EU Ramps Up Human Rights Pressure on China

EU Ramps Up Human Rights Pressure on China

The EU’s incoming foreign policy chief, Spain’s Josep Borrell, has pledged to push the bloc to toughen its stance on China’s treatment of its minority Uyghur population, citing legislation that would punish officials involved in the mass detention of Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. 

“Human rights are universal. Wherever they are threatened, the EU will always be there to uphold, stand up and take action for human rights,” Borrell declared on Twitter this week, “We will continue supporting those who fight for human rights, all around the world.” 

Borrell’s comments coincided with European Parliament’s awarding of the top human rights Sakharov Prize to an Uyghur intellectual, currently thought to be serving a life sentence in China. Ilham Tohti’s daughter, Jewher, accepted the award on his behalf, saying she did not even know if her father was still alive. 

“The last time I heard about my father was 2017, that was also the last time a family visit was granted to my father,” Jewher told French media, “that was also the last time my family saw him.”

The European Parliament praised the former economics professor as a “voice of moderation and reconciliation,” while Beijing slammed Tohti as a “terrorist.” 

“We hope that relevant parties can respect China’s internal affairs and judicial sovereignty, and not help publicise the unworthy cause of a terrorist,” said China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang in response to the award. 

Tohti ran the website UighurOnline, an online commentary about social issues published in both Uighur and Chinese. It gained prominence as a moderate voice that shone a light on escalating ethnic tensions in west China. 

“My father created a website to create a platform for Uighurs, Chinese and other minority people to post articles and their understanding freely on the website and join discussion forums,” Jewher said, denying charges of separatism from the Chinese government. 

Two Worlds – “Urumchi Genocide” by Uyghur Turkistan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


China has faced a rising tide of international criticism over its establishment of a sprawling network of detention camps in its western Xinjiang region, into which rights groups say more than one million Uyghur, and people of other Muslim ethnic minorities, have been rounded up.

The camps are just the latest addition to an escalating campaign aimed at homogenising minority groups within China’s borders, including expansive technology surveillance and certifiable espionage from Han families.

Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill demanding President Trump take action against Beijing over the “political re-education camps,” including sanctions on Chinese officials and a ban on the sale of US-goods to state agents in Xinjiang. 

Meanwhile, European lawmakers appear increasingly comfortable in taking Beijing to task. Last month, Swedish Culture Minister Amanda Lind awarded the PEN’s Tucholsky prize to Hong Kong dissident Gui Minhai in open defiance of threats of “counter measures” from Beijing. 

Borrell’s calls for action have been echoed by the European People’s Party, the biggest in the European Parliament. “None of the EU member states should enjoy the fruits of [forced labour in Xinjiang],” said Michael Gahler, the party’s point man on foreign affairs. Gahler has called for the use of existing instruments, such as anti-dumping law, to stop the import of products tied to China’s camps.

“Boy” by Uyghur Turkistan is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Joanna Eva is a London-based analyst and contributor with a range of clients in the risk consulting industry. She specializes in Asian political and economic analysis, having lived and travelled extensively in the region for close to a decade. She holds a Master of Law from the University of New South Wales and received her Bachelor of International Studies from the University of Sydney. She is proficient in English and Mandarin Chinese.

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