A hardcore pro-democracy protester carrying the HK fag as political chaos plagues the city

China received the lowest votes among the 15 countries elected to the UN human rights council, an outcome of its human rights record and a fallout of President Xi Jinping’s belligerent diplomacy

There were hardly any celebrations in Beijing this month when President Xi Jinping’s China, often rebuked for human rights violations, made it back to the United Nations human rights council this month. Because tucked behind Beijing’s win, was a huge loss of support that many see as a reflection of China’s track record. Beijing secured only 139 votes for its inclusion in the world body’s 47-member Human Rights Council, the lowest vote among the 15 countries selected. Its tally also reflected a loss of support from 41 UN member states that had supported China in the 2016 election.

China had then claimed its 180 votes - up from 167 in 2009 and 167 in 2013 - was evidence of “credit given by the international community to China for its achievement in developing human rights.” This time, the Chinese foreign ministry primarily focused on the fact that it was its fifth stint in the council.

The seat on the rights panel, however, hasn’t insulated China. Twenty-three governments did hammer China for its abuses in Xinjiang at the General Assembly’s Third Committee in October 2019. A year later, the figure rose to 40 and the issue broadened to address concerns about Hong Kong and Tibet. In June, 50 UN human rights experts united to seek “decisive measures” to protect fundamental freedoms in China.

Closer to the 14 October voting, a cross-regional group of 39 United Nations member countries reprimanded Beijing for violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. “We are gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and the recent developments in Hong Kong,” German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said in a statement on behalf of the group to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee.

China watchers argue that the Beijing depleting support in the October election is also a reflection of President Xi Jinping’s belligerent diplomacy in the neighbourhood and beyond that has turned Beijing’s potential partners into adversaries and placed them on the same side. In less than 12 months, China has engaged in multiple border clashes with India in East Ladakh, flown military planes over Taiwan, clamped down on Hong Kong, launched trade wars with the United States and Australia, ignited a bitter back-and-forth with Canada and tried to consolidate control over the South China Sea, a major trade route for crude oil for the world.

It is in this context that the United States emerged as the bulwark against Beijing, deepening partnerships with countries in Asia and Europe and building alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with India, Australia and Japan.

Last week, the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group returned to the South China Sea for the third time this year to demonstrate its commitment to “the lawful use of the seas and maintaining open access to the international commons” and engaged in joint exercises with Australia and Japan beginning Monday.