By Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) – China has been lobbying non-Western countries to praise its human rights record ahead of a key U.N. meeting where it will face questions and criticism over its actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, according to diplomats and documents.
Four diplomats told Reuters that China’s mission at the United Nations in Geneva had been sending memos to envoys in the build-up to the review of Beijing’s record by the U.N. Human Rights Council scheduled for Tuesday.
China’s mission did not respond directly to a request for comment on the reported lobbying. In a statement, it said Beijing “firmly opposes the politicization of human rights” and “promotes a fairer and more just, equitable and inclusive global human rights governance”.
Tuesday’s review will be the first since the U.N.’s top rights official released a report in 2022 saying the detention of Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region may constitute crimes against humanity. China denies any abuses.
Later that year, members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, including Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, voted down a motion backed by the United States and other Western members that called for a debate about the alleged abuses in Xinjiang.
In early January this year, a diplomatic note sent by China’s diplomatic mission to countries, seen by Reuters, read: “I would kindly request your delegation to render valuable support to China and make constructive recommendations in the interactive dialogue … taking into account the friendly relations and cooperation between our two countries.”
Other notes sent to three non-Western countries seen by Reuters included specific speaking points to raise, including comments praising China’s record on women’s rights and disability.
An African diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed having received a request to show support for China at the meeting and said he would do as asked.
Antigua and Barbuda in its advanced questions to the U.N. used a favoured phrase of President Xi Jinping – referring to China’s “whole-process people’s democracy” and praising the “fuller and more extensive and comprehensive democratic rights” enjoyed in China.
Its mission did not respond to a request for comment.
RIGHTS ‘TEMPERATURE CHECK’
Tuesday’s review will be China’s first since 2018.
China’s mission told Reuters its government “attaches high importance to this UPR (Universal Periodic Review) cycle”, referring to the U.N. rights council’s regular reviews of countries’ rights records.
Beijing would send a large delegation and hoped to conduct a “dialogue on the basis of equality and mutual respect,” it added.
Diplomats said that other countries sometimes tried to influence others’ statements at the U.N. council but that the scale of Chinese lobbying was exceptional.
“The UPR is a very important temperature check and a chance for countries to signal concern on the basis of U.N. documentation,” Raphael Viana David from the International Service for Human Rights said. “It shouldn’t be a joint effort of praising each other and holding hands.”
An usually high number of countries, 163, have submitted requests to make speeches at the session.
The United States, which sent two pages of advanced questions, asked China to cease what it called human rights abuses including unjust detention, forced labour and reprisals across the country and in Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, U.N. documents showed.
Germany asked how many people were in Xinjiang detention centres.
China routinely rejects foreign criticism of its human rights record, saying all Chinese are treated equally in accordance with the law and that foreign countries should not interfere.
While the U.N. council has no legally binding power, its debates carry political weight and criticism can raise pressure on governments to change course or elicit updates on the fate of individuals.
A protest is planned on Tuesday outside the U.N. building with Tibetan, Uyghur and Hong Kong activists and Chinese dissidents.
The U.N. will publish a list of recommendations later in the week and a report is due to be adopted in June or July.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Laurie Chen in Beijing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)