Commentary on Political Economy

Monday, 30 November 2020


China an 'exporter of human rights violations': watchdogs

Tom McIlroy

Days before he tweeted a doctored image of an Australian soldier preparing to slit the throat of a child, China's foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, was spoiling for a fight.

Angry at Australia's willingness to lead calls for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and with months of trade tensions building, Beijing has shown it is eager to punish countries that criticise decades of human rights abuses and growing repression under Xi Jinping.

Scott Morrison and Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2019.

"Australia and some other western countries always portray themselves as human rights defenders and wantonly criticise other countries' human rights conditions," Mr Zhao told a regular press briefing last week, an apparent warning of things to come.

Australia's largest trading partner has been labelled "an exporter of human rights violations", with leading watchdogs warning Beijing's aggressive activities put at risk decades of progress around the world.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are among groups tracking abuses by the Chinese Communist Party. The activities of non-government organisations regularly spark intimidation, harassment and police raids.

Beijing imposes tight controls on the media and the internet, limiting access to foreign publications and broadcasts, censoring social media content and limiting the use of popular smartphone apps. High-profile Australian television anchor Cheng Lei is being detained in Beijing and foreign correspondents and news outlets have been forced out of the country.

Workers in China are banned from organising in trade unions despite poor conditions and mistreatment by bosses. Religious minorities, gay and lesbian people, artists, writers and scholars critical of the ruling elite are all targets of Beijing's harsh repression.

Since it was returned to Chinese control in 1997, Hong Kong has lost its previous high degree of autonomy, with Beijing imposing tough national security laws, using force to crack down on local protest movements and expelling or locking up local politicians who criticise Beijing.

In Tibet, authorities severely restrict religious freedom, free speech, and freedom of movement and assembly. The US State Department says China shows "extreme hostility" to members of all religious faiths, including Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and Falun Gong.

As many as 1 million Uighur Muslims have been detained in so-called "re-education camps" in Xinjiang, in the country's north-west. Already under intense scrutiny as they go about their daily lives, ethnic and religious minorities face mass surveillance, the threat of detention and torture.

China's justice system has been widely criticised around the world, including its frequent use of corrupt criminal trials, targeting of foreigners, lengthy detention and the use of the death penalty.

Authorities in Beijing have been criticised globally for amassing huge databases that track the behaviour of individuals and companies, part of its ambitious social credit system. Authorities use forced sterilisation, abortion, and involuntary implantation of birth control to control the population.

South Australian independent senator Rex Patrick restated his call for Australia to force a large reduction in China’s diplomatic and consular presence off the back of Monday's incident.

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