US and China spar over racism at United Nations

US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield recalled her own experiences with racism.
US ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield recalled her own experiences with racism.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The United States ambassador to the United Nations, who is black, clashed with her Chinese counterpart on Friday (March 19) when she described her own experience with racism as a challenge, but said for millions of people in countries like China and Myanmar it was deadly.

During a UN General Assembly meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: "Racism was and continues to be a daily challenge wherever we are. And for millions, it's more than a challenge. It's deadly."

"Like in Burma, where Rohingya and others have been oppressed, abused, and killed in staggering numbers. Or in China, where the government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang," she said, referring to the region in north-west China.

China's deputy UN Ambassador Dai Bing responded that Ms Thomas-Greenfield had "in an exceptional case admitted to her country's ignoble human rights record, but that does not give her country the licence to get on a high horse and tell other countries what to do".

The conflict underscored tensions between the world's two biggest economic powers a day after Washington and Beijing had their first high-level meeting since Mr Joe Biden became US president in January.

"If the US truly cared about human rights, they should address the deep-seated problems of racial discrimination, social injustice and police brutality, on their own soil," Mr Dai told the 193-member General Assembly.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield, who said she is a descendant of slaves, recalled her own experiences with racism such as working as a teenage babysitter when the child asked "if I was an n-word because her dad had used that word for me".

The police killing in May of Mr George Floyd in Minnesota and other black Americans elsewhere in the United States sparked demonstrations against racism and excessive use of force by law enforcement across the nation last summer.

"We have flaws. Deep, serious flaws. But we talk about them. We work to address them. And we press on, in hopes that we can leave the country better than we found it," said Ms Thomas-Greenfield, who also referred to attacks in Georgia that included six victims of Asian descent.

China has been widely condemned for repressing Uighur Muslims and other minorities at complexes in the remote Xinjiang region, which it describes as "vocational training centers" to stamp out extremism. It denies accusations of abuse.

Mr Dai said there was no genocide in Xinjiang.