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Why African countries support China against the West in terms of human rights

People protest at a Uighur rally in front of the US mission to the UN - February 5, 2019.

African countries do not join UN allegations of human rights abuses in China in Xinjiang, Hong Kong or Tibet

African countries are not among those calling on China to treat the predominantly Muslim Uighur population in northwestern Xinjiang.

In fact, some African diplomats recently attended an event in Beijing praising China̵

7;s policy in the region.

It is estimated that at least one million Uighurs were detained in Xinjiang in a sprawling network of camps. China faces charges of forced labor, forced sterilization, torture and genocide – allegations it denies.

The Chinese government defended the detention camps, claiming they were professional “re-education centers” to fight terrorism and religious extremism.

“Some Western powers fueling so-called Xinjiang problems are in fact launching unprovoked attacks on China to serve their own ulterior motives,” said Adama Compaore, Burkina Faso’s ambassador, called Xinjiang during the March event. of African Ambassadors to China.

The event was also attended by Sudan and Congo-Brazzaville, whose envoy Daniel Owasa said he supported what China called a series of counter-terrorism measures in the region, saying he appreciated “Xinjiang’s great achievements in various fields in recent years. years “.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the meeting was an example of Africa’s silence on a key global issue.

“[It] it may be routine diplomacy, but the willingness of African governments to remain silent on the suppression of rights in Beijing has real consequences, “said Carine Caneza Nantula, HRW’s director of advocacy in Africa.

“[Africans] they often justify other countries’ indifference to their plight and seek global solidarity with human suffering, “she added.

Generation change?

But Ezevio Otobo, a non-resident at the Institute for Global Governance in Brussels, says African leaders and China have a common understanding based on three main areas: human rights, economic interests and non-interference in internal affairs.

“For 30 years, China has made it a tradition for its foreign minister to visit Africa every new year – it’s not just symbolic,” Source: Cliff Mboya, Source description: Sino-African analyst, Image: Cliff Mboya

Increasingly, Africa’s pro-Chinese stance is pitting the continent against the West in terms of human rights.

During a vote in June 2020 in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Hong Kong’s controversial national security law, which imposes severe penalties on political dissent and effectively ends autonomy in the territory, 25 African countries – the largest grouping from every continent – supported China.

Months later in October, no African country agreed to a sharply rebuked Western-backed accusation of human rights abuses in China in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet.

HRW accuses African leaders of prioritizing China’s economic benefits over other global concerns.

Yet Eric Olander, co-founder of the China Africa Project, said of African politicians who do not oppose Beijing, “it is a much more important foreign policy priority.”

“What these critics don’t seem to understand is that as poor, developing countries – many of which also have a large debt to Beijing and depend on China for most of their trade – they are unable to withstand the immediate backlash that would result from China’s upset, “he told the BBC.

China-Africa Summit in Beijing in September 2018

China holds a summit with African leaders every three years

Another major factor is the decades-old relationship that was established in 1970, when African countries played a critical role in helping China join the United Nations amid US protests.

“Relations have only intensified since then,” Cliff Mboya, a Kenyan-based Sino-African analyst, told the BBC.

“For 30 years, China has made it a tradition for its foreign minister to visit Africa first every new year – this is not just symbolic, but signals that they are invested in long-term relationships and that makes a big impression on Africans.”

Younger Africans may not be so impressed – they have a very positive view of the United States and its development model, according to a recent Afrobarometer survey.

But the older generation and government leaders feel differently – and their decision to turn to China for infrastructure funding, especially over the past 20 years – has changed the continent’s landscape with vast roads, bridges, railways, ports and the Internet. the infrastructure that has provided the continent is not pariah in the digital economy.



Some of these projects are part of China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, which 46 African countries have signed, Mr Otobo said.

“Where is the Western equivalent?” He asked, adding that it would be difficult to achieve a scale of funding from China.

The lack of transparency in the deals to finance these massive projects has raised suspicions of a cunning plot to conquer the continent with loans he cannot repay, Mr Orlander said, although this “debt trap” theory has been debunked.

Both debt relief and access to Covid-19 vaccines are likely to be key topics at the Sino-African Cooperation Forum (FOCAC), a high-profile three-year event to be held in Senegal later this year.

Vaccine diplomacy

Since the pandemic, Chinese flags have been a common sight at the continent’s airports, signaling the arrival of vital donations such as personal protective equipment and, more recently, Chinese vaccines.

The so-called Chinese diplomacy diplomacy has reached 13 African countries, which have either purchased them or benefited from donations.

A man holds a Chinese flag in front of a shipment of Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines at Harare International Airport, Zimbabwe - March 2021.

Zimbabwe is among a dozen countries using vaccines made in China

By comparison, there has been no direct support from the United Kingdom or the United States, except through the global Covax initiative – which is also supported by China. To date, Covax has been administered 18 million doses in 41 African countries.

Using access to Covid-19 vaccines as a tool of influence around the world is an ongoing race among world powers.

In March, British Foreign Secretary Dominique Raab urged developing countries to wait for “gold standard” vaccines, not those from China and Russia.

New US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken sees the situation as less competitive, recently telling African students: “We don’t want anyone to choose between the US or China, but I would encourage you to ask these difficult questions, to dig under the surface, to demand transparency and make informed choices. “

Traffic in Nairobi

The Nairobi Freeway, a 17-kilometer four-lane highway, is one of many projects funded by China in Kenya

Western powers know they cannot compete with China in terms of loans and infrastructure – there has been no retaliation for those who take Chinese aid or are too biased towards Beijing. Instead, they return to mantras as a call for democracy and corruption-free investment.

For this reason, it is unthinkable in the near future for any African country to try to bring a Chinese leader to The Hague because of its treatment of Uighurs – as happened to Aung San Suu Kyi in 2019, when he was leader of Myanmar and Gambia. a case against her country’s attitude towards the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Abubakarr Tamado was backed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group of 57 mainly Muslim countries, 27 of which are African. This move, applauded in the West, has so far led the International Court of Justice to order Myanmar to take measures to prevent genocide.

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