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EU and international community urged to act to stop the 'genocide' of Uyghurs

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Chinese “persecution” of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China should be officially recognised as genocide and urgent action should be taken by the EU and international community, including a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. These were two of the main messages to emerge from an online debate on the plight facing millions of Uyghurs in China, writes Martin Banks.

The virtual debate on Thursday was organised by the European Foundation for Democracy, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Belgium and the US Mission to the EU. Belgian MEP Assita Kanko, vice chairwoman of the ECR group, said it was “time to act” against Chinese persecution of Uyghurs, adding: “China has economic power but the democratic nations of the world must take action to take the wind out of China’s sails.” She said China’s approach to human rights is unchanged and that treatment of its Muslim population had deteriorated to a “terrifying” level.

Accusing China of “genocide and abuse of human rights on an industrial scale” she urged the EU to “address this and sooner rather than later”. She added: “We have already seen what a US/Chinese trade war looks like during the Trump era and while Trump got a lot wrong he was right to set in motion a set of sanctions against China. But we must not let this issue slide off the agenda but, rather, broaden international efforts to stand up to China.”

Specifically, she said action was needed by the World Bank so that finance to China is curtailed. The commission, she noted, is also due to table new due diligence legislation this Spring which aims to deter trade with regimes and businesses using forced labour.

“This is vital because the EU must carry out due diligence on those companies and countries using forced labour.

"China is hosting the next winter Olympics and I know that while this is a sensitive issue a boycott is something that should be discussed at the very least.” She added: “China has economic power but a moral deficit so it is up to the West to stop turning a blind eye to human rights abuses. This is not a price that is worth paying.”

Her comments were echoed by another speaker on the all-female panel, Belgian Greens MEP Saskia Bricmont, who described the plight of the Uyghurs as a “crucial issue”.

She said: “The first thing to do is to raise awareness first and foremost about what is going on in the region. It is a genuine genocide we have to be vocal about it.

“European companies must renounce their contracts with China and shed the light on what is going on, especially in the textile sector.”

She said that an “official recognition” of the genocide by Belgium would be an “important step”, adding: “All EU members and the U.S should do this too so as to put pressure on China.”

She voiced concern at the EU China Trade and Investment Agreement. The new deal is set to remove barriers for Chinese entry into the European single market and give Chinese companies access to investment in European companies, including state enterprises.

“The EU must prohibit products coming on to the EU market which are generated by forced labour.Parliament is working on two important reports, on due diligence for companies and sustainable governance, which aim to address this. This will not be an export ban but can contribute to bringing leverage on China to stop this abuse against the Uyghurs.

“The EU should not have partnerships with partners that do not respect human rights and Belgium can also play an active role in this.”

However, she warned that Russia “had to go very far in its disrespect for human rights” before the EU acted and some countries still have “huge economic interests” with China such as Germany and France.

“This is very problematic but, yes, recognising this abuse as genocide would affect trade and economic relations with China and this is one area where Belgium could act concretely.”

Another way Belgium could act is to agree to grant special visas to Uyghur students so that they might live in place of safety.

“This could also maybe be an open door to formal recognition of genocide which would be a strong and important signal which others should follow.”

She admitted, though, that the EU lacks a “consistency of policy” on China and that even if there were restrictions on the placement of goods on EU markets this would not necessarily mean “this Chinse persecution will stop”.

Asked if it was already too late to act against China, she said: “It is not a case of now or never but it is almost at that stage.”

She also revealed the pressure she had come under for speaking out, saying: “Chinese authorities have tried to influence and lobby me but they have now stopped trying. When they see it’s not working they try instead to discredit you by accusing one of fake news. This shows they have a well organised communications strategy but, to me, this reinforces my belief we have to keep fighting. It is our duty to raise awareness of this issue.”

Another speaker was Sylvie Lasserre, a freelance reporter and author of Voyage au pays des Ouïghours who has travelled to the region in the past and, after working on the issue for 16 years, is well placed to share details about the situation. She told the meeting: “This persecution is made possible in the name of money. It is estimated there have been 3 to 8 million Uyghurs in camps since 2014 but you have to ask how can we accept laying out the red carpet at events like the World Economic Forum in Davos to China?“

At the end of WWII it was said this could never happen again so the only reason why it is still happening is money with numerous countries like Morocco in need of finance from China.

“That is why most countries remain silent about this repression. Emmanuel Macron, for instances, met China’s leaders last week and did not even mention the Uyghur issue.”

In December, the European Parliament adopted three resolutions taking stock of the human rights situation in China, forced labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China.

Parliament strongly condemned the Chinese government-led system of forced labour – in particular the exploitation of Uyghurs – in factories within and outside internment camps in the autonomous region. It also denounces the continued transfer of forced labourers to other Chinese administrative divisions, and the fact that well-known European brands and companies have been benefiting from forced Chinese labour.

In recent months, newly discovered evidence has further highlighted the gross violations of universal human rights being perpetrated against the Uyghurs in China.This includes recent reports of sexual violence and rape being used by the Chinese authorities against Uyghur people in Xinjiang.

Lasserre added: “China is systematically hiding the truth but, even though, it has been caught red handed in its mistreatment of the Uyghurs, they don’t care. As we have recently seen they are now waging an aggressive campaign against women in the Uyghur camps. Yes, China is under pressure but the EU still remains dependent on China for business.

The journalist said: “It is difficult to know China’s true intentions but it is said the plan is to eradicate one third of Uyghurs, to convert one third and put the rest in camps. “What is important is that EU countries must stay united in any reprisals and sanctions against China.”

She also supports moving the winter Olympics to another country, adding: “China is inspired by the Nazis in trying to eradicate the Uyghurs. It has become an Orwellian state and is committing genocide.

“This, though, is a chance to stop our dependence on China. But the EU must take very strong measures to improve things.”

China

China’s Xi calls for fairer world order as rivalry with US deepens

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Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a giant screen at a media center, as he delivers via video link a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, in Boao, Hainan province, China April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Yao NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds at the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a giant screen at a media center, as he delivers via video link a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia, in Boao, Hainan province, China April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Yao NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (pictured) on Tuesday (20 April) called for a rejection of hegemonic power structures in global governance, amid growing tensions between Washington and Beijing over a widening range of issues including alleged human rights abuses, writes Kevin Yao.

Speaking at the annual Boao Forum for Asia, Xi criticized efforts by some countries to "build barriers" and "decouple", which he said would harm others and benefit no one.

China has long called for reforms of the global governance system to better reflect a more diverse range of perspectives and values from the international community, including its own, instead of those of a few major nations.

It has also repeatedly clashed with the biggest stakeholders in world governance, particularly the United States, over a range of issues from human rights to China's economic influence over other countries.

"The world wants justice, not hegemony," Xi said in remarks broadcast to the forum.

"A big country should look like a big country by showing that it is shouldering more responsibility," he said.

While Xi did not identify any country in his remarks, Chinese officials have in recent times referred to US “hegemony” in public criticisms of Washington’s global projection of power in trade and geopolitics.

On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden held his first face-to-face White House summit since taking office, in a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in which China topped the agenda.

Both leaders said they "share serious concerns" about the human rights situation in Hong Kong and China's Xinjiang region, where Washington has said Beijing is perpetrating a genocide against Muslim Uighurs. China has denied abuses.

In a display of economic cooperation to the exclusion of China, Biden said Japan and the United States would jointly invest in areas such as 5G technology, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, genomics and semiconductor supply chains.

As the Biden administration rallies other democratic allies to harden their stance on China, Beijing is seeking to strengthen ties with its autocratic partners and economically dependent neighbours in Southeast Asia.

Chinese speakers at the Boao forum, Asia's answer to Davos, also affirmed Beijing's commitment to global free trade.

China's trade practices were a focus of an intense tariff war between Beijing and Washington under the Trump administration, with the United States accusing Beijing of unfair subsidiaries that give Chinese companies unfair advantage abroad and forced transfers of technology and intellectual property.

"The biggest experience that China's accession to the World Trade Organization 20 years ago is that we Chinese are not afraid of competition," Long Yongtu,China's former chief negotiator for the China's WTO entry in 2001, told the forum on Monday (19 April).

However, despite the persistent confrontation between the US administration and China, both sides have rediscovered a common interest in battling climate change, after bilateral talks on fighting greenhouse emissions fizzled out during the Trump era.

Last week, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry flew to Shanghai to meet with his Chinese counterpart in the first high-level visit to China by a Biden administration official.

Both agreed on concrete actions “in the 2020s” to reduce emissions.

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Competition: EU and China will discuss competition policy priorities in the digital sector during the 21st Competition Week

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Officials from the EU and China will meet online from 26 to 28 April 2021 for technical discussions on competition law and enforcement. The 21st EU-China Competition Week will focus on subsidy cases under the Fair Competition Review System that China started implementing in 2016. It will also deal with the co-operation between the European Commission and EU member states with respect to state aid cases as well as Regulation and policy initiatives to address competition concerns in digital markets. The Competition Weeks offer a platform for exchanges on competition policy between the Chinese State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) and the European Commission together with EU National Competition Authorities. The Competition Weeks are the cornerstone of the longstanding competition dialogue between the competition authorities of the EU and China in line with the commitments set out in the Memoranda of Understanding and Terms of Reference signed between all sides. The EU-China Competition Week is part of the Competition Co-operation project, a 5-year EU funded programme offering technical co-operation to competition authorities in Asia. The objective is to exchange experiences and strengthen convergence in competition policy, to the benefit of citizens and businesses in both the EU and Asia. More information about the European Commission's bilateral dialogue with China in the field of competition policy is available on the Commission's website.

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China-EU relations face challenges, Xi tells Germany's Merkel

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President Xi Jinping told German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (7 April) that he saw “various challenges” in relations between China and the European Union and hoped the EU could “independently” make correct judgements, a Chinese government statement said, writes Michael Nienaber in Berlin.

The statement quoted Xi as saying during a phone call that the EU and China should respect each other and “eliminate interference”, adding that China is willing to work with the global community to promote “fair and reasonable distribution” of COVID-19 vaccines and opposes vaccine nationalism.

Last month, the EU imposed its first significant sanctions against Chinese officials since 1989 over alleged human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region. Beijing, which denies the allegations, hit back by blacklisting some EU lawmakers and entities.

The United States, Britain and Canada also sanctioned Chinese officials over Xinjiang, and the row threatens to derail an EU-China investment pact agreed in late 2020 after years of negotiations.

German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said Merkel and Xi had discussed international efforts to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, deepen economic cooperation and steps to protect the climate and biodiversity.

She said the leaders agreed to deepen bilateral ties in Sino-German government consultations planned for late April.

“The Chancellor stressed the importance of dialogue on the full range of ties, including issues on which there are different opinions,” Demmer said, without giving details of the areas where Germany and China differ.

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