Trump Administration’s Decision to Quit UNHRC: An Opportunity for China?

Ms. Fatima German, Research Intern, Institute of Chinese Studies

On 18 June 2018, the United States Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the administration’s decision to pull out from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). In the press briefing, Haley gave two main reasons for the pullout: first, the poor framework of the Council and its inefficiency in meeting its objectives. Second, she cited the Council’s bias against Israel and attempts to isolate it via agenda item 7. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who joined Haley during the withdrawal announcement took issue with the Council’s image – that it has come across as a poor defender of human rights.

The United States questioned the UN Human Rights Council’s competence by approving countries like China, Venezuela, Iran, and the Republic of Congo for membership, who are believed to be the worst human rights violators. She further alleged that countries like Russia, China, Cuba, and Egypt came out as ‘woodwork to oppose the council reform’.

Earlier, on 6 June 2017, Haley in her speech in Geneva suggested two required reforms to the Council. First, she suggested a change in its election procedure in order to make it more competitive and transparent. Second, she called for the elimination of agenda item 7. In her view, singling out of a country such as Israel with a good human rights record is a mockery of the Council. She mentioned that many other Council member countries agreed with the United States regarding the poor framework and need for reform; however, it was all behind closed doors.

Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch John Sifton criticized Nikki Haley for the decision to pull out from the council and suggested that she ‘could have worked with missions in Geneva on agenda consolidations and member pledges, as we and others repeatedly advised’. He expressed concern about how such a decision would work in the interest of countries like Russia and China. Radio Free Asia also mentioned in its report that this decision has let down the Chinese rights activists and dissidents who on had their hopes pinned on the United States. Human Rights Watch in a statement said ‘The United States withdrawal risks emboldening countries like China, and other actors that regularly seek to undermine UN human rights mechanisms’.

The notion that China will benefit from the absence of the United States in the Council is largely driven by the understanding that the US withdrawal creates a void that is opportune for China. As the US moves towards isolation by pulling out of multilateral forums, it creates space for China to gradually increase its presence. For example, Chinese personnel are filling senior posts in the World Bank, Interpol, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, UNESCO, and so on. Also, China is deploying a majority of troops to UN peacekeeping missions. In October 2017 the president of the Better World Campaign, a UN advocacy group, Peter Yeo noted that China is the second biggest funder of the UN. In the same year Human Rights Watch’s UN director, Louis Charbonneau mentioned that ‘With China’s international influence growing and growing, there is a worry that what it’s doing could undermine the UN Human Rights system overall’.

Two days after the American withdrawal from UNHRC, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang expressed regret regarding the United States decision to quit. However, as discussed earlier, it is widely perceived that China will benefit the most from it. Amnesty International researcher in Hong Kong, William Nee, pointed out that without the United States in the Council it will become easier for China to promote its views, as ‘The United States had been one of the few countries willing to stand up to China’.

China’s influence in the Council is increasing gradually and in 2017 China successfully passed a resolution which prioritized development over human rights. This resolution basically considers the right to economic development at par with the right to freedom of speech. In March 2018, China proposed a resolution suggesting ‘mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights’. The US was the only country to cast a negative vote with Britain, Australia, Japan, and Switzerland abstaining. The US spokesperson Jason Mack reasoned that ‘the “feel good” language about “mutually beneficial” cooperation is intended to benefit autocratic states at the expense of people whose human rights and fundamental freedoms we are all obligated, as states, to respect’. The US also argued that this resolution glorifies Xi Jinping and is an attempt to forward his thoughts in the international human rights glossary.

China has often criticised the United States for imposing their notion of human rights and experts have observed that now China is aiming to ‘smash the West’s monopoly on human rights’ and promote human rights with Chinese characteristics. Amidst this, the decision of US to pull out from the Council is no less than an opportunity for China. Frances Eve, the researcher at the Chinese Human Rights Defenders, noted that ‘withdrawing will not make the UNHRC disappear, rather provides open space for China to dominate the council unchallenged’.

Nevertheless, Israeli Prime Minister’s office released a statement appreciating the Trump administration for voicing against the hypocrisy of the Council, ‘Instead of dealing with the regimes that systematically violate human rights, the UNHRC obsessively focuses on Israel, the genuine democracy in the Middle East’. While the debate on US withdrawal from the Council continues, Ambassador Haley has assured that the US would continue to work on human rights from outside the Council and rejoin it when desired reforms are undertaken. Until then, how human rights with Chinese characteristics play out at the Council would be an important issue to watch out for.

Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean

Chetananand Patil, Research Intern, ICS

The Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming a platform for the new emerging competition between major powers with China making its forays into the region, India seeking to preserve its dominance and the US keen to contain rise of China. Conventional wisdom perceives Chinese presence as a threat for the region and especially for India as it challenges Indian supremacy in its own backyard. Although China’s increasing presence cannot be overlooked or seen in idealist terms, there are certain limitations to its expansion which places Beijing in a strategically disadvantaged position vis-à-vis India.

The most important aspect that needs to be taken into account regarding China and the Indian Ocean Region is that China has no maritime territorial claims in the IOR and the region is not its strategic backyard. For Beijing, to protect maritime sovereignty in the South China Sea is the first priority Continue reading “Competing for Influence: China’s Strategic Constraints and Challenges in the Indian Ocean”

China and the US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement

Diki Sherpa, Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies

After months of prevarication, United States President Donald Trump on 1 June 2017, pulled his country out of the historic Paris agreement on climate change – despite pressure from world leaders at the G7 summit. The agreement was adopted in 2015 by 195 nations, with 147 ratifying it—including the US, the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas emitter after China. It was an initial bilateral agreement between the US and China that became a template for the Paris agreement.[1] It was built on the idea that by 2050, coal-fired power plants that contribute to half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions would be replaced by renewable energy.[2]

Being a non-binding deal, India pledged to cut its emissions by 30-35 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.[3] India, like other developing countries, is also meant to receive funds in order to switch to clean energy production. However, with America’s withdrawal,all these appear a distant dream. Continue reading “China and the US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement”

China and the Iran-Saudi Rivalry: Towards a Greater Role?

Kishorchand Nongmaithem, Research Assistant, ICS

In January last year, when the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Iran, the two countries agreed to expand their commercial ties to US$600 billion in the next ten years.[1] On that visit, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Xi that, “Iran never trusted the West” that’s why Iran “seeks cooperation with more independent countries” (like China).[2] China also welcomed Iran to work together under its ‘Belt and Road’ connectivity framework.[3]

A year later in March 2017, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia visited China, and during his three-day stay, the two countries signed deals worth US$56 billion that included 14 cooperative agreements and 21 other deals on oil production, investment, energy, space and other areas.[4] Continue reading “China and the Iran-Saudi Rivalry: Towards a Greater Role?”

The Dilemma of China’s New Engagement with West Asia

Kishorchand Nongmaithem, Research Associate, ICS       

Traditionally, China has played little role in West Asia. However, in recent years it has become more active in its diplomatic engagement with the countries in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s four-day visit to China commencing on 20 March 2017, just few days after China hosted Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz and signed an agreement worth US$65 billion, shows China’s increasing interest in the region’s politics. China’s diplomacy appears intended to increase its profile and facilitate its interests in the region. Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping also toured to three of the most important countries in West Asia—Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Continue reading “The Dilemma of China’s New Engagement with West Asia”

Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to Central America from 7-15 January 2017 came amidst the tensions set off by US President-elect Donald Trump publicly tweeting about his phone conversation with her soon after his election. Over time, Trump’s tweets on China have gotten ever more provocative, and questions are now being raised about his administration’s willingness to adhere to the one-China policy, which the Chinese have called the fundamental basis of US-China relations, never mind the fact that in reality China has also never supported the one-China policy as the Americans themselves interpret it which is of Taiwan joining the PRC only with the free will of the people of Taiwan themselves. China insists on maintaining the threat of the use of force if the decision of the Taiwanese does not go its way. Continue reading “Tsai Ing-wen’s Visit to Central America”

China’s Relations with North Korea: Not an Ally but a Card

Jabin T. Jacob, PhD, Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies

China has gone around Asia, particularly, Southeast Asia telling countries to behave because they are smaller than China.[1] Beijing however, is strangely more diffident when it comes to Pyongyang’s consistently cocking a snook at it and also complicating China’s regional security environment at the same time. As opposed as they are to the DPRK’s nuclear status, the Chinese also do not seek a US-led regime change through military means and to see either North Korean refugees or American troops on its borders.[2]


Chinese Views on North Korea’s Nuclear Programme

Chinese scholars also view the DPRK as feeling genuinely threatened by the US and that its development of nuclear weapons is for regime survival.[3] The huge US-ROK joint military exercises in March-April 2016[4] according to the Chinese caused major worry in Pyongyang, which sees such exercises as disguising potential military invasion. Continue reading “China’s Relations with North Korea: Not an Ally but a Card”

Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island

Jabin T. Jacob, Assistant Director and Fellow, Institute of Chinese Studies.

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s visit to Taiping/Itu Aba Island in the Spratly Islands on 28 January 2016 was justified among other things on the grounds that he visited men and women in uniform before every Lunar New Year and that he was seeking to clarify the legal status of the island.[1]

Continue reading “Interpreting Ma Ying-jeou’s Visit to Taiping Island”