The 38th session of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue was held in Brussels on February 17, 2023. The press release from the EU states that “the EU expressed serious concern at the persistent restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, use of forced labour, limits on due process rights and lack of judicial independence in China. In doing so, the EU highlighted the particularly vulnerable situation of Uyghurs, Tibetans and persons belonging to religious, ethnic and linguistic minorities across the country. The EU referred to the report issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Xinjiang, underscoring the urgency of implementing the recommendations included in the report. The EU also referred to the deterioration in the situation of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression in Hong Kong.”
The EU raised several individual cases and called upon China to immediately release those detained without due process including Ilham Tohti, Tashpolat Tiyip, Go Sherab Gyatso, Rinchen Tsultrim, Tashi Dorje, Cao Sanqiang, Xu Na, Wang Yi, Zhang Chunlei and Gui Minhai.
Sun Lei, the Chinese representative and dialogue co-chair, is reported as have said “that matters related to China’s Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet) regions and affairs related to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, should not be categorized as human rights issues, instead they are major issues of principle that are related to China’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, with no external interference allowed.”
Human Rights groups have criticized the talks and described them as “meaningless.” 10 human rights groups issued a letter on February 15, 2023 calling for suspension of the dialogue. “The European Union should only commit to a human rights dialogue with China if it receives sufficient guarantees that the Chinese authorities commit to reverse their dire human rights record, and if the EU itself is ready to send strong messages and take ambitious action in the face of the grave human rights violations committed by the Chinese government in recent years – including international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity,” the groups said.
“The eagerness to resume these dialogues despite their proven ineffectiveness risks signaling that the EU is ready to sweep aside human rights to secure closer trade ties and cooperation with Beijing,” said Philippe Dam, EU director at Human Rights Watch.