Alex Wong (黃之瀚), deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, on Thursday reiterated Washington’s concern over Beijing’s efforts to change the cross-strait “status quo” by stepping up its efforts to suppress Taiwan internationally.
US-Taiwan ties are based on shared commitments to democracy and making a positive contribution to the international system, he said, adding that Taiwan’s role in the Pacific Ocean region was the type of reform and value that Washington wants to promote around the world.
While it is always good to hear State Department officials and other US leaders speak up for Taiwan, it is difficult to reconcile the sentiments expressed in Wong’s speech with the US’ announcement that it is withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley on Tuesday said that the US was leaving the council to protest its frequent criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, calling it “a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias.”
On Wednesday, in a letter to the International Humanist and Ethical Union, which represents 162 non-governmental organizations, she also blamed NGOs for not supporting the US’ efforts to reform the council as another reason for the US’ withdrawal.
While the US has long been critical of the council because it accepts nations with questionable human rights records as members, the decision to leave the council only plays into the hands of China and other state abusers.
Yes, the UNHRC is a mess; so was its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, and for basically the same reason. However, without the US, it will be much harder to block Beijing’s efforts to undermine not only Taiwan on the world stage, but the rule of law and protection of human rights around the globe.
Let us not forget that the council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in July last year agreed to take up the case of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲), the first time it agreed to take on a Taiwan-sponsored case, and two Taiwanese rights campaigners were able to go to Geneva, Switzerland, in September to testify before the group about China’s detention and arrest of Lee.
Their testimony came just about two weeks after Human Rights Watch issued a report outlining Beijing’s unrelenting harassment campaign against Chinese activists and others who want to testify against its repression: by blocking activists from traveling to Geneva, photographing and filming them if they do make it to Switzerland, and other intimidation tactics, such as trying to deny them accreditation, not just at the rights council, but at all UN bodies.
Just three months earlier, China sponsored a resolution at the council seeking to prioritize development over rights, which was voted down by the US and many other members. In March, it submitted another resolution that would basically seek to do the same thing and more. That resolution — Promoting Mutually Beneficial Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights — might sound benign, but it is anything but that. It seeks to put the rights of sovereign states over their people and communities and make intergovernmental cooperation the only option for engagement, thereby eliminating a key element of the council’s mandate — the ability to hold states accountable for rights violations.
The US was the only council member to vote against the resolution, which makes it clear that next year Beijing is likely to find it easier to get its way.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) loves to proclaim his desire for the rule of law and China’s willingness to be a major player on the world stage, but his demonstrated contempt for human rights, the Chinese constitution and international norms make a lie of his words.
The US leaving the UNHRC will make it harder for it and other nations to challenge China on Beijing’s efforts to change the cross-strait “status quo” and so many other norms. The world will be poorer, and more at risk, for it.
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