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China’s Secret Weapon: Changing the Meaning of “Human Rights”

Xi Jinping learned from its revered models Lenin and Stalin what Orwell called “newspeak,” (replacement of one vocabulary and syntax by another)
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MASSIMO INTROVIGNE | BITTER WINTER

For the first time in history, a Chinese Foreign Minister addressed the UN Human Rights Council. His speech was a textbook example of Orwellian “newspeak.”

In 2020, China was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the term 2021–2023. It looked like a joke, the proverbial putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. However, many did not understand how China planned to use this position. Most comments pointed to the fact that China will be there to torpedo any investigation of human rights violation by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and by the many non-democratic countries whose votes propelled Beijing to the paradoxical position. This is certainly not untrue. But there is more, as the world discovered this week at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

For the first time in history, a Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi, addressed (via video, because of COVID-19) the Human Rights Council. The Foreign Ministry spokesperson celebrated the event on February 22, stating that the fact that China has been voted into the Council “testifies to the international community’s recognition of China’s human rights cause.” In fact, it testifies to a basic fact well-known to all scholars of the field, that the majority of the world’s countries do not respect human rights and do not want the UN to investigate them. They elected the world’s worst perpetrator of human rights violations hoping that, by protecting itself, China will protect them as well.

To this colorful coalition of brutal Communist regimes such as North Korea and Cuba, African kleptocrats, and Muslim countries that reject religious liberty for non-Muslims, the CCP offers more than mafia-like protection in the corridors of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. It offers an ideology, and this is something new.

It is, in its own way, Xi Jinping’s stroke of genius. It is true that scholars offer different definitions of human rights, but no matter which of the current ones is used, China can only emerge as the worst enemy of human rights in general. Not willing to change this situation, Xi Jinping took a lesson from Orwell’s novel 1984, which taught that everything can be justified by changing the meaning of the words. Xi’s mandate to those who now represent China in the Human Rights Council is promoting a new definition of “human rights,” and one that would exonerate China from the charge of violating them daily and systematically.

It is what Orwell called “newspeak,” and Xi Jinping learned it from its revered models Lenin and Stalin, which Orwell satirized in his famous novel. The official Chinese agency Xinhua’s comment that by “human rights” the United States and the West means “the human rights of the powerful and the wealthy” is vintage Marxist criticism of human rights. From a Communist perspective, there are no universal human rights. There are bourgeois human rights, i.e., the human rights as defined in the West, and proletarian human rights, which are defined by Communist Parties as they deem fit, and deny any right, including the right to life, to “counter-revolutionaries” and opponents of Communism.

Addressing the Human Rights Council, Foreign Minister Wang Yi recited the usual litany of lies about Xinjiang and Hong Kong, in the futile attempt to persuade his audience that “there has never been so-called ‘genocide,’ ‘forced labor’ or ‘religious oppression’ in Xinjiang,” where those detained are all guilty of “violent terrorism and separatism,” and that China simply “plugged the long-existing legal loopholes in Hong Kong, and facilitated a major turnaround from turbulence to law and order.” Wang also courted ridicule by quoting polls by government agencies according to which a large majority of Xinjiang and Hong Kong residents are happy with the situation. This is reminiscent of the old Russian joke about polls in Soviet times where, asked how they felt about the government, most citizens answered, “I cannot complain,” meaning that complaining was forbidden.

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