On Monday, March 17, Chen Chuandong, a counsellor at China's mission in Geneva, publicly rejected allegations of North Korean human rights abuses. In his speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, he called the allegations "divorced from reality."
"The inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner," Chen said.
Chen's comments came as a response to a U.N. report that exposed crimes against humanity perpetrated by Kim Jung-un's totalitarian regime in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea against its people. The report detailed the lives of over 120,000 innocent civilians in North Korea who have been forced to eat rodents and grass in order to save themselves from the starvation and mistreatment that in the past three decades have killed between 200,000 and 3 million people.
China's flat out denial of the abuses in North Korea is not surprising.
First, the U.N. report that exposed North Korea also attacked China. It discussed the Chinese government's inhumane policy of sending North Korean refugees back to North Korea where they face severe repercussions and are often killed.
Second, China has long been a supporter of North Korea. As North Korea's largest trading partner, China has helped keep the North Korean economy afloat amidst international sanctions for decades by providing North Korea with more than 42 percent of its imports. Today, that number could be as high as 70 percent according to recent data. Chinese analyst, Shi Yinhong has characterized the Chinese-North Korean relationship as one characterized by "largely unconditional political support."
Third, China is itself a human rights abuser and has attacked political dissidents and persecuted minority groups including its Falun Gong and Uyghur minority populations.
Amnesty International wrote in its analysis on China that:
500,000 people are currently enduring punitive detention without charge or trial, and millions are unable to access the legal system to seek redress for their grievances. Harassment, surveillance, house arrest, and imprisonment of human rights defenders are on the rise, and censorship of the Internet and other media has grown.
By denying allegations of North Korean human rights violations and refuting the U.N.'s February report, China sought to discredit the U.N. Human Rights Council just days before the U.N. was scheduled to report on human rights abuses in China.
China's decision to support North Korea, however, has backfired.
Since Chen Chuandong's statement Monday morning, UN leaders have already begun making inquiries into China's human rights abuses. Hu Jia, a human rights activist in Beijing, called the UN "weak on human rights" and pointed out that China has a larger persecuted population than does North Korea. Drawing attention to its own human rights abuses by denying North Korea's has led to backlash and China paid the price on Wednesday March 19 when the U.N. brought attention to human rights abuses in China.
While China tries to protect the North Korean government, human rights activists, the European Union and United Nations leaders are now calling for the referral of North Korea's human rights abuses to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
"The EU believes that it is imperative that there be no impunity for those responsible for human rights violations,'' EU representative to the UN in Geneva, Mariangela Zappia, told the U.N. Council for Human Rights.
This seems increasingly unlikely. China will use its veto in the UN Security Council to reject any attempts to refer North Korean human rights cases to the ICC. In fact, as a member of the Human Rights Council, it is within China's power to stop the ICC resolution from ever reaching New York.
The inability of the U.N. and ICC to stop the world's worst human rights abusers is disturbing. International courts once prosecuted Nazi war criminals and brought justice to those who persecuted millions. Today, however, they are unable to stop the perpetrators of abuses that have been compared to "the scourges of Nazism, apartheid, [and]the Khmer Rouge."
What's even more disturbing is China's insistence on propping up our enemies. Outside of North Korea, China has supported our enemies in Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan.
In 2013, The Diplomat found that China purchases roughly 50 percent of Iranian oil, undermining US sanctions and enriching a country that is described by the US State Department as the "world's largest State sponsor of terrorism." In the past few years alone, China has increased its imports from Iran by 49 percent according to the Financial Times.
Even more egregiously, the RAND Corporation finds that "China has [directly]assisted in the development of Iran's nuclear program" by: providing Iran with various types of critical nuclear technology, assisting Iran in uranium exploration and mining, helping Iran master the uses of lasers for uranium enrichment and training Iranian technicians and nuclear engineers.
In Africa, Joel E. Staff of The Diplomat finds that China is supplying 90 percent of Sudan's small arms purchases, and has for a decade helped Sudan build its own small arms and ammunition factories. These weapons were used to carry out the genocide in Darfur and spur regional conflict and instability.
Finally, since the summer of 2007, US officials have expressed more concern over China origin arms that have been found in the conflict involving US forces in Afghanistan.
As China's foreign policy increasingly comes into conflict with that of the United States and as the U.N. becomes increasingly powerless, the United States must pursue foreign policy actions outside of the U.N. Security Council in order to avoid conflict while still addressing the human rights abuses in North Korea.
First, we should impose a crippling new regimen of sanctions against North Korea. Second, we should engage in a renewed effort to expose and and embarrass Kim Jung-un's totalitarian regime for its crimes against humanity. This way, the United States can push North Korea to release its grip from around the necks of its innocent people.