European Parliament Condemns “Crimes Against Humanity” in Xinjiang, Germany Scrutinizes Investments in China

Following the release of the Xinjiang Police Files and UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s “failed” visit to Xinjiang, Europe has called for action to address the human rights abuses in the region. While governments are often slow to react, public outrage continues to pile up and concrete measures are slowly materializing. In a strong show of unity on Thursday, the European Parliament (EP) voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution condemning the “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang. While the resolution is non-binding, it is the EP’s strongest statement yet on Xinjiang and demonstrates Europe’s growing resolve to hold the Chinese government accountable. Finbarr Bermingham at the South China Morning Post reported on the adoption and text of the EP’s resolution:   

Lawmakers voted 513 in favour of a resolution in a vote that took place in Strasbourg, France. There were 14 abstentions and one vote against.

[…] The text said “credible evidence about birth prevention measures and the separation of Uygur children from their families amount to crimes against humanity and serious risk of genocide”.

[…] Wednesday’s parliamentary session saw member after member line up to condemn the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang and call for the EU to renew its focus on human rights and recalibrate its economic ties with China.

“Never again’ has failed,” said the European People’s Party’s David Lega, referring to the slogan often used in relation to the Holocaust to describe efforts to prevent future human rights atrocities. [Source]

The resolution also calls on the EU to “swiftly adopt additional sanctions targeting high-ranking Chinese officials, such as Chen Quanguo, Zhao Kezhi, Guo Shengkun and Hu Lianhe,” who have been involved in the human rights violations in Xinjiang. It also calls on China to release Uyghur scholar and 2019 Sakharov Prize Laureate Ilham Tohti, and to provide unrestricted access to Xinjiang for UN and EU special representatives. The resolution “deplored” the Chinese government’s limitations on Bachelet’s access during her recent visit to Xinjiang, and in a rare criticism, it stated that the EU “regrets the fact that UN Human Rights Commissioner Bachelet failed to clearly hold the Chinese Government accountable.” 

The resolution was passed alongside another calling for the creation of a new trade instrument to ban products made by forced labor. While this second resolution does not explicitly single out China in its text, it is widely seen as targeting well-documented Uyghur forced labor in Xinjiang. In an op-ed in France’s Le Monde this week, the authors of the resolution made a passionate call for Europe to finally ban goods produced by Uyghur forced labor from European markets

A crime against humanity has been penetrating our cupboards and our stores over the past five years: the subjugation of the Uyghurs by the Chinese Communist Party regime. Just a few days ago, the hacking of Xinjiang police computers allowed us to grasp the systematic nature and extent of the repression that is falling on these martyred people.

The closed door imposed by Beijing has been breached and we now know the names and faces of the victims, the orders and practices of the executioners. And we know that hundreds of thousands of human beings are condemned to forced labor to produce goods that are then exported to Europe. We have the list of Chinese suppliers, stakeholders in the enslavement of a people, and the European multinationals that benefit from it. These facts are documented, established, proven. It is time for us to act and to ban these products of slavery from the European market. [French]

The German government in particular is grappling with the harmful aspects of its economic entanglement with China. Since Chancellor Olaf Scholtz condemned the ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang two weeks ago, his government has declared its intent to break away from economic dependence on China and to restrict companies’ investments in Xinjiang. Noting that existing EU sanctions on China for human rights abuses in Xinjiang “must play a role for us,” Scholtz added: “Many companies have to face it—namely that in the past they often violated against what they had learned in their business administration studies at university at the beginning: that you do not to put all your eggs in one basket.” Combined with supply chain issues, these human rights abuses have forced Berlin to re-evaluate its economic ties with Beijing.

These shifts have reverberated throughout German media. Last week in Die Zeit, Matthias Nass wrote a column titled “Germany’s Farewell to the Chinese Dream,” in which he described how “Germany has made itself too dependent on China.” This week, Der Spiegel discussed how Germany’s traditional “change through trade” policy was “a fallacy,” and how businesses need to change how they engage with China. Noah Barkin wrote in his “Watching China in Europe” June 2022 newsletter that the German government has had enough, and its emerging China policy will shape how Europe chooses to confront Chinese human rights abuses

I have always believed that Europe’s quest for a common, more clear-eyed policy toward China begins and ends with Germany—the country with the most to lose from a rupture with Beijing. As long as Berlin is wavering, the broader European effort to end an era of diplomatic naivety in relation to China will rest on shaky ground. If Germany charts a clear path forward, however, other countries in Europe will follow. 

[…] Scholz’s caution notwithstanding, the ball is moving in Berlin. And it is moving fast. Lost somewhat in the news flurry over the past week were two developments that underscore this. The first was a decision by Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck to reject an application from Volkswagen for government investment guarantees tied to projects in China. The carmaker has operated a factory in China’s western region of Xinjiang since 2013 and has vigorously defended its presence there despite evidence of horrific human rights abuses targeting the Uyghur population. […] Now the government is saying enough is enough. Habeck’s decision, which he linked directly to human rights concerns, is a signal to all German companies operating in China that a new era of closer political scrutiny is dawning. […] For Germany, whose political establishment is not accustomed to pushing back against powerful business interests, this is a big step. And it may be just a taste of what is to come. [Source]

In an interview this week with The Wire: China, MERICS president Mikko Huotari described Germany’s “capacity to act” and the lessons the EU has internalized as it attempts to form a unified China policy

Overall, there is a greater cautiousness, a greater realization that China is a difficult partner, that systemic rivalry with China is a key factor; and a recognition that despite the fact that we will need to cooperate with China, it needs to be more conditional on the European side. And that economic competition is a growing feature, not only in China, and in Europe, but also in third-party markets. 

So the consensus is quite big. The responses will differ from country to country. But on the Brussels level, what it leads to is the fact that we don’t have a cooperation agenda with China, we have an upgrading of the defensive toolbox, and we have a continued interest in working with partners around China as the dominant mode of doing China policy, which is quite remarkable. I tend to be an optimist about EU-China relations and the capacity of the European Union to act, despite pretty significant divergences. [Source]

Meanwhile, human rights and civil society groups are still fuming over Michelle Bachelet’s handling of her official visit to Xinjiang. Uyghur human rights groups have called on Bachelet to immediately release her long-overdue UN report on the abuses in Xinjiang, and dozens of NGOs have called on her to resign. This week, as Rachel Cheung reported for Vice, an international coalition of over 37 scholars of Xinjiang published an open letter criticizing Bachelet’s concluding statement for ignoring and contradicting their academic findings:

It is rare that an academic field arrives at the level of consensus that specialists in the study of Xinjiang have reached. While we disagree on some questions of why Beijing is enacting its atrocities in Xinjiang, we are unanimous in our understanding of what it is that the Chinese state is doing on the ground.

This extraordinary consensus is a result of the unprecedented quantity of evidence that the Chinese state has provided in its own documents, some of them leaked but most of them publicly released on the Chinese internet. This evidence, complemented by survivor testimonies and satellite imagery, offers a detailed picture of what can be credibly called a genocidal program.

[…] The information that our profession has provided to the OHCHR is not the result of just one or two researchers’ work. It is the unanimous consensus of the entire community of scholars who are independent of the Chinese state and have devoted their lives to the study of the region. We urge the OHCHR to fully incorporate this knowledge into its long-delayed report on China’s actions in Xinjiang, and we urge the OHCHR to release the report without political interference or further delay. [Source]


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