China’s ambassador to South Africa, Lin Songtian, published an opinion column in the official Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily Friday suggesting that China has the world’s “fastest human rights progress,” “anyone could express his or her views anywhere anytime” in the country, and those who condemn Chinese authoritarianism are hypocrites.
Lin concluded with the claim that China is helping African states advance economically and in terms of human rights, despite widespread reports from countries like Kenya that imported Chinese bosses working on Belt and Road infrastructure projects have imposed an “apartheid” system to keep African workers from skilled labor and separate in transport vehicles, cafeterias, and other common areas from the Chinese.
The claim to the world’s most advanced human rights structure also runs afoul of reports from international journalists and human rights NGOs that have documented the use of internment camps to torture, indoctrinate, and exploit the nation’s Muslim population in western Xinjiang province, particularly the ethnic Uighur minority.
Lin defines human rights as “people’s rights to subsistence and development, and to secure people’s fundamental rights to food, to shelter, to work, to school and to hospital, and to ensure people’s happiness,” omitting individual religious, political, artistic, and expressive rights.
“The Communist Party of China (CPC) has always strived to pursue happiness for the people and development for the mankind, transforming China from a country of basic survival to a world development miracle,” he writes. “China, with its fastest human rights progress and best practices of human rights protection, is setting up a new model for the world cause of human rights.”
He does go on to address individual expressive and religious freedom, claiming that China respects both.
“The Chinese people enjoy a high degree of personal freedom and the freedom of speech,” he writes, using as evidence the over one billion Chinese citizens who use a mobile phone, but not mentioning that China uses advanced censorship technology to ban any website it does not want citizens to read. China also routinely censors individual social media users, banning statements like “I don’t agree” and references to Winnie the Pooh, which some have used to mock portly Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, from Weibo and other prominent social media outlets.
Instead, Lin writes, “within the scope of the law, anyone could express his or her views anywhere anytime. In China, anyone could travel freely and safely at any time to anywhere. Online shopping has also reached all corners of Chinese cities and rural areas.”
Free travel in China is also not a reality. China has imposed something it calls a “social credit system” on its citizens, in which it tracks the behavior of every individual in the country and gives them a numerical score based on how loyal they are to the government. Those who do not maintain a high grade can be banned from using trains, flying, or taking public transportation.
As for religion, Li claims that China allows “full religious freedom” because “all world’s major religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Christianism are practiced in China.” In reality, only five religions are legal in China – “Catholicism” and “Christianity” are considered two different religions – and all are governed by a massive oversight apparatus that forces clergy to indoctrinate their faithful with communist propaganda. Major religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Shinto, and others are banned. Religious subgroups that do not support the regime, such as Tibetan Buddhism, face severe persecution. Those who attempt to worship outside of the government are routinely arrested, beaten, or killed. Senior religious leaders like the Dalai Lama are forced to live in exile.
A Human Rights Watch report published last year stated that Xi had launched a “broad and sustained offensive on human rights” that included religious persecution and silencing of dissidents. Islam in western Xinjiang may be the most systematically targeted religion, however, as the unified location of Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim ethnic minorities have allowed for more efficient repression there.
According to multiple reports from Reuters and other outlets, China has built at least dozens (44 is the lowest estimate) of camps to detain Muslims and force them to replace their faith with loyalty to the Communist Party. Those who have survived time in the camps say they are forced to memorize communist songs, pledge allegiance to Xi Jinping, renounce their language and learn Mandarin, and eat pork as a sign they have abandoned their faith. Not obeying these commands could lead to beatings, food deprivation, and torture.
Lin defends the camps as an economic initiative to end radical Islamic terrorism.
“Thanks to this practice and other measures, Xinjiang has remained for two consecutive years free from violent terrorist attack,” he writes. “This is a major innovation by the Chinese government to tackle extremism and terrorism.”
“There is no best human rights practice in this world, but we can always strive to do better,” the ambassador concludes. “Nevertheless, we would always reject with the firmest resolve the practice of selective and double standards in human rights.”