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The EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, paid a second official visit to China between 9-14 November 2015, visiting Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong-SAR.
The visit, which was hosted by the Chinese Ministry for Foreign Affairs and by the EUSR’s main interlocutor, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Li Baodong, provided opportunities for the EU and China to engage in in-depth discussions on human rights at a senior level.
The EUSR welcomed some important developments since his last visit, including China’s commitment to lift an additional 70 million people out of poverty over the next five years, and the reduction in the number of crimes that can carry the death penalty. The EUSR was also informed of the planned reform of the “hukou” system that would give residence rights to migrant workers.
In his meetings, the EUSR reiterated the EU's strong concern about the recent arrests, detentions and summons of hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists, with around 20 of them still reportedly unaccounted for and denied basic rights.
"Rule of law requires lawyers that can practice freely without fear of persecution and provide checks and balances against the miscarriage of justice," said EUSR Lambrinidis at the end of his visit.
Another key topic of discussion was China’s ongoing deliberation on a package of security laws, including an Anti-terrorism Law, Cyber-Security Law and a Law on the Management of International NGOs. The EUSR urged China to amend provisions that could curtail freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion and belief, and people-to-people contacts, in order to bring the draft legislation into line with international law and standards.
"The broad people-to-people and civil society contacts between the EU and China in all fields and at all levels are a great asset that both sides are committed to protecting and promoting. I am concerned that restrictive provisions in the current draft, as well as placing the governance of overseas NGOs under a national security umbrella, will put these contacts at risk," said EUSR Lambrinidis.
Other topics discussed during the visit included women's rights, including the follow up to Beijing +20 and the anti-domestic violence law that is currently being prepared; labour rights, including the responsibilities of both government and business to protect and respect human rights; the human rights of persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities, including Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians; combatting torture and ill-treatment, and China's upcoming review in the UN’s Committee Against Torture; death penalty reform; protecting freedom of expression, information, and association on- and off-line; progress on economic and social rights; and the protection of the rights of migrants and asylum-seekers in Europe.
In Beijing, in addition to the MFA, the EUSR held high-level meetings with the State Administration for Religious Affairs; the Ministry of Public Security; the Ministry of Civil Affairs; the National People’s Congress Legislative Affairs Commission; the Supreme Peoples’ Court; the Central Party School of the CPC; the All-China Lawyers Association; the All-China Women's Federation; the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the Chinese Association for Human Rights Studies.
In Guangdong the EUSR met with the Vice Mayor of Shenzhen and visited the headquarters of Huawei and ZTE, where he discussed privacy, freedom of expression, and labour conditions in China and in company operations abroad.
In Hong Kong the EUSR met with leading Members of the Legislative Council, with the chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission and with the Deputy Commissioner of the Chinese MFA. He also gave a speech at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on the EU’s human rights foreign policy and spoke at a business and law seminar with leaders of Hong Kong’s business and legal communities, organised by the UK Consulate General.
Finally, throughout his visit, EUSR Lambrinidis had the opportunity to meet with a broad cross-section of civil society, including NGOs, academics, lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders working on women's human rights, labour rights and freedom of religion and belief. In his meetings, he underlined the importance that the EU attaches to human rights in China and to working to promote the rule of law.
“It is a sign of the maturity of the EU-China relationship that we are able to discuss difficult human rights issues in a frank, open and constructive way. We look forward to the next round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue at the end of the month in Beijing to continue the discussion,” said EUSR Lambrinidis at the conclusion of his visit.
Follow the EUSR for Human Rights on twitter @SJLambrinidis