Human rights in Brussels and in Beijing: a more balanced approach needed

12th EU-China Business Summit ‘Strengthening the pillars of global trade and investment’
Date: 02/06/2017 Location: Brussels – Palais d’Egmont
© European Union , Source: EC – Audiovisual Service Photo: Etienne Ansotte

At the last United Nations Human Rights Council meeting, which was held in Geneva earlier this month, Greece shocked the world by objecting a common EU statement regarding the condemnation of  human rights violations in China. EU diplomats were not happy about that as it was the first time that the EU did not agree on making common statements on human rights level. Furthermore, several human rights organizations stressed that the EU should quit the human rights dialogue with China and come back to the discussions table only when proven progress has been realized.

However, Human Rights Watch mentioned that Greece’s veto was not the last case during last month where the EU does not show a unanimous position vis-a-vis human rights in China. More in detail, Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said: “On three occasions over three weeks the EU demonstrated no intention, compassion, or strategic vision to stem the tide of human rights abuses in China”.

The Greek veto

The Greek government claims that the most effective way to defend human rights is only by continuing the ongoing discussions with China. More specifically, a Greek foreign ministry spokesperson stated on the issue: “We acted from a position of principle. There is an upcoming dialogue between the EU and China on human rights and we think that could be a more efficient and constructive way of delivering better results.” The Greek spokesperson also argued that there were other countries too to express similar concerns with Greece. Hungary was amongst the EU member states to have the same view but withdrew its objections just before the beginning of the Human Rights Council meeting at the UN.

On the other hand, the Chinese side welcomed Greece´s stance on the issue, stating that every country should be free to decide on national issues without any external intervention. More specifically, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “We express appreciation to the relevant EU country for upholding the correct position. It opposed the politicalization of human rights issues and the interference of human rights issues in the internal affairs and judicial sovereignty of other countries”.

EU-China human rights dialogue

On another note, the 35th round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue took place in Brussels last week on 22-23 June. During that meeting, the situation for civil and political rights in China was discussed together with the need to implement recommendations from international bodies.

According to the EU, there are several Chinese human rights defenders and lawyers who have been under detention and conviction in China. What is more, issues about limitations on expression of freedom and cases of allegations of torture were also raised by Brussels. Pier Antonio Panzeri, Chair of the EP Human Rights Subcommittee, stated: “EU-China Human Rights Dialogue should be strengthened and sharpened. The European Parliament remains committed to a meaningful debate with China on Human Rights.”

It must be mentioned here that China as every nation in the world has its own special characteristics and therefore a more balanced approach and cooperation is needed through constructive dialogue.

EU-China relations

EU and China are having a most fruitful relationship in trade, investment and climate change. The second largest economy in the world is supporting the EU in all the above sectors. It is thus difficult for the EU to directly oppose China at the moment when the latter invests a great amount of money in the EU and is ready to take the place of the US in the fight against climate change. What will be EU’s stance at the next UN Human Rights Council meeting?

All in all, it seems that there is still much work to be done on the matter. Both the EU and China have their own specifications and therefore a more balanced approach is very much needed. It remains to be seen now whether the dialogue between  EU and China as regards human rights will be fruitful and successful and how this will influence the general cooperation between these two important global economies.

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