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The Nefarious Role of Russia and China

Just as nature abhors a vacuum, so governments fill leadership voids.  In this case, Russia and China have been all too eager to assert themselves in the absence of firm Western leadership on human rights, but their interventions have been anything but helpful.  Uzbekistan illustrates the problem.  Less than two weeks after the Uzbekistan government’s massacre of protestors in Andijan in May, China welcomed Uzbek President Karimov to Beijing for a state visit, complete with a 21-gun salute.  Not to be outdone, in November, just as Uzbekistan was completing a show trial to supposedly demonstrate that its troops never committed a massacre in Andijan, Russia invited Karimov to Moscow to initial a mutual-defense pact.  In July, the secretary general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes China, Russia, and several Central Asian countries, blamed the Andijan massacre on “terrorists” rather than Uzbekistan’s own security forces, while Presidents Putin and Hu announced billion dollar economic packages for Uzbekistan. 

Russia has been playing a similar role throughout the former Soviet Union.  Fearful of the democratic currents that led to the overthrow of once-allied governments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, Russia threw its active support behind such abusive partners as Presidents Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus and Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan.  For example, Russia maintained that the fraudulent November 2004 presidential election in Ukraine was free and fair, with Putin calling then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich to congratulate him on his “victory” soon after the voting ended.  Following the November 2005 parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan, which were said to be won by Aliev’s party, President Putin described them as “successful” even though the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (“OSCE”) found that the elections failed to meet international standards for democratic elections. 

Russia also has tried to diminish the positive influence of the OSCE, which has played a central role in pressing for free and fair elections throughout the former Soviet Union, in favor of a greater emphasis on security issues.  Russia has suggested that such OSCE “human dimension” operations as the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Office of the High Commissioner for National Minorities should be dealt with by “consensus” among member states, which would empower Moscow to veto any initiative it did not like.  Russia also threatened in October to use a procedural maneuver that effectively would halt rapid progress toward a credible U.N. Human Rights Council to replace the discredited U.N. Commission on Human Rights. 

As for China, its economic growth and quest for natural resources combined with its stated policy of “non-interference in domestic affairs” led to its bolstering of corrupt and repressive regimes in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, to the disadvantage of the people of these regions.  Willing to do business with anyone, the Chinese government threw an economic lifeline to such highly abusive governments as those of Sudan and Zimbabwe.  In purchasing oil and making massive oil-backed loans, Beijing also closed its eyes to corruption on the part of unaccountable governments such as Angola.  This massive infusion of cash helped Angola resist anti-corruption measures sought by the International Monetary Fund.  China provided financial and military support to the Sudanese government even as it was engaged in massive ethnic cleansing in Darfur, while Beijing successfully watered down U.N. Security Council resolutions threatening sanctions against Khartoum for its Darfur atrocities.  The most deprived people of Africa suffered further because Beijing, in its dealings with their governments, showed such indifference to their plight.

Increasingly China is a donor as well, but without the concomitant pressure to respect human rights that, at least theoretically, accompanies Western aid.  As President Hu put it: “Providing African countries with aid without any political strings… is an important part of China’s policy towards Africa.” China’s view that human rights conditions constitute unjustified political interference significantly reduces the chance that its aid will benefit those people who need it most.  

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2006