3. “Mutually beneficial cooperation” or “win-win cooperation”

Origins and use:

This concept has become a cornerstone of China’s modern foreign policy. It featured prominently during Xi Jinping’s first overseas trip – to Russia – as China’s president in March 2013. Addressing the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Xi spoke of the need to build a new type of international relations with “win-win cooperation” at its core. The phrase has since appeared in numerous speeches that Xi has made on foreign trips, including his first state visit to the United States in 2015 and in an address to the UN General Assembly the same year.


Implications for human rights:

China’s resolution on “mutually beneficial cooperation” seeks to recast international human rights law as a matter between states. The term suggests the joining of forces by like-minded governments to protect their own interests. Vaguely defined “cooperation” becomes the goal, rather than the means of achieving human rights protection. It is entirely unclear who the “beneficiaries” are, but the resolutions imply that it is the negotiating states, not people affected by human rights violations or by the “mutual cooperation”.

“Mutually beneficial cooperation” further ignores the responsibility of states to protect the rights of individuals and to cooperate with the international system and its mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights. It fails to spell out any consequences for countries that refuse to “cooperate”. It treats human rights as a subject for negotiation and compromise and emphasizes “dialogue” over accountability for human rights abuses.

It is a disturbing sign of Beijing’s growing influence on the UN human rights system that the “mutually beneficial cooperation” resolutions passed in 2020 and again in 2021 despite intensified international scrutiny over China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang and its crackdown on protests in Hong Kong in 2019. In fact, shortly after the 2020 resolution was passed, 50 human rights experts issued a joint statement expressing “alarm” over the repression of freedoms in China, while pointing out that the Chinese government has “almost always” rejected criticism of its human rights record and punished activists that cooperate with the UN.