Many were hoping for Europe to publicly condemn the persecution of religious minorities by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the EU-China Summit held in Brussels on the 9th of April, 2019. It is broadly known that within China there have been many recorded cases of human rights abuses towards over 1 million Uyghurs, Tibetans, Kazakhs, and practitioners of Falun Gong. However, when Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met European Commission President, Jean Claude Juncker, and European Union Council President, Donald Tusk, the European Council did not come forth with their concerns, although accusations have come from the European Parliament.
The European Parliament, spoke out against the atrocities and China’s continued disregard for the rights of its religious minorities. Many issues have been raised by international and European NGOs in recent years, and pressure is mounting for Europe to act.
In 2018, many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) spoke out against the re-education camps. A group of cross party MEPS, Ramon Tremosa i Balcells, Fabio Massimo Castaldo, Mark Demesmaeker, Csaba Sógor, Petras Auštrevičius and, László Tőkés wrote to the EU Commission ( E-004540/2018) on the deteriorating situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They said that “the situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has continued to deteriorate, as credible reports indicate that the internment camp network arbitrarily detaining an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic Turkic peoples has continued to expand. The camps constitute a massive effort to forcibly culturally assimilate an entire ethnic group and erode the unique Uyghur identity.”
In a recent meeting on re-education camps held in the European Parliament, MEP Thomas Mann said “we need to call camps what they are – internment camps to wipe out culture of an entire community”. Vanessa Frangville, Chinese Studies at ULB University in Brussels also in attendance, explained how China has gone from the complete denial of the existence of the camps in 2018 to now acknowledging and embracing the camps existence. The CCP has rebranded them as training camps that can be replicated in other countries, and highlighted how they help millions to find jobs through vocational training towards reintegration into Chinese society.
Hence, in 2018, the European Parliament issued an Urgency Resolution on Mass arbitrary detention of Uyghurs and Kazakhs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and at its plenary in Strasbourg, France, on 18th April 2019, issued a further urgent resolution on China, notably the situation of religious and ethnic minorities
The resolution listed a host of cases where the CCP is currently persecuting and infringing on their religious freedoms and human rights. This was followed by a list of international Conventions to which China has ratified, yet have continued to violate. The European Parliament specifically noted that “since President Xi Jinping assumed power in March 2013, the human rights situation in China has continued to deteriorate, with the government stepping up its hostility towards peaceful dissent, the freedoms of expression and religion, and the rule of law; whereas the Chinese authorities have detained and prosecuted hundreds of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists;”. It went on to expresses “whereas the situation in Xinjiang, where 10 million Muslim Uyghurs and ethnic Kazakhs live, has rapidly deteriorated, as stability and the control of Xinjiang has been elevated to a top priority of the Chinese authorities, driven by both periodic terrorist attacks in, or allegedly connected to, Xinjiang by Uyghurs and the strategic location of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region for the Belt and Road Initiative; whereas there is information that the Xinjiang camp system has expanded into other parts of China;”.
The resolution again expressed concern over the “tens of thousands to a million Uyghurs” forcibly undergoing ‘political re-education without any due process, and for indeterminate periods. This represents arbitrary detention, being carried out under the guise of countering terrorism. However, in the Xinjiang province, there remain strict restrictions on religious practices and suppression the Uyghur language and culture.
Furthermore, the resolution focused on the long standing concerns of Tibet, noting that “the situation in Tibet has deteriorated over the past few years, in spite of economic growth and infrastructure development, with the Chinese Government curtailing a wide range of human rights under the pretext of security and stability, and engaging in relentless attacks against Tibetan identity and culture;”
MEPs expressed deep concern over the practices of this increasingly repressive regime. Admonishing the establishment of further restraints on constitutionally guaranteed rights, along with the freedom of cultural and religious expression, freedom of speech, and right to peaceful assembly and association of certain groups, particularly Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Tibetans, Falun Gong and Christians. They demanded that the Chinese government immediately end the practice of arbitrary detention and recognise and respect fundamental freedoms, as well as immediately close all detention centres, and unconditionally releasing all detained individuals.
The resolution even addressed the lack of action from the European Commission in respect of the joint statement issued after the 21st EU-China Summit. It criticised the reaffirmation by the EU and China that all human rights are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and interrelated, while still not showing proportionate urgency over current human rights violations. The resolution “takes the view that if and when EU-China summit language is weak on human rights, the Council, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission should decline to include it at all and issue a separate communication on the topic with a meaningful assessment both of the situation and why stronger language could not be agreed”.
The European Parliament is correct in highlighting the weakness of the European Commission and European External Action Service (EEAS). From the 11th to 13th January 2019, an EEAS team of three officials visited Xinjiang (Urumqi and Kashgar), with the agreement and facilitation of the central and provincial Chinese authorities. According to the EEAS, they were granted extensive supervised access to various sites which provided additional insight into the situation in Xinjiang and China’s position – “but did not invalidate the EU’s concerns regarding the human rights situation in Xinjiang”.
If, as the Commission states, its concerns are not being alleviated, then it must be time to incorporate the recommendation of the European Parliament’s resolution and consider adopting targeted sanctions against officials responsible for the crackdown in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. At the same time, all exports and technology transfers of goods and services that are being used by China to extend and improve its cyber surveillance and predictive profiling must be ceased to prevent further persecution of China’s religious minorities.