New research shows China’s growing influence threatens to undermine global human rights

Activists stand opposite the Chinese Embassy in London to protest the Chinese government’s human rights abuses against their Uyghur community.

Mark Kerrison | In Pictures | Getty Images

China’s growing global influence poses a serious threat to international human rights, according to a new report that suggests the United Nations Human Rights Council — the body set up to uphold such international protections — is failing to address the risks.

The UNHRC is an intergovernmental body composed of 47 UN member stateswho are elected on a three-year rotating basis with the declared goal to strengthen the “promotion and protection of human rights” worldwide.

But research released Thursday by risk and strategy consultancy Verisk Maplecroft suggests it has instead become a “battleground of competing standards,” with China and allied member states showing signs of “watering down international action” and to advance their “own brand of human rights”. .”

Notably, China imposes on Council members a “statist ‘development first’ view of human rights” and undermines individual freedoms by “putting economic development ahead of all other rights.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on the findings.

Beijing’s increasingly active role in the international human rights system comes at a precarious time of global democratic decay.

Sofia Nasalya

Senior Human Rights Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft

The research, which forms part of the company’s broader annual Human Rights Outlook, is based on quantitative data from sources including the UN, the US State Department and Human Rights Watch, and internal qualitative analysis by Verisk Maplecroft.

China has also been found to be using its economic power to sway council votes, with the grantees of China’s Belt & Road Initiative being the most vulnerable to influence.

At least 35 of the 47 UNHRC member states belong to the BRI – China’s global infrastructure development project – many of which are Asian or African countries with similar or worse scores in the company’s human rights indexes, the study found.

Acting spokesman for the UNHRC, Pascal Sim, dismissed the claims, stating that “no state chairs the Council or dominates the agenda”.

“All states, large and small, have an equal voice and immense potential to inform and influence the actions of this intergovernmental body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights around the world,” Sim added comments sent to CNBC via email.

political maneuvers

The report also found that China was using increasingly sophisticated maneuvers by key UNHRC mechanisms to stem criticism, with states increasingly complicit in whitewashing Beijing’s human rights record.

It said the “most amazing diplomatic victory” came with the cancellation a US-proposed draft resolution to hold a debate on Xinjiang in October 2022backed by Muslim-majority and BRI signatory states, including Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Human rights groups have accused Beijing of abusing Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim ethnic minority based in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. The US accuses China of genocide. Beijing has strenuously denied committing any abuses.

The findings come at a time of heightened Western skepticism about China, with US and European allies raising various concerns ranging from potential national security threats from Chinese technology to Beijing’s alliance with Moscow.

“Beijing’s increasingly active role in the international human rights system comes at a precarious time of global democratic decay, economic slowdown and severe geopolitical polarization – all with human rights knock-on effects,” said Sofia Nazalya, senior human rights analyst at Verisk Maplecroft and the author of the report.

“The result is that international human rights norms can be weakened at the expense of vulnerable populations, while corporations must navigate and decipher competing and often conflicting views of what constitutes an abuse and what does not by the Council itself.”

Separate analysis The study released on Tuesday found that China has significantly increased its bailout loans to distressed nations in recent years, lending $185 billion to BRI borrowers in the last five years alone.

The report, co-authored by the World Bank, said the surge marks a shift toward a “more opaque and uncoordinated” global system of cross-border bailout loans that threatens to undermine the existing monetary architecture and the role of traditional institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

Amnesty International released its latest report on Monday “The State of Human Rights in the World” Report stating that in the past year the world has witnessed increased war crimes, crimes against humanity, suppression of universal freedoms, economic crises and rising inequality.

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