European Views

EU calls for international access to Uyghur province

Following the disclosure of documents on the Chinese re-education camps for the Muslim Uighurs, the EU is now addressing the issue. The new Commission President seeks to talk to Beijing on her first day of work.

In lights of the news of secret government documents on the systematic repression, mass internment and surveillance of Uighurs in northwestern China, the European Union seeks to intervene. EU Commission President von der Leyen is planning a telephone conversation with the Chinese government on her first day of work, December 1.

A visit to China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is also scheduled in Brussels in mid-December. In addition, the ambassadors representing the EU Member States in Beijing have already been invited to visit the province of Xinjiang, where the majority of the Uyghur Muslims live, at the beginning of 2020.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, David McAllister meanwhile announced that “the European Parliament will discuss the situation of the Uighurs in the next plenary meeting from 16 to 19 December”.

McAllister also called for EU foreign ministers to put the situation of the Uighurs on the agenda at their next meeting on 9 December. “In order to fully assess the circumstances on the ground, United Nations representatives must be given immediate, unimpeded access to the Chinese province of Xinjiang,” the committee chief continued.

An estimated ten million Uighurs live in China. They are ethnically related to the Turks and feel economically, politically and culturally oppressed by the ruling Han Chinese. The Beijing government accuses Uighur groups of separatism and terrorism.

The crackdown on the ethnic group has worsened under China’s party leader Xi Jinping. For Europeans, the issue of human rights in China is extremely sensitive, due to close economic links with the country.

In a strategy paper issued in March, the European Commission is for the first-time declaring China a “system rival” and “economic competitor”. The future dealings with China must be “pragmatic” and “flexible”, the paper says, which also deals with a “principled defense of interests and values”.

With the agenda approved by the Member States, the EU is committed to enhanced cooperation with China “to share responsibility in the three pillars of the United Nations, human rights, peace and security, and development”.

China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner. In 2017, the EU exported goods and services worth nearly € 200 billion, while imports even amounted to € 375 billion.