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https://www.reuters.com/world/china/un-body-rejects-historic-debate-chinas-human-rights-record-2022-10-06/

The U.N. rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny.

The defeat - 19 against, 17 for, 11 abstentions - is only the second time in the council's 16-year history that a motion has been rejected and is seen by observers as a setback to both accountability efforts, the West's moral authority on human rights and the credibility of the United Nations itself.

It seems ridiculous to me that China seems to have more sway on non-Western countries than the United States given that the United States is a lot more powerful than China. Is there a reason why non-Western countries seem to always vote in favour of China at the UN?

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  • Related politics.stackexchange.com/questions/76030/… which gives a breakdown of the vote. Also politics.stackexchange.com/questions/74626/… and on this issue again politics.stackexchange.com/questions/34108/… Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 4:19
  • Apart from the main Question, what does 'the Council's 16-year history' mean? Don't you think raising that detail also queries what 'U.N. rights council' is, or means to you? My guess would be that you meant the If you meant the 'United Nations Human Rights Council' why did you not say that? 'U.N. rights council on Thursday voted down a Western-led motion to hold a debate about alleged human rights abuses by China against Uyghurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang in a victory for Beijing as it seeks to avoid further scrutiny…' Why are non-Western countries siding with China in the UN Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 22:58
  • How sure can you be this is only the second time in the Council's history that a motion has been rejected? Outside the Human Rights Council it seems that among other states, China and Russia have sometimes invoked their powers of veto to quash various complaints about human rights and here, what does that anecdotal evidence even suggest, let alone prove? Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 23:05
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    "given that the United States is a lot more powerful than China" [citation required]
    – Darren H
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 14:42
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    The UNHRC, like the UNCHR before it (which got such a bad name it got shut down) has been a sore spot for a while now. The basic problem is that the nations that most want to be on it tend to be the nations that really, really should not be on it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 15:04

12 Answers 12

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It shouldn't be that surprising - non-western states don't really have that high of a regard about the west's "moral authority on human rights" given their own sordid history (e.g. slavery, racism, imperialism and colonial abuses etc.) against the non-western states. (Recent events like the treatment of illegal immigrants or the renditions and torture of terrorist suspects by US and EU, for example, also don't paint a pretty picture.) Most people probably don't even know that Amnesty International once ranked the United States higher than China on a list of persistent violators of human rights:

1999 UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS - ...At the Commission, it focuses on those countries which deserve particular attention because of the gravity, persistence and / or widespread nature of the human rights violations in question. This year the priority countries to which Amnesty International is drawing the Commissions attention are: Algeria, Cambodia, the Great Lakes region of Africa (Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda), Turkey and the United States of America.

... Successive US governments have used international human rights standards as a yardstick against which to judge other countries, but they have inconsistently applied the very same standards at home and have been reluctant to ratify them. The USA has not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and is one of only two countries which have failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The USA has often ratified human rights treaties only half-heartedly with major reservations limiting their object and purpose. The USA has not ratified the (first) Optional Protocol to the ICCPR allowing individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee about violations of the Covenant, nor has it permitted individuals to communicate to the Committee against Torture alleged violations of the Convention against Torture. Furthermore, human rights experts appointed by the Commission who have conducted fact-finding missions to the USA have not received the full cooperation of the US authorities.

There is also the fact that many non-western states do still occasionally indulge in human right abuses against political groups believed to be created (or overtly or covertly supported) by such western states - either remnants of the colonial practice of "divide and rule" that still survive and cause political problems in many countries or even recent ones during the cold war. (For example, a common propaganda on Chinese social media is that the "west" support the Uyghurs because the west believes the Uyghurs are the "genetic descendants" of Europeans. Which is, of course, a ridiculous notion.)

Unfortunately, some non-western states do tend to band together on such issues, because otherwise their own human right abuses may also come into scrutiny.

All said, as others have pointed, political relationships does dictate a lot on how countries vote on these resolution. (In fact, in 2001, the US was even kicked off the UN Human Rights Commission for the first time, while, ironically, countries with worst human rights record were admitted to it). And China has also been using its growing economic clout to successfully increase its influence internationally - The lender of choice for many nations over the past decade, Beijing now has the power to cut them off, lend more or forgive some of their debts.

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    "Amnesty International once ranked the United States higher than China on a list of persistent violators of human rights". That doesn't look like a ranking to me. And in 1999 it somewhat beggars belief they'd have done that (relative ranking). Both countries are called out for widespread violations FWTW. "[Ai] express its concern at the widespread human rights violations which continue in China." "There is a persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations in the USA." Commented Feb 20 at 1:59
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    Anyhow, we can rest assured that if your interpretation of that list is correct Amnesty thought Saudi Arabia is much less of a violator than both (US & China) since they list SA last. But the language seem the opposite of that "Gross and systematic human rights violations continue in Saudi Arabia. [...] People continue to be executed, often in public, after summary and secret trials in blatant disregard of the most basic standards for fair trial." So I think you've jumped the gun with your interpretations of the ordering there. Commented Feb 20 at 2:01
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This is due mainly to the growing Chinese economic influence.

References:

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived. Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the vast collection of development and investment initiatives was originally devised to link East Asia and Europe through physical infrastructure. In the decade since, the project has expanded to Africa, Oceania, and Latin America, significantly broadening China’s economic and political influence.
[...]
China’s overall ambition for the BRI is staggering. To date, 147 countries—accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population and 40 percent of global GDP—have signed on to projects or indicated an interest in doing so.

The Belt and Road Initiative Has Gone Global

Finally, Beijing could seek geopolitical leverage over BRI countries. A 2021 study [PDF] analyzed over one hundred debt financing contracts China signed with foreign governments and found that the contracts often contain clauses that restrict restructuring with the group of twenty-two major creditor nations known as the “Paris Club.” China also frequently retains the right to demand repayment at any time, giving Beijing the ability to use funding as a tool to enforce Chinese hot button issues such as Taiwan or the treatment of Uyghurs. In January 2022, Nicaragua officially joined BRI, one month after severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

James McBride, Noah Berman, and Andrew Chatzky "China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative", Council on Foreign Relations, February 2, 2023: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative

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    effectively many of the countries involved are Chinese satellite states, and some are little more than semi-independent colonies of China by now.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 10:00
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    @gerrit Not included where? The included map shows Bangladesh to be a part of BRI ...
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 14:58
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    I wouldn't say "mainly", but it is definitely a factor. Nice to see an answer calling it out. What should probably be mentioned here though is that there's rather a lot of overlap between places China has invested heavily, and places that have a poor record on human rights themselves.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 18:58
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    @sfxedit Never mind, I saw that wrongly; it was North Eastern India I was looking at.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 22:19
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    This is the more correct answer, the political considerations are probably secondary to economic ones. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 16:25
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Following Reuters, China thinks that Xinjiang-related issues are not human rights issues at all, but issues of counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation and anti-separatism. China issued a 131-page response to the 48-page U.N. report so they took seriously and worked hard to prepare the proper clarification. OHCR assessment can be found here.

Seems that at least some "non-Western countries" also share this opinion.

It is a logical fallacy to claim that "the West" has no right to raise complaints due moral or similar reasons.

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    I'd caution against asserting that a government (particularly an unelected/unaccountable one) actually "thinks" a thing just because that's they story they give in public.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 14:36
  • 3
    The Chinese response is kind of weak, actually, since there's no reason an issue can't implicate multiple policy areas. You don't get to say something is "not human rights issues" just because there are also terrorism concerns. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 17:07
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The vote in question took place in the 40th Meeting of the 51st Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council. It isn't really possible to know the true motivation of countries voting against this draft resolution (which is why such a question is off topic for this site), but we can consider what the countries themselves have said.

The video of the relevant part of the UNHRC Session can be found here. Of the countries that voted against, or abstained, the following chose to explain their rationale: China, Eritrea, Qatar, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Mexico. You can watch the video yourself for details of their submissions, but here is my own attempt to summarise the arguments (in no particular order):

  • The draft resolution is not a genuine effort to improve the human rights situation in Xinjiang, but rather a unilateral attempt to politically attack China.
  • A draft resolution is the incorrect method of introducing a debate into the agenda of the UNHRC. Such a resolution should be used for procedural, not substantive, issues.
  • The report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which the countries proposing the resolution cite as a motivating factor, was produced illegitimately, as it was not given a proper mandate by the UNHRC.
  • The draft resolution is the beginning of an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of a UN member state, which is contrary to the UN Charter.
  • The draft resolution will not promote dialogue between China and the UN human rights apparatus, but rather lead to an adversarial relationship, which will not contribute to the protection of human rights.

No country made all of these points, but all made at least one of them.

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  • How is a measure that 17 countries voted for "unilateral"? Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 2:44
  • @Acccumulation Presumably in the sense that it comes only from the "Western side", but the UN representatives don't explain their reasoning in detail. Commented Aug 5, 2023 at 20:25
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Well, countries align with China for various reasons. Some are obvious--closer economic ties with the near neighbors in SCO. And some are ideological differences. Since Mahathir was mentioned in the comments (although Malaysia [under a different leadership] just abstained on that resolution), here's quote from Mahathir that is actually somewhat relevant here:

Maybe there is no conspiracy by the West to undermine all the East Asian Economies. But conspiracy is not necessary. It is sufficient for everyone to see the danger threatening them to act in concert... to disguise their intention by talking about democracy, human rights, etc. ... The proposal for worldwide minimum wage is a blatant example. They know very well this is the sole comparative advantage of the developing countries.

Mahathir sparked several trade wars with the British ("Buy British Last" in two episodes). And managed make Japan the main FDI source for his country instead. Later on, he was able to refuse some IMF loans, relying only on Japan instead for bailouts. It's also true that the Japanese press (unlike the British) did not publish any stories about [his] regime's alleged corruption. (BBL II was basically triggered by that.)

Some interesting version of "and you are lynching Negroes" was also espoused by Mahathir:

In many Western societies, there are massive problems of drug addiction ... teachers are afraid of their pupils. There is chronic vandalism. There are some societies where there are more illegitimate babies than legitimate ones. There are countries where large number in their thirties and even forties have never worked for a single day in their lives... There are democracies where political leaders are afraid to do what they know is right... the people and their leaders live in fear ... of the free media. Indeed they are oppressed by their own media, the way people in feudal societies were oppressed by their rulers.

Quotes from Malaysian Foreign Policy in the Mahathir Era, 1981-2003: Dilemmas of Development by Karminder Singh Dhillon.

For slightly more on that see "Asian values".

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The important context to keep in mind here is the U.N.'s "Human Rights Council" is notorious for being filled with some of the worst rights abusers in the world, all of whom have a vested interest in keeping the council from doing its actual job.

It worth breaking down the vote by country. Countries designated as "Not Free" in the most recent Freedom House rankings are bolded, "Partly Free" countries are italicized.

For: Czechia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Japan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Marshall Islands, Montenegro, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, South Korea, Somalia, UK, USA

Against: Bolivia, Cameroon, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Senegal, Sudan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Venezuela

There are some outliers for complicated geopolitical reasons, but by and large the greatest predicator or whether one voted against the resolution was whether they themselves had human rights abuses that they wanted China to have their back on down the road.

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The UNHRC, along with the UNCHR before it, has been a sore spot for a while now. The nations that most want to be on it tend to be the nations that really, really should not be on it.

Consider the fable of the chicken and the pig discussing breakfast. The pig is said to be far less enthused about a eggs-and-bacon breakfast, because while the chicken is merely "involved", the pig would be "comitted".

Logically, if you're a country that's concerned about improving human rights in the world, its probably going to be one of many concerns you have, but its probably not an existential issue for you like it is for the perpetrators. Other nations are merely involved, while the abuser nations are committed.

On 12 October 2021, the Human Rights Watch criticised UNHRC elections and stated that UN member countries should refrain from voting for Cameroon, Eritrea, United Arab Emirates, and other candidates as they hold abysmal rights records. These countries were alleged not to meet the qualifications for membership on the board. The UN director at Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau said that electing such serious rights abusers sends a terrible message that the UN member states do not take the council's fundamental mission to protect human rights seriously.

Cameroon, Eritrea, and UAE all won their elections, and are current members in good standing of the UNHRC.

So now let's look at this vote. There were 19 votes against, 17 for, and 11 abstensions: enter image description here

The following 17 nations who "sided with China" have a recent history of their own human rights issues: Bolivia, Cameroon, China itself of course, Ivory Coast, Cuba, Eritrea (mentioned above), Gabon, Indonesia, Khasakhstan, Mauratania, Nepal, Pakistan, Qatar, Sudan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Venezuela.

The following two countries aren't nearly as bad as the above group, but have had significant Chinese investment ($1 Billion or more), and "sided with China": Namibia, Senegal.

That's the rogue's gallery that voted with China. Of the 11 nations that abstained, it looks like about 6 or 7 of them would fit right in on the abusers list above themselves, and one of them is currently in a war for its own existence with Russia, and one would imagine doesn't want to tick off any other permanent UN Security Council members they don't have to.

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It seems ridiculous that China seems to have more sway on non-Western countries than the United States given that the United States is a lot more powerful than China

If you think about it a bit, it's exactly the opposite

  1. Nobody likes the winner

Winner awakes envy, and fear that somebody else makes the rules. U.S. effectively make the rules in the international economy, and enforces their concept of how the world should work, which causes strong resentment even along allies. This resentment is the main reason France and Germany were so long blind for Russian danger.

  1. The competitor is likely to offer more

U.S. are no 1. China pretending to take their place in the future needs allies more badly to achieve that position.

  1. China has lower ethical standards

U.S. and other western countries are giving economical support together with political conditions, like developing democracy, keeping some standards when it comes to the freedom of press etc. China just give loans to anybody. It's not surprising a lot of African countries with low positions on freedom of speech index sit in Chinese pocket, since western companies are reluctant to invest there, fearing public opinion in their countries.

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    I'd say China also has different ethical standards, not just lower standards. I.e. they consider drugs to be a much worse offense than the West. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 21:57
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    4. Countries that have been bullied by the USA for the pas 50 years are following China now that the USA are losing their global hegemony and can not carpet bomb dissenters that easily anymore.
    – Shautieh
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 12:58
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    It's really unearthing to see a purely political question treated as some sort of psychological or moral issue. The real immoral issue is both sides use the UN as a political propaganda apparatus instead of the UN being what it promised to be while common people are just pawns in a power struggle.
    – jean
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 13:05
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China cares more about this issue than the USA and the west does. By orders of magnitude.

It doesn't just matter how powerful someone is, influence wise. It matters how powerful they are and if they care to use this power.

China is willing to use its power over this issue to a far larger extent than USA and the rest of the West is.

If you vote against the USA here, will the USA cause economic destruction or destabilize your country? No. If you vote with USA, will they slide you a few million in bribes? No chance.

If you voted against China here, will China cause economic destruction or destabilize your country? Maybe. If you vote with China here, will they slide you a few million in bribes? Maybe.

China is big enough and fragile enough and willing to swing its weight around on this issue. Nobody in the west is.

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I would answer with the timeless quote from Carl Jung's Man and His Symbols:

Our world is, so to speak, dissociated like a neurotic, with the Iron Curtain marking the symbolic line of division. Western man, becoming aware of the aggressive will to power of the East, sees himself forced to take extraordinary measures of defense, at the same time as he prides himself on his virtue and good intentions.

What he fails to see is that it is his own vices, which he has covered up by good international manners, that are thrown back in his face by the communist world, shamelessly and methodically. What the West has tolerated, but secretly and with a slight sense of shame (the diplomatic lie, systematic deception, veiled threats), comes back into the open and in full measure from the East and ties us up in neurotic knots. It is the face of his own evil shadow that grins at Western man from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

On the popular level - people are just fed up with Western arrogance, condescension and the sense of superiority, and happy to an opportunity to "stick it up" to the US and Europe (although hopefully still realizing that they would be better off aligning themselves with the West.)

On the political level China has been doing a lot to attract allies by providing economic help, political support, etc.

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I am not sure its fair to say that non-Western countries vote in China's favour in the UN all the time. For instance, UN General Assembly successfully passed three resolutions (the resolutions didn't improve matters but they did get through) expressing concern for Tibetan rights in 1959, 1961, and 1965 (Also what does "vote in favour of China in the UN?" mean? a vote in the HRC? the General Assembly? the Security Council, where it enjoys a veto that it has e.g. used in the past to block UN missions in nations with diplomatic ties to Taiwan?).

As to why countries might not be interested in joining the West in condemning human rights abuses, the accepted answer provides a good explanation. Its difficult to fail to see the hypocrisy in condemnations of human rights violations from a country that detains and tortures people without charging them with any crimes, for example. Or sanctions its own use of military force in favour of being subject to international law. There's also the clandestine human experimentation program. And also maintains excellent relations with other states with much worse human rights records.

The obvious double standard, paired with geopolitical self-interest generates the pattern you see in the UNHRC vote.

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  • A couple of comments to add links (I don't have enough reputation lol): Human experimentation, [Support ](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…)for arguably worse human rights violating states
    – ptr64
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 19:00
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    Are there any more recent examples of non-Western countries voting against China? If you have to go all the way back to the 1960s, that would imply that something has happened since then to cause them to align with China instead of the US.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 20:07
  • Unfortunately the history of China in the UN is complicated- The PRC, for example, was brought into the UN SC's permanent membership in 1971, and there just haven't been that many votes against/ about the actions of permanent security council members (which makes sense- non-permanent members of the SC would like to avoid antagonizing the permanent members, and influence the use of the veto, e.g. India vis-a-vis Russia). You can find an index who votes similarly and dissimilarly to China here
    – ptr64
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 14:21
-7

Other then the West, china doesn´t interfer into internal political afairs of other countries which is defenetly one of the reason of that countries to side with China. By interfer into internal political afairs is meaned telling the countries which political system they shoud have and which values share. Also in many of that countries the West is seen as colonial powers from historical point of view, but it is not appliable to China which was even itself particulary coloniased by the West in the past.

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    Leaving aside the question of Taiwan and territorial claims, China is more active than you realize in the politics of other countries. In mainland southeast Asia, central Asia, and increasingly the Pacific, China has been buying land for extracted resources, bypassing the normal processes locals face by appealing directly to the governments. In Laos and Cambodia, Chinese government-backed companies have been allowed to bring in their own pseudo-law enforcement and entrap local workers with debt. The governments have avoided objecting because upsetting China would upset the economy.
    – gormadoc
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 4:39
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    China is the major colonial power in the world today...
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 9:59
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    @convert China pretty much owns a lot of countries, either through deals with their rulers that give them near total control over the countries or through purchasing majority holdings in strategic assets like air- and seaports, infrastructure, energy production and things like that. That too gives them complete control over those countries, obviously.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 10:46
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    Downvoted due to the absence of a reference to back your claim - China does interfere in the politics of many countries.
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 15:01
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    I haven't DV, but even leaving aside alleged clandestine activities cfr.org/article/chinas-growing-attempts-influence-us-politics voanews.com/a/…, non-interference is hardly a black-and-white thing, e.g. when China offers to mediate internal conflicts in a country where they invest etc. stimson.org/2019/… Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 15:57

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