Over the past year, the United States and its Western allies have taken the reins of China’s Muslim ethnic minorities.
Proudly praising its commitment to promoting human rights, the Biden administration has openly accused Beijing of committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, where Uyghur Muslims have long been the target of systematic persecution by the Chinese authorities.
Even relatively friendly Western countries like New Zealand, which is courting large-scale investment from China, have lambasted Beijing’s “serious human rights violations against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.” Germany, one of China’s main trading partners, has, for its part, mobilized a firm resolution at the United Nations, which called on Beijing to grant international investigators “immediate, meaningful and unhindered access” to Xinjiang.
In an unprecedented move, the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union have also imposed coordinated sanctions against senior Chinese officials suspected of overseeing the persecution of Muslim minority groups in the country. This went hand in hand with a Western boycott of Chinese products allegedly using textile materials from forced labor camps in Xinjiang.
But the latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East, in which 11 days of Israeli bombing left hundreds of civilians in Gaza, exposed the scarcity of the West’s claims to moral ascendancy. And China has exploited the West’s brazen hypocrisy to deflect blame for its own abuses and, ironically enough, even position itself as a defender of the Palestinian people and an ally of the Muslim world.
In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden said that “no responsible American president can remain silent when basic human rights are so flagrantly violated” anywhere in the world. He vowed that “America will not back down from our commitments – our commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms and to our allies.”
True to his words, Biden has relentlessly mobilized his fellow Democratic allies and strategic partners, from Europe to India and Japan, to challenge authoritarian superpowers such as China. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, Biden has placed the defense of democratic values and human rights at the heart of his foreign policy.
But while the United States and its Western allies have enthusiastically promoted human rights to pressure and criticize their authoritarian rivals, they have taken a very different stand when their own allies have committed abuses, including crimes. potential war.
For example, the United States for years supported the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen, which killed some 130,000 people and sparked one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Major European powers such as the UK and France are still among the top exporters of advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia.
While the Biden administration has canceled its military support for Riyadh, no concerted effort has been made to ensure accountability for widespread human rights violations committed during the conflict.
During the first week of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip in May, the US president also supported his ally. It wasn’t until May 15, when Israeli forces targeted a high-rise building in Gaza housing international media outlets, including Al Jazeera, that Biden began to talk about the need for an immediate ceasefire. .
And even this belated call for a cessation of hostilities was apparently not a principled human rights stance, but a response to growing domestic pressure, especially from fellow Democrats in Congress.
Influential progressive lawmakers such as Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar have openly criticized Israel’s “apartheid” practices and the disproportionate use of violence against targets inhabited by civilians in Gaza. Gregory Meeks, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, called for an emergency meeting on the crisis, while Senator Bernie Sanders decided to block the sale of precision-guided weapons by states -United with Israel.
What proved crucial to Biden’s political calculation, however, was the strong condemnation of Israel’s actions by more moderate Democrats. Veteran Senator Bob Mendez, for example, has publicly stated that he is “deeply disturbed by reports of Israeli military actions that have resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as the Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media. “.
Eventually, Biden hailed the May 20 ceasefire negotiated by Egypt between Israel and Hamas as a triumph of “quiet diplomacy” and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, visited the region. and announced a package of development assistance to Palestine, including “” for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Gaza.
However, it is far from clear whether the Biden administration is prepared to address the root causes of the conflict or to recognize the urgent need for a just peace. On the contrary, Biden has repeatedly stressed his categorical support for Israel. “No change at all,” Biden said recently when asked about his commitment to “the security of Israel.” “Until the region says unequivocally, that they recognize Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace,” he added, indicating that ‘There will be no significant change in the US stance towards the conflict under his leadership.
While the ceasefire is a welcome reprieve, it came too little, too late for 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, who were killed in Israel’s relentless 11-day aerial bombardment of Gaza. The resulting damage to critical infrastructure, including hospitals and the Strip’s only COVID-19 testing lab, also sparked another massive humanitarian crisis in the besieged territory.
The West’s belated and hesitant response to the crisis has provided China with a strategic opening. Throughout the early days of the violent escalation, as the West only issued messages of support for Israel, China, as the rotating president of the United Nations Security Council, asked several times an immediate ceasefire and took a much more critical stance towards Israel.
In a four-point proposal, the Asian power called for “an end to violence” as a “top priority”, calling “all parties, especially Israel …[to] show restraint and immediately stop hostilities ”.
When the United States blocked Beijing’s decision to shield Israel from criticism, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused Washington of “obstruction” and said the Western power must “take responsibility, take a stand. fair and support the [UN] Security Council to play its role in easing tensions ”.
As the Israeli bombing of Gaza entered its second week, the Chinese diplomat openly declared his country’s commitment to help bring “justice and fairness” to the Palestinians, calling on Israel to “show restraint” and “put end to violence, threats and provocations ”. against Muslims, and maintain and respect the historic status quo of the holy places in Jerusalem ”.
As a result, Beijing has positioned itself as a more neutral, if not sympathetic, superpower towards Muslim nations at a time when competition between the United States and China is intensifying across the Middle East and beyond.
Despite burgeoning trade and technological ties with Israel, China has long positioned itself as an advocate for the Palestinian people on the international stage.
In 2018, Vice President Wang Qishan visited the occupied Palestinian territories, where he advocated for a bilateral free trade agreement. That year, Chinese President Xi Jinping also unconditionally offered $ 15.5 million in development assistance, just as the United States significantly cut funding to United Nations agencies helping Palestinian refugees. Beijing’s envoy to the UN said last year, “China is a sincere friend of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people can always count on China’s support for their just cause and their legitimate national rights. Following the latest ceasefire, China immediately pledged $ 1 million in emergency aid as well as 200,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines to residents of Gaza.
Given the interfaith resonance of the Palestinian struggle, China’s constant display of solidarity with the Palestinian people has enabled it to cultivate warm ties with the Sunni and Shia majority nations in the region.
This is strategically important in light of China’s heavy dependence on hydrocarbon imports from the Middle East as well as the region’s central place in its Belt and Road initiative to develop China. transcontinental infrastructure.
Ultimately, the West’s hypocritical indifference to widespread human rights violations by its allies as well as the suffering of millions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories not only allowed China to distract its attention. own mistreatment of Muslim minorities at home, but also paved the way for enhancing its image as a superpower concerned with the issues that matter most to the Muslim world.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.