How credible is the United Nations if it is not even possible to discuss a UN report in a UN body? And: what does it say about China’s increased power if it manages to achieve this? Western countries in particular submitted a motion at the end of last week to discuss a report in the UN Human Rights Council on the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, China. That motion failed: nineteen countries voted against, seventeen countries in favor and eleven countries abstained. “This is a triumph for developing countries and a triumph for truth and justice,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted directly. Muslim countries and countries in Africa in particular voted against the motion. For Western countries, the lost vote in the Council is a disgrace, although the British envoy tried to give it a positive spin afterwards. He said that “a significant number of countries will not be silenced when it comes to unheard of human rights violations,” whoever commits them. Also read: China did not want the word ‘genocide’ in UN report on Uyghurs The failure of the proposal is the result of careful and sophisticated Chinese policy that started more than a decade ago. China offers economic support to often poorer countries and asks for something completely different in return than most western countries. The countries that receive support from China do not have to comply with rules of good governance, there are no endless, slow procedures involved and economic cooperation is always possible if both countries believe it will benefit. China does not ask for transparency: rather not even. The content of many deals has never been made public. Corrupt rulers Certainly for the more corrupt and dictatorial rulers, Chinese support is therefore a welcome alternative to what they see as Western meddling and post-colonialism. The Chinese envoy to the UN referred to that feeling before the vote: “Today China is the target. Tomorrow, any other developing country will be targeted,” said Envoy Chen Xu. The countries with a less fresh government will have heard this in particular: if you are a dictator, the Human Rights Council can also target you. But a government doesn’t have to be corrupt to support China, it can also simply be afraid of losing China’s economic support. And Chinese support is not free either. There are two important requirements: the country must support China in its policy towards Taiwan, and it is urgently requested to vote in the UN on other issues important to China. The file on the Uyghurs certainly is. China wants to get rid of ‘interference’ over what countries do with their citizens For Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both members of the Human Rights Council, geopolitical interests are also at stake. Both countries want to become less dependent on Russia, Chinese President Xi Jinping extended a helping hand to them during his recent visit. There must be something in return, and China has probably made it clear that voting against the motion would be much appreciated. Especially in the case of Kazakhstan, the vote against is painful: Kazakhstani are also heavily persecuted in Xinjiang, and the Kazakh population is protesting against this. The most telling explanation of vote came from Indonesia. Envoy Febrian Ruddyard stated : “As the largest Muslim country in the world and as a vibrant democracy, we cannot close our eyes to the plight of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” But, because China does not agree, a discussion “will not yield any substantial progress”. So Indonesia voted against the motion anyway, explicitly stating that principles must give way to power in this case. There was also something strange going on with the original report . Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, pressed the send button at the very last minute to make the report public. That was late in the evening of August 31, in the last few minutes before she resigned her position on September 1. She postponed its publication for four years under great pressure from China. Devastating Conclusions The report therefore contains devastating conclusions for China. For example, there is strong evidence of torture, sexual violence, forced medical treatment and forced labor of the estimated more than one million Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities imprisoned or held in camps in western China’s Xinjiang. The report concludes that there are “possible crimes against humanity”. But it was not easy to determine what kind of reaction should be given to the report. It was clear from the outset that there would not be just any majority to address China in the Human Rights Council about the report. So it was decided to pass a motion in the lightest possible terms, proposing only to discuss the report, not to condemn China as well. Also read: China strongly opposes UN conference on support for Uyghurs US envoy to the UN Michelle Taylor said : “No country represented here today has a perfect score on human rights. No country, no matter how powerful, should be barred from discussions by the Council – including my country, the US, and the People’s Republic of China.” But cases surrounding Xinjiang, according to China, have nothing to do with human rights, but with counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation. The diplomatic barometer in the UN is increasingly in favor of China. China has also been trying to change the way human rights are defined for some time, and it’s succeeding quite well. According to China, not political, but economic rights should come first. China does not endorse the claim to the universality of human rights as they are now defined. This quickly makes them no longer useful for addressing countries about what they do with their citizens at home. And that is exactly the ‘meddling’ that China wants to get rid of once and for all. A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of October 10, 2022