China has expressed serious “disappointment” in Liberia for joining 43 other countries to denounce and criticize its human rights record at the United Nations, particularly the detainment of Uyghurs in the western region of Xinjiang.
China, much like the US government and the EU, is a strategic partner for Liberia. So, when the government joined its western allies on October 21, at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to rebuke Beijing’s alleged repressive actions in Xinjiang, it caught China by surprise -- leading to a furious response two months after the condemnation.
Liberia’s efforts along with Turkey, and Eswatini -- all first countries in joining the condemnation against China -- helped push back against Beijing’s claims that the rebuke is part of a Western effort to keep China from rising.
But Beijing, in a response, which was conveyed through its Ambassador to Liberia, Ren Yisheng, said that allegations by some Western countries in a so-called “joint statement” on China’s human rights situation, are unwarranted allegations and hopes that Liberia discerns the truth and stands on the side of correctness and justice with concrete actions.
“China is shocked and disappointed that Liberia, a good friend and brother of China, is among those countries that have supported this “joint statement”, and it is, in fact, the only African country that has diplomatic relations with China that have done so,” Amb. Yisheng added. “We sincerely hope that Liberia can keep her eyes open, discern the truth, not be deceived by those with ulterior motives, and stand on the side of correctness and justice with concrete actions.”
Amb. Yisheng then used the occasion to remind the Liberian government that China, on human rights issues, advocates respect for the right of people of all countries to independently choose their own path of human rights development according to their national conditions.
“We believe that the realization of the right to subsistence and the right to development is a top priority issue for most developing countries. China advocates the promotion and protection of human rights through constructive dialogue and cooperation, opposes the politicization of human rights issues and the practice of double standards, and opposes interference in others’ internal affairs under the pretext of human rights,” Amb. Yisheng added.
The October condemnation
While confrontations over Xinjiang between China and most Western countries are a regular occurrence at the U.N. General Assembly, Liberia this time around supports its western allies – becoming the first country in West Africa and the second in Africa to rebuke China on human rights issues.
The only African country that joins Liberia to rebuke China is Eswatini, which is an ally of Taiwan. Both African countries’ push gives weight to their western allies who have faced accusations from China and its support that the claims are part of a Western effort to keep China from rising.
“We have seen an increasing number of reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations, including reports documenting torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, forced sterilization, sexual and gender-based violence, and forced separation of children,” French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said on behalf of Liberia and 42 other countries while condemning China.
But China, which is noted for its furious response to condemnation, shot back, with Zhang Jun, its UN ambassador, calling the criticism baseless and blaming the U.S. for pressuring other nations to side against China.
“The U.S. and a few other countries are desperately trying to cover up their terrible human rights record,” Zhang said. “The days when Western countries could bully and oppress developing countries are long gone.”
China has over the last few years been piled with pressure from the US and allies, mostly liberal democratic states, over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the UN estimates hundreds of thousands of members of the ethnic minority have been held in “re-education camps.”
These camps, which are reported to hold a million Uyghurs, are believed to feature forced labor, forced sterilization, torture, and genocide. Beijing has defended the camps as “vocational education centers” intended to “purge ideological diseases,” including terrorism and religious extremism.
With the latest move by Liberia, it seems that the Weah administration, which has built a strong tie with the French and the EU, is willing to slide with its western partners in this matter. The move also comes as the Liberian government fights to strengthen ties with the US government, after a less-than-lukewarm relationship with the Weah administration.
And a month after supporting the western allies’ effort, the U.S government returned the favor by inviting Liberia for the Summit for Democracy and heaping praise on the country for some democratic gains. Of late, the U.S Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy who is not shy of rebuking the country’s leadership for its shortcomings, has been hailing Liberia for its electoral process, freedom of speech and other democratic practices, which he believes is hard to be found in the sub-region of West Africa.
China, like the US and EU, uses aid diplomacy to gain influence and better deals in its interest – so it is yet to be seen what the implication of Liberia’s stance is, concerning the China human rights matter. China and Liberia’s interest is based on two main areas: economic interests and non-interference in internal affairs.
Based on these interests, Liberia has for years remained mute on Beijing’s alleged human rights abuse for the fact that the country is highly dependent on China for the bulk of its trade and infrastructures.
But the question that remains is whether this Might no longer be the case? Is the Weah-led administration no longer willing to prioritize economic benefits from China at the expense of other global concerns? Is Liberia capable of withstanding the immediate blowback that would result from upsetting China?
Such blowback came recently when Liberia was not invited to attend the 8th ministerial conference on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which was held in Dakar, Senegal on 29-30 November. The theme of the conference was “Deepen China-Africa partnership and promote sustainable development to build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.”
Meanwhile, Amb. Ren has disclosed that while China regards Liberia as a good friend, his country is keen to see China-Liberia promote friendly, pragmatic, and win-win cooperation in an all-around way.
Amb. Yisheng added that China will work closely with Africa and Liberia to build a community of shared futures for mankind, at the same time using the occasion to outline China’s developmental assistance to Liberia ranging from the fight against Ebola in 2014 to the construction of landmark buildings in Liberia.
Amb. Ren also did not hesitate to list all of China’s assistance to Liberia and also became furious about the so-called Summit for Democracy, which is being organized by the United States in a few days.
“The United States pursues bloc politics and incites confrontation under the cloak of democracy,” the Chinese envoy noted, “reigniting a Cold War mentality and drawing widespread questions and opposition from far-sighted people in the international community.”