China, Russia must not use U.N. to legitimize their repressive regimes

China and Russia, which continue to maintain authoritarian regimes, have been using the United Nations to ratchet up their opposition to democracies. They must not be allowed to use what should be a forum for international cooperation as a tool to justify their actions.

The leaders of China and Russia have decided to extend their bilateral Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, which this month marked the 20th anniversary of its signing. A joint statement described the current relations between the two countries as having reached “the highest level in their history,” and called for expanded cooperation in new fields, including space development, nuclear power and the Northern Sea Route.

China and Russia share a mutual distrust rooted in historical conflict. Nevertheless, the two countries have been trumpeting their close cooperation, apparently with the aim of countering the United States and European countries that have been pressuring them with the threat of sanctions over their coercive military actions and suppression of human rights.

Beijing and Moscow condemn these moves as the “politicization of the international human rights agenda” and “the use of human rights issues as a tool to interfere in internal affairs.” The joint statement also asserts the countries’ “rejection of the use of unilateral coercive measures that contravene the principles of international law and the U.N. Charter,” emphasizing the United Nations as a shield to thwart the United States and European countries.

Within the United Nations, an increasing number of countries are aligning with China and Russia. North Korea, Syria and Belarus are among those countries with appalling human rights records that have joined a coalition formed on the pretext of respecting the U.N. Charter.

At a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in June, 44 nations, including Japan, the United States and European countries, expressed concerns over China’s human rights issues, while 64 countries and regions, including Russia, defended China.

Leaders of developing and emerging nations, which make up the majority of U.N. member states, tend to oppose developed countries’ interference in their domestic affairs and lean toward China because it offers economic assistance without any preconditions — such as improving human rights.

It is clear that China and Russia are taking advantage of these circumstances at the United Nations to justify their authoritarian regimes in an attempt to reorganize the international order that has revolved around democratic countries such as the United States.

What they claim to be their emphasis on the United Nations is merely a convenient interpretation of the principle of respect for sovereignty named in the U.N. Charter. The respect that the charter stipulates for human rights and fundamental freedoms is in direct opposition to the values of China and Russia.

If Beijing and Moscow take the lead in the United Nations, the international body’s credo of promoting world peace and improving human rights will be damaged, and its role will likely change.

The effectiveness of the U.N. Security Council is already in decline. Due to opposition from China and Russia, which are veto-wielding permanent members, the Security Council is yet to implement any measures, such as imposing sanctions, related to the military coup in Myanmar and that nation’s suppression of human rights.

The growing influence of China and Russia at the United Nations is largely due to the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, which disregarded international organizations and multilateral diplomacy. The current administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, which advocates international cooperation, must step up its efforts to enhance the significance of the United Nation’s presence, via cooperation with Japan and Europe.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 19, 2021.