Do as I say, not as I do

May 3, 2024
Beijing, China. 25th Apr, 2024. U.S Secretary of State Tony Blinken waves as he arrives at Beijing Capital International Airport, April 25, 2024, in Shanghai, China. Image: Alamy/ Chuck Kennedy/US State Department Photo/Alamy Live News

Antony Blinken megaphoned the United States’ complaints about China in advance of his visit this week. They included Beijing’s unfair economic and trade practices, ‘industrial over-capacity’, and ‘genocide and crimes against humanity’ against Uyghurs.

Coming from the nation most complicit in Israel’s human rights violations and potential genocide against Palestinians, the Secretary of State’s hypocrisy is breathtaking. Admittedly, in the State Department’s annual human rights report on 23 April, Blinken did mention that the US ‘faces its own shortcomings’. But American leaders always play the human rights card against their enemies, not their friends.

This was confirmed in 2017 when a leaked State Department memo argued that the Administration should emphasise good relations with dictatorships like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines, ‘for a variety of important reasons, including counter-terrorism, and in honestly facing up to the difficult trade-offs with regard to human rights’. Whatever their behaviour, the memo said, the US should treat such allies differently and better than adversaries such as China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

Setting up an accusation, repeating and multiplying it are the recognised techniques of propagandists everywhere. Lies about genocide and terrorism are their favourites. Uyghurs who staged a mass attack on Han Chinese in their province in 2009 were called terrorists by Beijing, and the US agreed, listing the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) of militant Uighurs as a terrorist organisation from 2002 to late 2020. Then American views changed, responding to claims by the East Turkestan Government in Exile (ETGE). Since 2020 China has been accused in the West of oppressing the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uyghur population of Xinjiang to the point of genocide.

About 5000 Uighurs, members of the separatist ETIM, joined jihadists aligned with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Syria from 2011. Those who later retuned were ‘re-educated’ in large Han Chinese ‘boarding schools’ called concentration camps by the exiles of ETGE, who claimed that 1.8 million men and women were subjected to rape, sex abuse, forced sterilisation, torture and forced marriage. Much of this appeared to rely on dubious documents produced by Adrian Zenz, a German Christian fundamentalist funded by anti-China groups in the US and by the CIA.

A report published in 2021 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that allegations of torture or ill-treatment of Uighurs, including forced medical treatment and adverse conditions of detention, were credible, as were individual incidents of sexual and gender-based violence. OHCHR said such deprivation of rights may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity. It did not mention genocide, although Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo did in 2021, calling Xinjiang ‘an open-air prison’ (like Camp X-Ray, perhaps). Despite demographic evidence to the contrary, many in the US from 2020 have accepted that the Uighurs were victims of Chinese genocide.

Beijing is seen as an enemy of Islam in Afghanistan, where ETIM, also called the Turkestan Islamic Party, is aligned with IS-K against Kabul’s Taliban government. For the US, ETIM is therefore attractive as a group opposed to the Taliban, who drove American and allied forces out of Kabul. ETIM is also hostile to Beijing.

Blinken may have learned in his consultations in Shanghai and Beijing that China, far from threatening IS-K with armed force, is proposing Belt and Road projects to Kabul, including a railway from China through Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey to Europe. This would bypass the weaponised Red Sea and provide an alternative to the old, slow northern rail route through Russia.

As well, in March 2023 while the US was spending billions to fund the war in Ukraine, China brokered an agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to re-establish diplomatic relations. With this foot in the door, Iran was able a year later to respond to Israel’s murderous attack on its diplomatic premises in Baghdad, directly and with impunity. Tehran has told the Saudis, Jordanians and others that if they allow Israel to attack Iran from their territories, they will be attacked. Moreover any threat from Israel to use the nuclear weapons it boasts about but also denies having, will enable Iran to claim justification for acquiring them.

Israel’s attack in Baghdad failed to distract attention from the Gaza genocide and bring the US into a wider war against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran that President Biden doesn’t want. But the US vetoes resolutions to stop the war in the Security Council, keeps giving Israel weapons and money for its illegal and genocidal projects, and merely sanctions the ultra-right Israeli army battalion, Netzah Yehuda. Both Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu fear losing their next elections, and the deaths and injuries of many thousands of Palestinians are therefore ‘worth it’, as Madeleine Albright said in 1996 about US sanctions causing the deaths of half a million Iraqi children.

Blinken’s hypocritical human rights message may have produced from his Chinese counterparts a few home truths in return about genocide. But he knew to expect that, and aimed his agenda at a US audience already primed with the Uyghur narrative. His long-range objective appears to mesh with what Australians have been hearing for several years from top US military people, from Michael Pezzullo, from ASPI, and associated think tanks: war with China is next.

Opposition to AUKUS is widespread among civil society groups in Australia, which see it as committing Australia to the losing side in a war with China. Disgust mounts when their efforts are blocked by intransigent major political parties and by virulently war-mongering mainstream media. Three things the ‘sovereign’ Australian government should do, to redeem itself before it slides into oblivion: first, recognise the State of Palestine and cut off military exports and exchanges with Israel. Second, tell the US that Australia will not join a coalition for war against China, and will not proceed with AUKUS. And third, since the US supports human rights, demand that Julian Assange be released, just as the US would do for one of its own citizens.

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