U.S. may call out China on rights at U.N. gathering of leaders


The United States is considering how it will confront China during next week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations over its detention of 1 million Muslims in a remote region, at a time when some diplomats warn that U.S. leadership in global institutions is waning and China’s influence is growing.

While the United States is the largest financial contributor to the U.N. budget, President Donald Trump has questioned the value of multilateralism as he focuses on an “America First” policy and touts the protection of U.S. sovereignty.

Trump’s first U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, stepped down at the end of 2018 and was replaced just last week by Kelly Craft, whose foreign policy experience pales in comparison to that of her veto-wielding Security Council counterparts from Russia, China, France and Britain.

China is taking advantage in the U.N. of the relative antagonistic, critical attitude of the USA towards the U.N. itself and is occupying spaces and projecting influence much more than before,” said one senior European diplomat.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that during the high-level U.N. gathering, the United States will seek support in calling out China’s detention policy in Xinjiang, where the United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained.

Pompeo in July called China’s treatment of Uighurs the “stain of the century,” saying at an international conference in Washington that China is “home to one of the worst human rights crises of our time.”

A senior U.S. administration official, said the White House is considering whether Trump might mention China’s treatment of the Uighurs and possibly its broader human rights record in his speech to the 193-member U.N. General Assembly next Tuesday.

The White House said Trump will host a “Global Call to Protect Religious Freedom” at the United Nations on Monday and will be introduced by Vice President Mike Pence. “The President will call on the international community to take concrete steps to prevent attacks against people on the basis of their religion or beliefs and to ensure the sanctity of houses of worship and all public spaces for all faiths,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham in a written statement on Tuesday.

Beijing describes the complexes in Xinjiang as “vocational training centers” helping to stamp out extremism and give people new skills. But China is worried about public criticism and has met with some foreign envoys ahead of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and a session of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, according to four Beijing-based diplomats.

“With Hong Kong as well, these are not topics China wants called attention to ahead of the 70th anniversary,” one of the diplomats said, referring to the massive military parade that President Xi Jinping will oversee in Beijing on Oct. 1 marking seven decades of the People’s Republic of China.

Months of sometimes violent demonstrations show no sign of letting up in Hong Kong, where protesters are angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy.

There was no indication, however, that tougher talk at the gathering would translate into concrete action on the issue against Beijing.

The senior U.S. administration official said Pompeo and Pence could also address China’s treatment of the Uighurs at events on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering, but a final decision on any U.S. remarks “is expected to hinge on how the trade issue is going.”

China and the United States are to resume trade talks in October, but most analysts do not expect a durable trade deal — or even a significant de-escalation — any time soon.

In unusually blunt remarks, China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, told reporters last month — during his first week on the job — that although Beijing is willing to cooperate with other U.N. member states, China will never allow interference in the country’s “internal affairs, especially on issues related to Xinjiang, Tibet and to Hong Kong.”

Last week, China condemned a U.S. bill that calls on the U.S. government to exert more pressure on China over Xinjiang-related issues. The bill is a “flagrant interference in China’s internal affairs and will only make the Chinese people more indignant,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Some U.N. diplomats said China has been working to spread and formalize Xi’s political thought.

Xi Jinping thought attempts to rewrite the rules of multilateralism,” said a senior European diplomat. “We may disagree with them … but ‘Xi Jinping’ is a clear concept, which they promote and get into resolutions.”

An example is that for the past three years a Security Council resolution to renew the mandate for the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan included a reference to China’s Belt and Road initiative, a massive plan to revive the old Silk Road. But the United States and other members said this year they could no longer accept that language.

A senior Asian diplomat said the United States has made it easy for China to show leadership at the United Nations. “For example, the U.S. has been largely absent from discussions at the U.N. on sustainable development, climate change and financing for development,” the diplomat said. “This gives China and other countries the opportunity to show support for these important issues and also showcase their own contributions, like the Belt and Road initiative.”

A U.S. defense official said there is concern about growing Chinese influence in international organizations as the United States pulls back in some ways but called it a “slow-moving train.”

Former U.N. political affairs chief and veteran U.S. diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, argued that the United Nations has become more of a competitive rather than cooperative environment.

“It’s not realistic to think that the United States is going to be able to single-handedly lead these organizations the same way that they could after 1989,” he said, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union. “If the U.S. leaves a vacuum in the leadership of the U.N., others will fill it. China is doing a very good job of increasing its influence.”



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