China’s New Challenge: UN Report on the Human Rights Situation in Xinjiang

In a long-delayed report looking at a crackdown on Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, the United Nations (UN) accused China of grave human rights breaches that may constitute “crimes against humanity.” Beijing criticised the evaluation on September 1, 2022, calling it a fake concocted by Western countries. The above-mentioned report is going to be a challenge for China on many fronts internationally. As a result, China will face backlash. There is a logical connection that should be untangled in the story of Xinjiang in order to get the answers behind this report.

There can be multiple reasons behind the assessment of human rights violations against China in this report. The leading cause seems to be the need to contain China’s stature as an emerging superpower, where the economic emergence of China has already surpassed the world’s major economies except the United States. According to a white paper published on September 28, 2021, by the State Council Information Office, China’s economic might has expanded dramatically, with its GDP rising to ¥101.6 T (about $15.7 T) this year from  ¥67.9 B in 1952. With a per capita GDP that increased from less than $100 in 1952 to over $10,000 in 2020, China has made a historic transition from a low-income to an upper-middle-income country. The country also tops the list for trade in products and foreign exchange reserves while coming in second for trade in services and the consumer market. It received the most foreign direct investment in 2020.

China has already termed this report a “disinformation campaign” against China.

If we do a detailed analysis, we will realise that this report is one step further in creating a trouble zone for China’s economic progress. In addition, targeting regional connectivity to fulfil the Chinese dream of diversification of trade routes through geoeconomics is also a potential reason behind this report. The situation in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan’s tilt to the west demonstrate how precarious the scenario will be for global politics in the coming years. China has already termed this report a “disinformation campaign” against China. There is a point to note here that China has gained much power economically, which has made it so strong that now western countries could have started feeling threatened by it. Their fear sprouts not only from China as an economic giant but as a strong one-party system at a time when the idea of democracy as the sole solution to human survival is receding. This may have created a psychological impact on western countries to go after China because the world market is already inundated with “Made in China” products. Likewise, the Chinese political system may have a potential appeal in the eyes of weak democracies worldwide.

The impact of this report will be a challenge for China, particularly its reputation, because this report has targeted Xinjiang, where many companies around the world source their products. So, it will affect the business of those companies because the gradual pressure on them after this report may push them to roll back their business from Xinjiang. In recent years, a trend cannot be neglected where rights groups and Western governments have criticised large international corporations, including household names like Nike, Airbnb, Tesla, Siemens, and Volkswagen, for conducting business in Xinjiang, a major supplier of the world’s cotton and polysilicon, the primary raw material for solar panels. Also, certain reports and laws are already on their way to depreciating the potential of Xinjiang as an economic region by think tanks like the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which in 2020 shortlisted 82 international brands employing Uyghur people. The Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, which prohibits the import of goods from Xinjiang unless it can be demonstrated that they were not produced using forced labour, has already been enforced in the United States in June this year. These acts demonstrate that the political aspect is dominant in order to contain China systematically. If public opinion goes as western countries want, then China’s way of diversification of trade routes through “One Belt, One Road” will come under immense pressure, as will Chinese overseas commitments like CPEC. Thus, the situation may cause a problem for China in keeping its international commitments on track. In order to avoid it, China has to be proactive in saving its reputation by showing labour-friendly policies, particularly in Xinjiang.

Another important step that can help China is to engage with like-minded countries like Pakistan to get their perspective on the recent report. The collective response would help China counter the narrative against it. Moreover, the companies and international brands mentioned above can play a pivotal role in safeguarding the Himalayan backyard of the economic hub (Xinjiang) from becoming a rotten egg by persuading powerful countries to separate politics from the economy.

Tauseef Javed

Tauseef Javed works at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) as a Research Associate. He is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at Fujian Normal University in Fuzhou, China. His research focuses on international relations, history, and area studies from an interdisciplinary perspective.

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