US ‘human rights’ sanctions against China are motivated by geopolitical considerations
Published: Jul 19, 2022 10:31 PM
China-US relations Photo: GT

China-US relations Photo: GT

Most economic and other related sanctions in the world today have been initiated and deployed by the US in a unilateral manner.

The sanctions against China, often in the guise of protecting "human rights," are motivated largely by geopolitical considerations. They are actually meant to undermine China's dramatic but peaceful rise as a world power. The US sees Chinese power as a challenge to its global dominance and control. 

Apart from targeting what it perceives as a challenge from the world's largest country in terms of population, sanctions have also been imposed upon small and medium-sized nations for a much longer period if they seek to chart their own paths to the future without kowtowing to the US. Asserting one's sovereignty and independence in pursuit of one's national goals is a "mortal sin" in the eyes of the world's foremost imperial power. This has been Cuba's "sin" since its revolution in 1959 and it is now the "sin" of other Latin American states such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia. Since 1979, Iran has also been under severe US sanctions mainly because after its popular Islamic Revolution it has chosen an independent foreign policy which opposes US's hegemonic designs in West Asia and elsewhere.

It is against this backdrop that one should view the latest US sanctions against China in the form of the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act which came into force on June 21. This law, which prohibits imports into the US of products made in Xinjiang allegedly with forced labor, is purportedly aimed at not only "safeguarding" the rights of Uygurs but also protecting the integrity of US commerce, and by implication, global trade practices.

The veracity of the claim that forced labor has been used in Xinjiang has not been established by any independent body. The way in which this claim has been trotted out gives the impression that it is yet another attempt to target and tarnish China's international image. The primary purpose is to tell the world that China is an "oppressive, exploitative" state that is contemptuous of minority rights. 

Attempts by Uygurs living in Xinjiang itself, by the Xinjiang regional government and the Chinese authorities to tell their side of the story to and in the American and Western media have been sidestepped. Indeed, on the Uygur situation as a whole, there has been a great deal of disinformation, distortion and lies generated by a segment of the Western NGO community which have been repeated ad nauseam by media in the non-Western world. This propaganda serves a larger geopolitical goal that we have already talked about. 

How should the victims of sanctions respond to this challenge? Telling the truth about the real situation whether it is about the Uygurs or the Tibetans or about Hong Kong or about China's trade or its technology is part of the solution. This goes for other victims of unilateral sanctions also such as Cuba and Iran. Counter lies with facts and figures. Use rational arguments against biased, self-serving propaganda. Of course, this in itself may not be enough in a situation where the global flow of news and information -and disinformation, for that matter - is controlled by the hegemon and its allies. 

Independent analysts and intellectuals also have a big role to play. They should have the courage and the conviction to take principled positions on major global issues and challenges. The manipulation of sanctions by powerful political actors which has been going on for ages demands an honest response from intellectuals. 

Combating sanctions also demands that we reappraise and reform the procedures and processes that we employ to impose sanctions especially through the United Nations. It is only the UN General Assembly that should have the authority to propose and apply sanctions upon any entity. The UN Security Council with its veto-wielding permanent members should not exercise this power. And even in the General Assembly, 90 percent of the members should support a motion to impose sanctions before it becomes reality. Sanctions should be seen as a coercive measure of last resort used in an extraordinary situation against a recalcitrant individual, institution or state that cannot be persuaded or coaxed to adhere to minimal standards of justice upheld by the rest of the human family. In recent history, the almost unanimous support for sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa would be a case in point. 

Sanctions would become a rarity, if everyone is committed to the well-being of everyone else through deeds rather than words. Equality and justice would become living norms. In such a world, sanctions will not impede the free flow of goods and services. No hegemonic power would divide the human family. There would be equitable access to the resources of the good Earth -the good Earth that will be the sacred responsibility of all creation. 

The author is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), a human rights advocacy organization in Malaysia. The article is an abstract of a speech made by Dr. Muzaffar at the Webinar on United Nations Human Rights Protection Mechanisms and Unilateral Sanctions by States organized by AIDHDES, a think tank in Switzerland and Beijing-based Global Governance Institution (GGI) recently. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn