IN what seems like a distinct return to Cold War rhetoric, the Western bloc has issued back-to-back statements targeting China from the platform of the Group of Seven and Nato. Beijing, meanwhile, has replied to the West in the same coin. G7 leaders meeting in the UK lambasted the People’s Republic for what they termed excesses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, while calling for “peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing is particularly sensitive about all three areas and considers criticism in these issues as meddling in its internal affairs. The G7 also called for a new investigation into Covid-19’s origins. Meanwhile, at the Nato summit in Belgium, the military grouping seemed even more direct when it criticised China’s martial activities. Though the Nato secretary general said he did not want a new cold war with China, the summit communiqué stated that Beijing poses “systematic challenges to the rules-based international order and to ... Alliance security”. On the other hand, China has termed the G7 statement “baseless accusations” while Nato’s concerns were akin to “slandering China’s peaceful development”.

Of course, there are genuine concerns about reported human rights abuses in Xinjiang, targeting the Uighur Muslim community, as well as crackdowns against pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. But the problem with groupings like the G7 and Nato is that they choose to pillory geopolitical rivals, while keeping silent about friends and partners. For example, Israel’s frequent butchery of defenceless Palestinian civilians, as well the authoritarian tendencies of several Middle Eastern kings and potentates escape censure by the Western bloc, simply because these actors are allied with the West. If respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are the cornerstones of foreign policy — as they should be — then friends and foes must be treated the same on these counts. Moreover, increasing confrontational rhetoric against states like China and Russia is dangerous and risks igniting renewed conflict. The world order needs stability and mutual respect, not more confrontation and sabre-rattling.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2021

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