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Thank you, Mr President,
As some of you [Members of the European Parliament] have mentioned, today we do have, compared to five years ago, a new strategy with China, but most importantly we have a new kind of relationship with China: a more intense one, but also a more frank and open one, based on clear words, clear principles, and clear interests that we are not shying away from affirming in the clearest possible manner. Trying to build some consistency in the approach that the European Union and all its institutions are taking towards China.
Let me make an appeal to each of you: here, you are representing European citizens, but you are also representing political groups, and national parties in political groups. Many of you that have taken the floor today have said very reasonable and very important words. Most of you probably also belong to parties that have government responsibilities in your own Member States. So I would like to hear those voices, those clear words, also in your addresses to your own governments whenever they meet their Chinese counterparts, to be straight forward, as the European institutions are, as we have been during the Summit last week in Brussels – the Commission, the Council, myself – to the top leaders of the Chinese authorities on human rights. Passing the clear message that for Europeans, human rights are not less important than economic interests. On the contrary, they are as if not more important than our economic interests. This is a message that we have to consistently and in a coherent manner, as Europeans, pass at all levels: the Parliament, the Commission, the Council and individual Member States in their bilateral relations with China.
China has made some progress in the field of economic and social rights, but the general human rights situation in China continues to deteriorate, particularly on civil and political rights.
Human rights defenders and lawyers continue to be arrested and detained. Fundamental freedoms continue to be violated.
We have all seen the reports on the situation in Xinjiang, with political "re-education camps" targeting Uighurs and other minorities, mass surveillance, restrictions on travel. As I said, we raised these issues, including some individual cases, with the Chinese authorities, both in our bilateral contacts and in our Human Rights Dialogue. We also did it when, for the first time ever, we invited to the Foreign Affairs Council the Foreign Minister, State Councillor of China, Mr Wang Yi, and I was proud to see that, united, the Member States, at the level of Foreign Ministers, passed consistent messages on issues of relevance to our human rights dialogue. We also raised these issues in the framework of our counter-terrorism policies.
I stress how important it is for us to be consistent and coherent across the European Union institutions on these messages because there might be a tendency in our interlocutors – not only when it comes to China but also with others when we talk about human rights – of thinking that it is the European Union institutions that raise human rights issues and that Member States or individual Members of Parliament do business. I think it is very important that we are consistent in the messages that we pass. And I think that we are possibly making some progress in this consistency and this unity; that our Chinese interlocutors see that this is important for every single European, every single European Member State, every single political family of this hemicycle.
I am taking here the opportunity to again publicly urge China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers – some of you have mentioned that and let me once again add my voice - including for the UN and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Likewise, freedom of religion or belief is often violated in Tibet, and restrictions to access to the region are also in place. We have called on the Chinese authorities to allow reciprocal access to Tibet for European journalists, diplomats, and families.
We raise all these concerns at every occasion, and at the highest level, including at our Summit last week, publicly and privately this was clearly underlined.
We also discussed the situation in Xinjiang, in Tibet, freedom of religion or belief, and the rights of persons belonging to minorities during our latest Human Rights Dialogue just a few weeks ago. We raised the issue of the shrinking space for civil society, also in the framework of the legal reform, and we addressed the autonomy of Hong Kong.
This exercise is often not an easy one; it is sometimes frustrating. And yet, I believe that this is the best tool we have to engage with our Chinese partners, to be clear, to be united in the messages we pass, and to promote a change of course on human rights. Our best tool is to keep engaging with China on human rights in a respectful but extremely clear manner.
No other global power is doing this in the world today. The global trend on human rights is not encouraging at all. I believe this is exactly one more reason for us not to give up. We cannot afford, as Europeans, to stop engaging. We will continue to advocate for the respect of human rights, be it in China or all around the world.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-170856