Joe Biden may show more interest than Donald Trump in the body’s human-rights debates
When america withdrew from the un Human Rights Council in 2018, China expressed regret. No one bought it. The forum deals with a topic that is a huge potential embarrassment for China. The absence of the world’s most powerful democracy from its deliberations made it likelier that China’s abuses would escape censure. But with Joe Biden preparing to take over as America’s president, China fears trouble ahead. It is girding its loins in the council.
Evidence of this can be detected in a shadowy feud over who should lead the Geneva-based body. It involves an attempt by China—backed by Russia and Saudi Arabia—to nobble the presumed front-runner for control of the presidency, the tiny Pacific island nation of Fiji, and manoeuvre a country more to its liking into that position. (China and Russia were not on the council in 2020, but will be from January 1st.) Democratic members of the council, hoping that Mr Biden will soon send America to rejoin them, see this as an important battle. They are supporting Fiji.
The question of who leads the council may seem trifling. After all, it is the body’s 47 members, not its president, who set the agenda. And members have been loth to challenge China. The council has yet even to introduce a resolution, much less pass one, on China’s mass internment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang or its stripping of Hong Kong’s freedoms. The Trump administration pulled America out after failing to persuade the un to impose standards for membership of the council.