Why Africans support China against West on human rights

Monday, May 3rd, 2021 00:00 |
China. Photo/Courtesy

London, Sunday

African countries are not among those calling out China for its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur population in the north-western region of Xinjiang.

In fact some African diplomats recently attended an event in Beijing and lauded China’s policy in the region.

At least a million Uyghurs are believed to have been detained in Xinjiang in a sprawling network of camps. China faces accusations of forced labour, forced sterilisation, torture and genocide - allegations it denies.

The Chinese government has defended the detention camps, claiming they are vocational “re-education centres” for combating terrorism and religious extremism.

“Some Western forces hyping up the so-called Xinjiang-related issues are actually launching unprovoked attacks on China to serve their own ulterior motives,” Adama Compaoré, Burkina Faso’s ambassador, was quoted as saying at the event in March dubbed Xinjiang in the Eyes of African Ambassadors to China.

The event was also attended by Sudan and Congo-Brazzaville, whose envoy Daniel Owassa reportedly said he supported what China has called a series of anti-terrorism measures in the region, saying he appreciated “Xinjiang’s great development achievements in various fields in recent years”.

African silence

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the gathering was an example of Africa’s silence on a key global concern.

“[It] might be routine diplomacy, but African governments’ willingness to remain silent on Beijing’s suppression of rights has real-world consequences,” Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at HRW, said in a statement.

“[Africans] have often justifiably decried other countries’ indifference to their plight and sought global solidarity with human suffering,” she added.

Generational change?

But Ejeviome Otobo, a non-resident fellow at the Global Governance Institute in Brussels, says African leaders and China have a common understanding, based on three main areas: Human rights, economic interests and non-interference in internal affairs.

Increasingly Africa’s largely pro-China position is pitting the continent against the West when it comes to human rights.

During a vote in June 2020 at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva about the controversial Hong Kong national security law, which imposed harsh penalties on political dissent and which effectively ended the territory’s autonomy, 25 African countries - the largest grouping from any continent - backed China.

Months later in October no African country signed up to a stinging rebuke of China’s human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, which was backed by Western nations. - BBC

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