ones have a strong feeling that justice has been denied to them. These families of victims of riots feel that many of those who committed crime against the Sikh community in 1984 have still not been punished. 3. It is obvious that all those who were in power in Delhi and in the Centre during 1985 to 2001 did not make sincere efforts to bring to book those who killed the innocent Sikhs in 1984. 4. Let us not forget here an important fact: one of the many accused in 1984 anti-Sikh riots, an influential Congress politician and former MP has been sent to jail in the year, 2019, yes, 35 years after the anti-Sikh riots happened. Is it not true that not one senior Congress politician has shown moral courage to explain delay in prosecution of the guilty of 1984 Sikh killings? 5. My view is that if every one of those who killed innocent Sikhs had been brought to book in about ten years, subsequent riots against another minority community would not have happened. Also, if the Central governments in power after 1984, one led by Rajiv Gandhi and then by Narasimha Rao and later by Man Mohan Singh (UPA government) had shown political and administrative courage (a) to give justice to all Sikh families and (b) to bring to book all those politicians who were involved in killings of Sikhs, it would have been a different story altogether. I think it is we, as a secular society, have simply failed to protect our minorities and have to blame ourselves for growth of fundamentalism in our country.
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