ESPITE ITS veto-wielding power in the United Nations, China has long been reluctant to stick its neck out. It has been 20 years since it last stood alone in exercising that right. But in the UN’s backrooms, the country’s diplomats are showing greater willingness to flex muscle, and their Western counterparts to fight back. Not since the cold war has the organisation become such a battleground for competing visions of the international order.
A struggle in October over China’s mass internment of Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic minority, suggests how intense the fight has become. It involved Britain taking an unusual leading role in condemning China’s human-rights record. The British representative at the UN, Karen Pierce, issued a statement, signed by 22 other countries including America, calling for unfettered UN access to the prison camps in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang. A diplomatic brawl ensued. Chinese diplomats persuaded dozens of authoritarian countries, including mostly Muslim ones in the Middle East, to sign a counter-statement praising China’s actions in Xinjiang as an enlightened effort to fight terrorism and eradicate religious extremism.