The reelection of Communist China to the U.N. Human Rights Council is a travesty. It mocks the U.N.’s boast that the council is the world’s “premier” human rights agency and ignores the record of one of the worst offenders of human rights in the world.
The U.N. General Assembly also elected Communist Cuba to the Human Rights Council, declining to acknowledge its decades-long human rights violations, such as not holding the democratic elections that dictator Fidel Castro promised the Cuban people 60 years ago. As one watchdog group commented, Cuba’s election to the body was like turning the firehouse over to a gang of arsonists.
The Trump administration withdrew from the council in 2018 when it continued to include countries with the most blatantly criminal human rights records. In the absence of reliable work on human rights by the U.N., watchdog organizations and think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation must monitor the human rights actions of China to underscore just what kind of totalitarian regime we are dealing with. The Chinese party-state’s reelection to the council provides us one such opportunity.
Mao Zedong has rightly been called the greatest murderer of the 20th century, killing an estimated 65 million Chinese in radical Marxist experiments such as the so-called Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Li Rui, Mao’s personal secretary, admitted, “The deaths of others meant nothing to him.”
Today, General Secretary Xi Jinping, whose photo is linked with that of Mao wherever you turn in China, is leading an Orwellian campaign of control and intimidation of the 1.3 billion people of China, running roughshod over human rights whether the U.N. recognizes it or not. Like any totalitarian party, Xi’s Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is everywhere.
It persecutes religious minorities to a degree not seen since the most repressive days of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. According to reliable sources, including the U.S. State Department, more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims have been placed in internment camps designed to “erase religious and ethnic identities.” Camp officials have abused, tortured, and killed as many as 20,000 detainees, according to the Uyghur Human Rights Project. The prominent Uyghur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti, for example, suffered a heart attack during his internment and died shortly after being released. When his body was returned to his home, his legs were still chained.
Members of all faiths are routinely questioned by the government and often imprisoned. Freedom House reports that at least 100 million Protestant Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Uyghur Muslims, and Falun Gong practitioners face very high levels of persecution. Pastor Wang Yi, leader of the Early Rain Church, was convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” in a closed-door trial with no defense lawyer. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Like the Tibetans with their unique culture and Buddhist religion, the Uyghurs with their Muslim religion are a special target of Beijing. The CCP has launched a campaign to limit the Uyghur birthrate through mandatory birth control and other methods. Zumrat Dawut, a Uyghur woman, was fined for having three children instead of two and was offered free surgical sterilization.
Despite the 24/7 surveillance coordinated by the CCP, courageous dissidents continue to speak out—and to be severely penalized. Fujian rights-advocate lawyer Ji Sizun died in a hospital after being released from prison, where he was deprived of medical care despite having several strokes. According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a non-governmental organization that serves as a watchdog of the regime, the cause of his death was concealed when he was forced to sign a document allowing authorities to immediately cremate his body after death.
Moreover, the slightest criticism incites swift reprisals. Pro-democracy activist Wang Meiyu was arrested after holding a placard outside Hengyang Normal University in Hunan calling for Xi’s resignation and democratic elections. Some time after Wang’s arrest, his wife was called to a military hospital to visit her dying husband, whom she barely recognized—he was bleeding from the eyes, mouth, ears, and nose. To ensure her silence, she and her two children were placed under house arrest after Wang died. Her treatment was a warning to dissidents: Your family is not immune from governmental retribution.
Pu Winqing, mother of the Sichuan-based activist Huong Qi, disappeared in late 2018 after petitioning the government to release her detained son for health reasons. She was placed under house arrest and left in limbo with no formal charges. The clear message: Be still or else. Rumors of “organ harvesting” of prisoners persist although the regime insists that it stopped the practice several years ago.
The Xi regime routinely subjects dissidents and their families to surveillance, phone wiretaps, house searches, and other forms of harassment. It monitors text messages, faxes, emails, instant messaging and other digital communications. The Ministry of Public Security uses tens of millions of surveillance cameras to track the public.
That surveillance supplements the Orwellian Social Credit System that surveils and grades every citizen on his financial credit, driving practices, court orders, and online actions. Disobedience brings lower scores and penalties affecting loans, government jobs, housing, transport, and schooling.
Party officials also use the “double-linked household” surveillance system in the Xinjiang region (according to the annual State Department Human Rights Report), as it has in Tibet. Reminiscent of the Mao era, the system divides towns and neighborhoods into units of ten households, with each unit instructed to watch over the others and report on “security issues.” In effect, the household system is intended to turn the Chinese people into a nation of informers.
Like all good Leninist party-states, the CCP devotes close attention to mass media as a means of engaging in mass brainwashing. Two years ago, the regime consolidated China Central Television, China Radio International, and China National Radio into one super-media group called the “Voice of China.” Nothing that criticizes or questions the leadership of Xi or the CCP is allowed—self-censorship among the employees of the Voice is taken for granted. There are reportedly over 200,000 official reporters in China, but only 1,406 of them work for news websites—the rest work at state-run media outlets, guaranteeing the party line on all matters.
A bone that sticks in the throat of the Party is the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 1989, as I can attest from my visit to mainland China a decade ago. In my lectures in Beijing and Shanghai, I made it a point to mention the excesses of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and was greeted with a general nodding of heads. But when I referred to Tiananmen Square, faces turned stern and the room temperature dropped several degrees. Obviously present were Party officials who had approved and even facilitated the massacre of Chinese students, a brutal act condemned to this day by U.S. and Western leaders and scholars.
Meanwhile, Xi has elevated himself to the exalted realm of Mao Zedong with his own manifesto—“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Xi Jinping Thought asserts the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party, declaring that the goal of a powerful unified China can be achieved “only” through the leadership of the Communist Party. Xi and the CCP celebrate their Marxist roots: “We commemorate Marx in order to pay tribute to the greatest thinker in the history of mankind and also to declare our firm belief in the scientific truth of Marxism.”
With the formal adoption of Xi Jinping Thought at the last party congress, Xi and the party were given carte blanche to construct a police state that mocks the idea of human rights and perpetuates itself and its command “over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country.”
While it is necessary to pay close attention to Beijing’s military buildup, its attempts to undermine American influence and power in Asia, its economic “diplomacy” in Third World countries, its suppression of Hong Kong rights, and its threats aimed at Taiwan, we must give human rights a prominent place in U.S.–China relations.
The Xi regime is spending trillions of dollars in its global campaign to be accepted as a major player in the international community. It thinks that it can buy it by hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics. Instead, we should give Communist China an extended public debate about its violations of the most fundamental human rights, including the practice of one’s faith.
Communist China’s decision to seek reelection to the U.N. Human Rights Council is proof that it understands the global importance of human rights as a way to legitimize its indefensible conduct. It remains for the U.S. and other nations to apply constant pressure on Beijing to abandon its totalitarian methods and reform one of the worst human rights records in the world.
This piece originally appeared in the National Review