In the wake of Beijing’s move to enact a draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong this week, China’s state-owned media outlets and foreign ministry have gleefully highlighted a statement by Cuba’s delegate to the U.N. on behalf of 52 other countries lauding the law. Curiously, none of these reports mentioned any of the other countries standing with China.
These countries include North Korea, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Eritrea, and Belarus. Of course, none of the governments in this group have particularly admirable human-rights records; most of the 53 countries are autocracies with one-party rule. That the U.N. Human Rights Council — which earlier that day was addressed by pro-Beijing Hong Kong executive Carrie Lam — would be the forum for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda games is unsurprising, to say the least.
More interesting, as many have pointed out online, is the geographic dispersion of the group of 53, when compared with the 27 countries that condemned the National Security Law in their own statement. The CCP allies wrap around less-developed parts of the world, tracing the path of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, most of the 27 opponents of the law were liberal democracies located in Europe, in addition to Canada, Japan, and Australia.
Coordinated opposition to Beijing by Western democracies has percolated for years now. In the United States, it’s conventional wisdom that the past three years have seen a dramatic shift in China policy, moving from an approach that prioritizes the management of a problem to one that mitigates a threat. The coronavirus marked another sharp shift — U.S.–China relations reached new heights of acrimony, and Europe, Canada, and Australia saw an acceleration of the deterioration of their relations with Beijing. As it turns out, spreading disinformation, sentencing prisoners on political grounds, and launching massive cyberattacks has not won the CCP many friends. Meanwhile, an international coalition of legislators working on China-related issues formed in June. And political parties across the West are beginning to re-evaluate their attitudes toward China.
The events of the past week seem to mark a significant new rupture. In addition to the National Security Law, this stems from new concerns that the CCP’s treatment of the Uighurs constitutes a genocide. These are only the latest outrages. We can certainly expect many more.
Will there be a united Western response? Despite the usual concerns about America’s treatment of its allies in the Trump era, U.S. partners have no choice but to stand with Washington against Beijing’s assaults on fundamental human rights. As the CCP rallies authoritarian regimes around its worldview at international organizations, liberal democracies catch a glimpse of how an emboldened CCP will wield its influence around the world. Fortunately, they’re getting their act together.