By M Waqas Jan
As many an observer of International Politics may have noted, it is not uncommon for Nation States to take steps that can only be described as something out of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd.’ While President Donald Trump’s entire tenure may as well be qualified as such, the US’s most recent denouncement of China plumbs the depths of irony with nothing short of full theatricality.
Based on widespread allegations of human rights abuses being carried out by the Chinese government in the Xinjian autonomous region; the US, while globally highlighting the situation, is considering imposing sanctions on a number of Chinese government officials. These include senior party members and key administrative officials that are alleged as leading the Chinese government’s heavy-handed crackdown against Uighur militants in the largely Muslim populated Xinjiang region. This comes amidst reports that US lawmakers are urging the State Department to charge these officials for human rights abuses under the Global Magnitsky Act, similar to the recent sanctions imposed on Turkish ministers as part of the Gülen-Brunson affair. This comes on the heels of an escalating trade war between the US and China which in itself is widely considered as being part of a broader US policy aimed at containing China.
Beyond the rubric of escalating tensions between the US and China however, this talk of imposing the above-mentioned sanctions merits closer attention. This is because the US is practically accusing China of running a surveillance state in the name of counter-terrorism, replete with unlawful detention centers and torture. Not to mention, the allegations of Islamophobia and the curbing of religious freedoms against a key minority group comprising of 22 million Chinese Muslims.
Unless the ghosts of Guantanamo, Abu-Ghuraib and Bagram have all miraculously been expunged off of the collective conscience of US policy-makers, it makes no sense whatsoever for the US to claim the moral high-ground with respect to Human rights abuses. Especially human rights abuses in the form of state sanctioned imprisonment and torture that is carried out in the name of counter-terrorism. It’s almost as if the apparent irony and double standards, instead of being lost on US policy makers, is being celebrated and thrown back in the face of rivals such as China.
This comes at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult for the US government to hold any credibility with regard to the values it has claimed to champion. These values were once underlined by the widespread acceptance of cultural diversity and respect for basic human dignity, free from any discrimination based on race, religion, creed or ethnicity. Instead what we see now are highly exclusionary policies being imposed by the US, both at the domestic and international levels. These include stricter immigration laws, cutbacks in financial aid and the end of various climate, trade and defense agreements as part of a general withdrawal from past commitments and alliances.
This issue is not just restricted to the US either. Many have watched with pointed horror as political discourse across large swathes of Europe has coalesced around denouncing the very values which these countries once prided themselves on. Values that were once centered on championing human rights, welfare, social inclusivity and diversity have been replaced by the politics of fear and exclusion. This is evident in the broad shift in socio-political discourse on race, religion and ethnicity across the ‘Developed West’ where the threats of terrorism and cultural assimilation have given rise to rampant xenophobia.
The much discussed ‘Rise of Islamophobia in the West’ for instance provides a salient example of how divisive politics based on these themes have influenced domestic policies regarding immigration, law enforcement and state welfare. Be it the United States of Donald Trump, the United Kingdom of Theresa May, the France being envisioned by Marine Le Pen, or Angela Merkel’s Germany holding on to the last vestiges of Europe’s Post-War unity; the West has never in recent memory appeared so divided along such pervasive fault lines.
It is by keeping this context in mind that China’s response to the above allegations can be better framed within this discussion. Particularly with respect to combating Radical Islamic extremism, China has gone to great lengths to distinguish its approach from the West’s. It has emphasized its use of training and education as a means of warding off extremism, focusing instead on societal integration and economic development. Instead of an exclusionary or discriminatory approach, China’s end goal can be better understood as fostering greater integration and unity while maintaining diversity. Its vision for greater regional integration under its massive Belt & Road Initiative is aimed at directly these aspects, in effect promoting greater connectivity at the regional and international levels, across a diverse set of people and cultures.
Thus, while China may still be far from serving as a model of freedom and openness, its recent actions with respect to the BRI still place it far above the United States in terms of promoting international peace and development. There is no denying the fact that Islamophobia, rooted in terrorist threats from Radical Islamists, continues to make the lives of millions of Muslims around the world increasingly difficult. However, for the US to accuse China of fanning such sentiments is at its best an attempt at misdirecting global focus away from its own heavy-handedness in the Middle East. And at its worst, an attempt at fanning anti-Chinese sentiments amongst those same Radical Islamists, which the US itself has played a key role in unleashing on the world.
Considering the fact that all of this is directed under the garb of protecting Human Rights, there is little if any recourse left than to simply consider this, as merely one of the many absurdities of our times.
M Waqas Jan is a Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the China Study & Information Centre (CS & IC) at the Strategic Vision Institute, a non-partisan think tank based out of Islamabad.