World China Trying to Redefine Human Rights in Latest Campaign, Says D.C. Analyst
Beijing's 2008 Olympics were a soft power victory for China, but 2022 may be another story
As the sound of fireworks rang out over Beijing to mark the close of the 2008 Summer Olympics, China's leaders could have been forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. © Ezra Shaw/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images A welcome message is displayed during the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Remembered today as an event in which record-breaking sporting achievements were matched only by the spectacular pageantry and organization of the Games, the success of the Beijing Olympics was no sure thing.
Thegovernment is engaged in a new campaign to change fundamental understandings of rights and freedoms, a security analyst told Newsweek after a senior official exalted Beijing's variety of democracy and listed Xinjiang among the "shining examples of China's human rights progress."
Beijing's attempts to shift these core paradigms are playing out on three fronts: at the United Nations; in its promotion of surveillance technologies abroad; and through an escalating information component on social media platforms likeand , according to Washington national security analyst Lindsay Gorman.
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"I think China now has adequate forces, including air, missile, electronic warfare, spec ops, naval, undersea and nuclear to likely prevail in the first phase and perhaps in subsequent phases too," Lyle Goldstein of the Naval War College's China Maritime Studies Institute told Newsweek.But one wrong move could lead to catastrophe, or even all-out conflict. And if a shooting battle does break out, there's a solid chance the U.S. could lose the first fight with the People's Liberation Army.
Part of what she described as a "broader strategy" was apparent this week when Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi addressed the U.N. on Monday and put forward his country's "people-centered" human rights philosophy, in which the notions of security and peace came before democracy and freedom.
"Increasing people's sense of gains, happiness and security is the fundamental pursuit of human rights as well as the ultimate goal of national governance," Wang said in a virtual address at the 46th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
"Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom" were common values, the minister stated, but countries with differing cultures and systems should promote human rights according to the "national realities and needs of their people."
Uyghurs in China: What Biden should do about China's atrocities (opinion)
Amed Khan writes that China's treatment of the Uyghurs is a genocide that poses an urgent test for President Joe Biden's new administration and for the international community. "Either the United States and the world will finally go beyond tepid criticism and respond with real action, or we can forget about values, universal rights, and international law."China has since banned BBC World News from airing in the country and denied the abuse, telling CNN that "it is strictly forbidden to insult and abuse trainees in any way.
China's ruling Communist Party declared victory over COVID-19 last year and recently said it had eradicated absolute poverty in the country in 2020. It was able to lift every citizen above its target of 2,300 Chinese yuan ($355) per year, the party's leading newspaper People's Daily said, linking the success to's leadership.
Wang praised the accomplishment, achieved, he said, a decade ahead of schedule.
The diplomat had also spoken earlier at the Chinese foreign ministry's Lanting Forum, where heand listed requirements of the new administration in Washington. The lifting of sanctions and tariffs on Chinese companies and goods would create the " " for future cooperation, he said.
But Wang's speech was notable among observers for its description of China's political system. The country "always upholds and promotes people's democracy," he said.
CPAC puts a bullseye on China
GOP hopefuls are already hammering the line that Biden is “soft-on-China.”Elected Republicans wanting to excite the audience littered their speeches with references to the former president. Breakout sessions and high-profile panels featured former officials plucked straight from his administration. Even a gilded Trump statue — adorned in American-flag shorts and the ex-president’s iconic red tie — was wheeled throughout the exhibition hall to the amusement of attendees.
"There is no fixed model of or standard answer to how to realize democracy. True democracy must be rooted in the realities of a country and serve its people," he added. China's "socialist democracy," Wang said, was "the most representative democracy."
The minister also raised eyebrows when he applauded Beijing's work with ethnic minorities, calling Xinjiang and Tibet "shining examples of China's human rights progress."
Wang's statement was "not an accident," tweeted Gorman, an expert on emerging technologies and security at the German Marshall Fund's.
"Beijing is engaged in a multi-dimensional campaign to slowly shift global ideas on human rights away from a focus on individual freedoms and toward notions of economic development," Gorman told Newsweek.
She noted: "One front of this campaign has been underway over international law at the. Another is in promoting and selling sophisticated surveillance technologies that prop up police command centers around the world and undermine freedom from state surveillance."
China plays the Trump card, but Biden is not buying it
Biden's forthright actions to date have earned him China’s condemnation for “Trumpism without Trump."China's leaders, however, believe that blaming the former administration for Sino-U.S. tensions will leverage anti-Trump animus for Biden's "flexibility" on contentious issues. With Trump gone, Washington can forget "the China threat" and revert to the "normalcy" that Beijing found so advantageous during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations.
"A third is the information and propaganda component of the campaign that goes beyond mere denials," she added.
A report this month by the Associated Press and the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab highlighted China's recent drive to fill the social media information space during the pandemic. Hundreds of state-affiliated accounts on Twitter and Facebook—both banned in China—have helped promote the conspiracy that COVID-19 is a bioweapon created by the United States.
Hua Chunying, spokesperson at the Chinese foreign ministry and director of its Information Department, is thought to be a key player in the campaign. She tweeted quotes from Wang's speech this week, including his interpretations of democracy and human rights.
"The thesis Beijing is promoting is that the individual liberties—like freedom of expression and opinion, right to an impartial tribunal, freedom of assembly—that undergird the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights are inferior to economic development or, in the case of COVID-19, public health," Gorman said.
China's argument presented a "false choice," she said in her analysis. "Free societies have historically been better guarantors of prosperity and security than repressive ones."
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A top Chinese diplomat urged the U.S. to stop “crossing lines and playing with fire” on Taiwan, as part of a broad series of warnings to President Joe Biden against meddling in Beijing’s affairs. © Photographer: Qilai Shen/ Warships dock near a river ferry crossing on the Yangtze River in Wuhan, China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at his annual news briefing on Sunday there was “no room for compromise or concessions” in Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over the democratically ruled island. Wang’s response on Taiwan was one of several in which he hit out at the U.S.
Irrespective of how Beijing wants to present itself, China currently ranks near the bottom of The Economist's Democracy Index, Gorman notes.
"These disinformation efforts are dedicated to 'telling the China story well' to an English-speaking audience in the West in order to advance China's global goals," the researcher said, referring to Xi's 2016 slogan which has permeated the Communist Party as it tries to compete in the information space and boost the country's soft power.
Twitter is among the major social media websites being pressed to do more to counter misinformation online. Earlier this month, the company revealed its ban of former President's account was permanent—even if he runs for office again.
In January, the Twitter account operated by the Chinese Embassy in Washington was suspended after one of its tweets ran afoul of the website's policy against dehumanization. The embassy had posted a link to a China Daily article which declared that Uyghur women in Xinjiang were no longer "baby-making machines" thanks to the Chinese government's education work.
A Twitter spokesperson confirmed this week that the account remains temporarily locked due to the embassy's failure to delete the offending post, which was removed from the timeline and replaced with a notice.
Gorman said Hua's recent tweets—including the assessment of human rights progress in Xinjiang—were barely "toeing the line" of Twitter's glorification of violence policy.
Biden's (mostly) straight talk on China
Steady, straight talk from Biden and his team will be an improvement over the hot-and-cold rhetoric from Trump.Biden is trying to balance several competing imperatives: keeping China at bay but still in communication while his team develops its own coherent policy, and distinguishing his strategy from both the Obama and Trump approaches without scrapping the latter's historically important initiatives.
Twitter said Hua's tweet was not in violation of its policies.
The China Model
Wang's U.N. speech took place on the same day British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued the United Kingdom's statement to the Human Rights Council.
Raab said evidence of the "deteriorating human rights situation in China" could not be ignored, citing the systematic violation of rights in, Tibet and Xinjiang, where rights group say more than a million and other mostly Turkic minorities have been interned in so-called "re-education" camps.
Independent experts needed to be given "unfettered access" to investigate reports of torture, forced labor and forced sterilization in Xinjiang, Raab added.
This week, the parliaments of Canada and the Netherlands passed separate motions declaring Beijing's policies in Xinjiang to be genocidal.
In his addresses, the Chinese foreign minister likened criticism of Beijing's policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong to "smears" which were "fabricated out of ignorance and prejudice."
"We oppose using human rights as an excuse to interfere in other countries' internal affairs," he said, while describing the Communist Party's work in Xinjiang as "countering violent terrorism and separatism."
China's foreign ministry reiterated Wang's remarks on Wednesday, saying "deradicalization measures" have prevented terrorist incidents in Xinjiang for four years.
The ministry also revealed that China has invited the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to visit Xinjiang this year. Discussions about the trip were ongoing, it said.
Gorman, who is watching new media platforms likes TikTok and other technologies, is wary of how the Chinese model might play out in the global south.
She said: "There is high demand for technology and systems that address public security and promise efficiency, especially in the developing world.
"Among countries that may not have the strongest governance systems to start with, there's a risk that these efforts could reshape human rights from the ground up if democracies are not mindful," Gorman added.
How a Chinese website for pirated TV shows became a cultural touchstone for millennials .
When Bill Liang realized that popular video download and streaming service Renren Yingshi might be gone for good his heart sank. © CNN/Shutterstock The website, also known as YYeTs.com, was how the 24-year-old film school student was able to watch hundreds of episodes of pirated American TV shows when he was growing up in northern China. But the site — one of China's largest, longest-running and last-remaining destinations for pirated, subtitled foreign content — was shuttered on February 3 as part of a sweeping police clampdown on piracy.