International groups urge EU to suspend meaningless rights dialogue with China 

European Council President Donald Tusk and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrive at the EU-China Summit in Brussels on June 2, 2017. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)
European Council President Donald Tusk and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrive at the EU-China Summit in Brussels on June 2, 2017. (Photo courtesy: Reuters)

(, Jun21, 2017) – The next EU-China human rights dialogue is scheduled to be held over Jun 22-23 in the EU capital Brussels. However, seven human rights organizations have on Jun 19 urged the European Union to cancel the dialogue and suspend the exchange until the meetings can bring genuine human rights improvements. Human rights groups have in the past dismissed the ongoing dialogue as having been of no use towards improving the situation in China and Chinese ruled territories.

The organizations – which included Amnesty International, Initiatives for China, the International Campaign for Tibet, the International Service for Human Rights, Human Rights in China, Human Rights Watch, and the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization—have noted a series of failings by the EU and its member countries in recent weeks to demonstrate any intention to take China to task for its abysmal human rights record.

They have noted that at a summit in Brussels over Jun 1-2, the EU Council and Commission presidents in public did not forcefully condemn China’s deteriorating human rights situation, nor call for the release of political prisoners, including EU citizens. That the EU also did not mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Jun 4. And that the EU and its member states on Jun 15 did not deliver a statement under agenda item 4 in the United Nations Human Rights Council – a first for the EU, whose statements over a decade at the council have generally sent a message of solidarity to activists and of warning to Beijing by denouncing the Chinese government’s crackdown on critical voices and persistent violations of basic freedoms.

The EU thereby “demonstrated no intention, compassion, or strategic vision to stem the tide of human rights abuses in China,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, was quoted as saying. “The EU should not further harm its credibility, but rather redirect its efforts toward bringing meaningful change to China.”

The human rights organizations have noted that that dialogue, which will be held on short notice and at a lower governmental level on China’s side, had been marred almost since its inception with a lack of clearly articulated benchmarks for progress, vulnerability to Chinese pressure, and exclusion of independent Chinese voices. As a result, they have added, the dialogue had steadily deteriorated into an exercise whose purpose was largely to secure another round of the dialogue, not to make meaningful change in China.

The organizations have expressed dismay that though over the past decade, they had made extensive recommendations as to how the dialogue could be improved, few of them had been accepted.

The rights groups have noted that the EU’s Jun 2016 China strategy had given it the opportunity to suspend and review any of its dozens of bilateral dialogues with China, including the human rights dialogue. They have therefore suggested that the EU suspend the dialogue rather than proceed with a meaningless low-level exercise.

The rights groups want the EU to establish and publicize clear benchmarks for human rights progress in China, including the release of individuals detained, imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared for the peaceful exercise of their basic rights, including criticism of the Chinese government.

According to Iverna McGowan, head of European Institutions Office at Amnesty International, “The EU’s failure to speak out on Beijing’s rights violations is a body blow to independent activists across China and a betrayal of the EU’s proclaimed human rights commitments.”

McGowan is disappointed that instead of a forum for promoting rights, the EU-China human rights dialogue had become a cheap alibi for EU leaders to avoid thorny rights issues in other high level discussions.


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