China’s United Nations human rights review puts global divide on display

by Finbarr Bermingham at

The battle lines were drawn in Geneva on Tuesday, as China faced a twice-a-decade United Nations public grilling over its human rights record.

On one side was a group of mostly Western countries that roundly lambasted Beijing’s “serious human rights violations” in Xinjiang and Tibet, and urged it to repeal the national security law it had imposed on Hong Kong.

On the other were most Global South nations, many of which praised China’s poverty alleviation policies, and Beijing’s long-standing partners, including Russia, Belarus and Vietnam, which encouraged the Chinese government to stick to its guns.

Each UN member state undergoes a peer review of its rights record roughly every 5 years, conducted under the auspices of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

This universal periodic review (UPR) was China’s first since 2018, with the country’s rights record becoming a major Western news story in the intervening period, alongside a soaring superpower rivalry with the United States.

The review embodied a schism over global geopolitics that has deepened at the UN in recent years, amid fierce and divisive conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, and suggests that China’s outreach efforts to the developing world are bearing fruit.

“We regret to note a few countries grossly accused and smeared China based not on facts, but on ideological bias and unfounded rumours and lies,” Chen Xu, Beijing’s envoy to the UN in Geneva, said after the review, which ran more than three hours, concluded.

Earlier in the day, a foreign ministry spokesman batted away questions concerning a Reuters report that said China had prepared speaking notes for some non-Western countries.