Too often, the world tends to view human rights and religious freedom as being less important than economic issues and trade concerns. And by putting issues of religious persecution and mass human rights abuses on the back burner, the community of nations emboldens totalitarian regimes and condemns the vulnerable to lives of misery, torture and even death.
China is a case in point. Over just a few decades, the Communist country has transformed itself from an impoverished agrarian society to an industrial powerhouse and the world's second largest economy after that of the United States.
Despite undertaking massive economic reforms, China remains a totalitarian police state that denies its citizens basic human rights. And yet countries such as Canada and international organizations like the World Bank seem to gloss over Beijing's horrific human rights record. They prefer instead to focus on issues of poverty reduction and liberalized trade.
The World Bank was established at the end of the Second World War at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire by the United States and other Allied nations. The World Bank was designed to facilitate the reconstruction and the economic development of the world in the aftermath of the war.
In recent decades, the World Bank has focused on reducing poverty in the developing world. However, it is clear that the leadership of the Bretton Woods institution has tunnel vision and cannot see the suffering inflicted upon some of the world’s most vulnerable people by a powerful regime.
In a recent speech, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim praised China’s commitment to liberalized international trade and poverty reduction. But he failed to address the world’s most troubling human rights situation: China’s internment of Uighur Muslims in a series of so-called re-education camps. The camps are reportedly concentration camps where prisoners barely survive inhumane conditions and are forced to undergo Communist indoctrination.
Chinese trade expo
On Nov. 5th, Kim delivered an address at the opening of the First China International Import Expo hosted by Shanghai, China. With Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the audience, the Korean-American declared that it was “an honour and a pleasure” to attend the event.
The World Bank president then launched into a cringe worthy review of the totalitarian regime’s economic reforms and poverty reduction strategy. “This year China celebrates 40 years of reform and opening up,” said Kim. “And this event signifies the tremendous progress that China has made in those four decades by opening the country to trade, foreign investment, and ideas.”
However, the ideas embraced by China’s Communist regime do not include respect for the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to freedom of religion, belief and/or conscience.
Kim, sounding more like China’s advocate than the head of an international institution dedicated to making the world a better place, went on to say that “by embracing reforms and openness in its development model, China has increased its per capita income 25-fold.” And he added that Beijing’s policies have supposedly helped to lift 800 million Chinese out of poverty. That number, said Kim, represents “more than 70 percent of the total poverty reduction in the world.”
According to the World Bank boss, trade liberalization has had a “pro-poor impact”. But he sounded the alarm, pointing out that the international trade liberalization agenda has stalled in recent years. And in a clear reference to the ongoing Sino-American trade war, he said that “in just the last few months we have seen an acceleration in the return to protectionism.”
The World Bank, dedicated to poverty reduction, has praised the economic policies of Communist China.
Kim warned that “the escalation of tariffs will negatively affect the entire global growth outlook and slow down the pace of poverty reduction at a time when we can least afford it.” Trade protectionism would be detrimental to poor households in both the industrialized and developing worlds, he continued. And that could lead to more countries adopting damaging protectionist trade policies.
“We need to continue to support trade reforms that can deliver greater shared prosperity,” Kim said of the need to remove trade barriers and reduce subsidies that distort markets.
Praise for China
Kim praised the Chinese regime for enduring the pain resulting from the economic adjustments undertaken after China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. And he said that Beijing helped workers affected by liberalized trade by providing “better safety nets, active labour market policies, and lower agricultural taxes and fees.”
As glowing as Kim’s remarks were to the expo audience, he wasn’t done heaping praise on the Communist regime. “By ensuring that all layers of society gained from opening up, China ensured continued support for its reform programs,” he declared.
The World Bank president even went so far as to say that the world could learn from China’s example. “This is a lesson for everyone,” he said, asserting that “policy packages should ensure that trade gains are shared widely.” And he asserted that “with trade, we don’t have to choose between inclusiveness and economic growth.”
The irony of Kim’s statement cannot be overstated. China’s authoritarian policies isolate religious and ethnic minorities, depriving them of economic inclusion, basic human rights, and sometimes physical freedom.
When it comes to advancing international trade, Kim said that workers and communities hurt by globalization “need to be at the front of our minds.” And to underscore his point, and probably win favour with the authoritarian regime, Kim quoted President Xi’s 2017 speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. In that speech, Xi compared the global economy to “the big ocean.”
Kim paid the Communist leader an even greater compliment by borrowing the ocean metaphor. “For us, the challenge is to put every country in a position where it can swim in this ocean,” said the Bretton Woods institution official.
Kim then talked about his recent trip to Guizhou, where the poverty rate was supposedly reduced from 30% of the local population to 8% in less than five years.
The World Bank president concluded his stunningly uncritical appraisal of Chinese policies by saying that he hoped that discussions at the expo would “bring new ideas and avenues to pursue reforms, make the global market system work for everyone and the planet, help end poverty and ensure quality of opportunity for everyone in the world.”
The harsh reality is that China has one of the worst human rights records in the world. According to the Amnesty International Canada website, “human rights violations in China are widespread, touching many sectors of society.”
For example, the human rights organization asserts that the Communist regime leads the world in the number of executions performed. Not only does the regime execute violent criminals, even some non-violent offences are punishable by death.
However, Amnesty reports that data on death sentences and executions is not available, as it is classified as secret. And the NGO alleges that “judges’ decisions are open to political interference and trials do not come close to meeting international standards.”
In addition, Amnesty documents the harassment, persecution, intimidation, and arbitrary arrest and detention of Chinese human rights defenders, political dissidents, and government critics. “They face harassment, intimidation, arbitrary and illegal detention, enforced disappearances, torture and even the possibility of death in custody as a result of their activities,” alleges Amnesty.
Similarly, Human Rights Watch paints a bleak picture of China’s violation of basic human rights. According to the nongovernmental organization’s World Report 2017, “more than three decades after pledging to ‘reform and open up,’ there are few signs the Chinese Communist Party intends to change its authoritarian posture.”
According to Human Rights Watch, “the outlook for fundamental human rights, including freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion, remains dire” under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
Anyone concerned about human rights would be justified in taking Kim to task for his appalling speech. For example, when Kim talks about equality of opportunity for all, one cannot help but wonder if he believes that equality should apply to Uighurs and other oppressed faith communities in China, including Christians and practitioners of Falun Gong.
The fact is that if everyone is to enjoy equality of opportunity, they must first be freed. No one locked up in a gulag or concentration camp is free. No one beaten, fed starvation rations, and forced to undergo Communist re-education reminiscent of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution can be considered to be free. They do not enjoy the benefits of globalization.
Xinjiang region (XUAR)
In 2013, the Communist regime proposed the closure of its Re-Education Through Labour (RTL) camps. “These hold petty criminals, drug addicts, Falun Gong practitioners, minor political dissidents etc. for up to four years at the discretion of the police with no due process of law,” Charles Burton told me in a 2013 email interview. Burton is a Brock University associate professor specializing in comparative politics, government and politics of China, Canada-China Relations, and human rights.
“The concern is that if the RTL camps are closed, they may be replaced by other institutions that will be outside of the judicial process, such as it is, in China,” Burton stated. “After all, the RTL inmates have to be sent somewhere; they are not likely to be simply released.”
The U.S. State Department estimated in 2013 that Falun Gong members made up about 50% of the approximately 250,000 officially-recorded prisoners in China’s RTL camps.
In 2013, China’s more than 300 RTL camps were a part of a much larger security apparatus that locked away prisoners of conscience. Amnesty International warned that unless the regime undergoes fundamental change, “Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of others.”