Authors: Amit Kumar and Katrina Sietina*
China is dancing to Xi Jinping’s rhythm of becoming a global powerhouse. It is determined to attain its goal, no matter what it takes. Xi’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) has been under the spotlight for various reasons, with human rights issues being the most neglected. But all that glitz and glam is not gold; at the heart of this colossal undertaking comes a significant amount of human cost. The bright side of BRI is infrastructural development and job creation, and the ugly side is a debt trap and grave human rights violations, which treat local people involved in this project as contemporary slaves. It is in stark contradiction to Confucianism’s idea of moderation and five virtues in approach.
The western understanding and adaption of human rights ideals differ from China. In the case of China, Alistair MacIntyre claims that socially established norms impact human rights rhetoric. In contrast to Locke, China’s human rights emphasise people’s socioeconomic advantages above civil-political rights. Confucianism and the rights of collective people above individuals have shaped the Chinese understanding of human rights. Nevertheless, China is a signatory to the UDHR and played an essential role in writing it. That is, China’s founding fathers acknowledge that certain aspects of human rights transcend societies and apply to all people.
The glory days of the Tributary System and the Century of Humiliation have left an indelible impact on the Chinese mental psyche, and their history is soaked in it. Chinese human rights violations against native employees are rising in nations that have embraced the BRI project. It is seen to be far worse than what Europeans did during colonial times. From Capital punishment within the Great Walls, internet censorship, concentration camps in Xinjiang to Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Inner Mongolia, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia, the list goes on and on. The desire for dominance, on the other hand, takes precedence over all else. As a result, China looks to have no respect for fundamental human rights, and since they have suffered for a century, China appears to be taking delight in guilt abroad.
Within China’s Great Walls
The COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan, which killed over 4,600 people (underestimated figure) and allowed citizens no freedom of expression, exemplifies China’s blatant human rights violations in recent years. While the National Security Law resulted in political arrests and public upheaval across Hong Kong, it also stifled free speech via intimidation, harassment, and arrests. To protect assets and investments under BRI in the Xinjiang region, the CCP’s covert human rights violations of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Mongolia and limited access to the territories have exacerbated human rights abuses. Chinese security authorities have allegedly contacted religious and ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang for information on relatives who live overseas. Many have been requested to spy on community members who speak out against human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang. The practice of torturing relatives can be traced back to Chinese emperors.
The government has put down protests across the country and worldwide that appear to undermine the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dominance. The National Security Law’s violation of human rights in Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region and Xinjiang Concentration camps were the highlights of China’s human rights abuses in 2020. The arrests of opposition members, activists, and students and assault on pro-democracy demonstrations revealed a more profound knowledge of human rights limited to hegemonic power accumulation in the world.
Africa & Latin America
China is concealing terrible human rights crimes in Africa via financial aid and promises of economic prosperity. Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Africa, and Kenya are among the African nations that have joined the belt and road programme. China is expanding military outposts in South Africa, increasing the number of Chinese mining firms burdening countries with debt, and increasing corruption in the area through infrastructure projects. In the context of the BRI, this has resulted in the government and the people being at odds.
According to a recent study by the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, China’s 102 enterprises operating in Africa have 679 claims of human rights violations, and this number is growing exponentially. Racism in the workplace against Kenyans is yet another example of human rights violations in Kenya. Along with the Chinese debt, Chinese authorities’ claims of discrimination and maltreatment of local Africans have contributed to the pressure. China’s BRI has resulted in the most documented human rights breaches of high degree in Uganda, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zimbabwe. Violations of racial discrimination, prejudice, a severe lack of worker rights, suboptimal salaries, ill-treatment, countless incidents of physical brutality in Sierra Leone and Zambia, and the list goes on. It has done more harm than good to African and Latin American societies and the social fabric. There is a genuine worry that China will etch a decade or two of humiliation into their history.
The Chinese violation of human rights does not end with individuals; in Latin America, human rights abuses are often coupled with environmental violations. In 2018, 20 human rights organisations pointed to human rights violations in Latin America as a pattern of basic human rights offences in China and Chinese corporations’ lack of responsibility. Three complaints were filed by Latin American civil society organisations alleging other human rights abuses connected to Chinese infrastructure projects. All mining, hydroelectric, and infrastructure projects in the indigenous areas of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and other nations violated human rights in the region.
The Middle East & South East Asia
China’s human rights violations have spread throughout the globe, with concentration camps used to imprison and torture the Uyghur ethnic and religious minorities. Wu Huan, who had left China and arrived in Dubai, was apprehended by airport officials and taken to Chinese-run prison facilities in Dubai, where he was tortured. Abudujilili Supi was arrested in Dubai earlier this year and deported to China with other Uyghurs. The Chinese government is laying the groundwork in the Middle East with a $36 billion investment in the UAE, demonstrating its hegemonic might and repression of minorities.
China has grown in power over the last eight years, but this growth has been accompanied by pressuring nations to mask its human rights crimes. China’s bullying extends to private institutions, such as the NBA, whose broadcasting deals were halted when one team’s manager tweeted in support of the Hong Kong protesters. The financial trap that China has created and the economic implications for Australia and anyone who speak out against its human rights violations demonstrate China’s bullying conduct. China has shown apathy and turned blind about human rights by neglecting to condemn human rights violations in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Despite serious human rights offences in Kabul, China’s backing for the Taliban demonstrates China’s poor human rights knowledge and lack of regional leadership characteristics. Despite human rights atrocities in Kabul, China is willing to legitimise the Taliban to conceal its torture in Xinjiang. China has a narrow worldview and a skewed notion of human rights that serves only China’s economic interests while exploiting people all over the globe.
China’s concept of human rights does not meddle in domestic politics and its foreign policy, and it believes in suppressing internal and global critics of its human rights violations. China has criticised and rejected the Western view of human rights as a propaganda tool for gaining hegemonic control through discourse dominance. However, in the twenty-first century, China’s knowledge and impact on human rights discourse is Confucianist propaganda aimed at promoting China’s interest in the world and establishing hegemony.
China’s teachings and interpretations of human rights are meaningless in a country that denies its citizens and human rights organisations fundamental freedoms of speech throughout the globe. Silencing and defamation do not mask China’s human rights crimes; instead, they reflect an aspiring superpower’s fear of the world. China’s concept of human rights, which it symbolises across the globe, is built on false promises of the common good. It also does not follow Confucianism, which is the core of China’s Human Rights concept. There is a significant contrast between what China says and what China does.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity.” Because of China’s ambiguous concept of human rights, the country’s rising global dominance is concerning. China’s Confucianism propaganda, which violates human rights in mainland China and spreads worldwide, must be condemned. Under its assertive foreign policy, Xi’s actions in the past few years show that he wants to yoke the world under its arrogant global ambition. An ambition that infringes the fundamental rights of many and is devoid of moral, ethical, and human values.
*Katrina Sietina is the Co-founder of Next Generation Embassy and Interns at UN Office for WFWPI as a Human Rights Trainee in Geneva. She Studies at The Hague University of Applied Sciences focussing on European Studies.