between genocide and commercial abuse

Monday, February 22, 2021

As reported by the BBC, in the first call between Biden and Xin Jinping, the US president made the Chinese president aware of his concern about the violation of human rights that have been perpetrated against Uighurs in Xinjiang since 2018 – recently classified as genocide by the United States-, for the repression of the democratic demonstrations in Hong Kong and for the ignorance of Taiwan’s sovereignty, to which Xin Jinping limited himself to answering that these issues were “matters of sovereignty and territorial integrity of China.”

Although the United States has been a vehement contradictory to the policies of the Asian giant, the unilateral strategy of former President Trump, consisting of imposing tariffs and sanctions, has been widely criticized as ineffective.

Furthermore, it has been said that Trump’s unilateral stances rather led that country’s allies to take prudent distance, which gave China ample scope to continue its path of economic growth, at the expense of countries that they are governed by the principles of the free market, and to the detriment of democratic institutions and human rights.

It should be remembered that China was admitted to the WTO, with the expectation that that country would make its transition to the market economy within the 15-year period enshrined in the Provisional Accession Protocol. But far from it, China used that period to benefit from the advantages conferred by the treaty and to further strengthen its totalitarian regime and violate human rights.

Much has been written about the relationship between international trade and human rights. It is assumed that both are expressions of liberalism in response to totalitarianism. According to Peixoto Batista, quoting Thomas Cottier, open trade implies benefits in the development of political and civil rights, since trade liberalization supports both political stability and democracy and, therefore, human rights.

Contrario sensu, a political system that does not respect the rules of a market economy probably does not respect democratic institutions and the most basic human rights.

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What, then, is the position that the West should take in this situation? According to an article in The Economist, entitled Genocide aside, the Biden administration’s task is to find a way to honor the vision of Raphael Lemkin – inventor of the term genocide – without destroying the most important bilateral relationship in the world. In this sense, some of the recommendations issued by Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2021 call on Biden to abandon Trump’s “transactional and incoherent unilateral policy towards China” and rather adopt a multilateral approach.

From this perspective and considering that trade relations can help to guarantee respect for human rights, the alternative is presented of reviewing and renegotiating the conditions and status of China within the framework of the WTO and conditioning the benefits derived from the GATT to the compliance with minimum commitments.

Hence, a multilateral approach would be very useful on all fronts: it would help to sanction human rights violations by consensus and to discipline China’s failure to transition to a market economy, which is generating serious distortions in all countries. and it has served as an environment conducive to violating human rights.


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