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.
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. Read more