The European Parliament has dropped the gauntlet on China's human rights record. Photo: Facebook

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged the European Parliament to stop “political grandstanding” after the latter passed a resolution on Thursday urging the European Union to take action against China for its repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

“For quite some time, some politicians of the European Parliament, out of self-interest, have repeatedly taken confrontational actions on Hong Kong and other issues concerning China’s sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity, and meddled with Hong Kong affairs time and again,” an unnamed spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong said in a statement on Friday.

“What they have done is political grandstanding and [is] a stumbling block to mutually beneficial cooperation between China and the EU, arousing strong indignation and resolute opposition of all the Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots.”

The spokesperson also accused the European Parliament of distorting facts with ulterior motives, trampling on the rule of law and judicial independence of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and trying to whitewash under the pretext of press freedom a certain media outlet and its executives who are suspected of engaging in criminal acts.

“The European Parliament used every means to endorse anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong, accused China in a condescending manner, and threatened to impose sanctions on China.

“All this has laid bare the deep-rooted ideological bias of these politicians and their hypocrisy and double standard,” said the spokesperson. “But they have overestimated themselves and such attempts are purely badly timed.”

The last edition of the Apple Daily newspaper goes on sale in Hong Kong on June 24. Photo: AFP / Miyuki Yoshioka / The Yomiuri Shimbun

Forbidden media

On June 23, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper was forced to shut after five of its executives were arrested and its assets were frozen. Two columnists were also arrested for allegedly violating the National Security Law.

On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution titled “Hong Kong, notably the case of Apple Daily” with 578 votes in favor, 29 against and 73 abstentions.

The resolution condemned in the strongest terms the forced closure of the newspaper, the continued freezing of its assets and the arrests of its journalists as yet another step by China to dismantle Hong Kong’s free society and set the definitive end of the city’s media freedom and freedom of expression.

The European Parliament resolution also called on Hong Kong authorities to stop harassing and intimidating journalists, release arbitrarily detained prisoners, and denounced any attempts to muzzle pro-democracy activists and their activities.

While urging Chinese authorities to repeal the draconian National Security Law introduced last year, European Parliament members encouraged EU countries to impose sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for alleged violations of human rights and international law in Hong Kong under the EU human rights sanctions regime.

They also called on the European Commission, the European Council and EU countries to decline invitations to government representatives and diplomats to attend the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics unless the Chinese government demonstrates verifiable improvements in the human rights situations in Hong Kong, the Xinjiang Uighur Region, Tibet, Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China.

At the same time, the United Kingdom Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee published a report on Thursday urging the UK government to ensure that the Chinese government would face consequences at the 2022 Winter Olympics for its abuses in Xinjiang.

Ice sculptures depicting the mascots of the Winter Olympics stand with the Olympic Rings in China’s Harbin province. Photo: AFP / Xiao Liu / Imaginechina

The committee said the UK government should not participate in the opening or closing ceremonies and should strongly discourage UK businesses from sponsoring or advertising at the Olympics, encourage fans and tourists to stay away, and discourage athletes from supporting or accepting the Chinese government’s propaganda efforts while in the country.

“The evidence of severe human rights abuses and crimes against the Uighur people is already overwhelming and indisputable, and Parliament has called it as genocide,” committee chairperson Tom Tugendhat said.

“This report moves the conversation forward, away from the question of whether crimes are taking place and on to what the UK should do to end them.”

Hungary veto

Of the 29 Euro-MPs who voted against the resolution, many were from Hungary while a few were from Czechia and Germany. Of the 73 abstentions, some were from Greece, France and Germany.

Chau Sze-tat, a political commentator and popular YouTuber, said China should be disappointed that only dozens of Euro-MPs had voted against the resolution. Chau said China had spent many years and a lot of money to build its relations with Eastern European countries through the so-called “16+1” initiative, but the diplomatic returns were small.

Chau said it was worth noting that the European Parliament resolution was non-binding, meaning that each EU member country could still make its own decisions on whether to send officials to the Beijing Olympics or impose sanctions on China.

Between April and June, Hungary used its veto power to block three EU statements criticizing the human rights situation in Hong Kong. On May 18, it also blocked an EU declaration calling for a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians. EU foreign policy decisions must be agreed upon by all 27 member states, meaning that each country can veto decisions.

On March 11, 2020, the National People’s Congress approved a proposal to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system. Photo: Xinhua

While Chinese media praised Hungary as the “toughest country” in the EU, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on June 4 suggested the EU abolish individual states’ veto power on foreign policy and adopt a “qualified majority voting” system.

China’s retaliation

Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, published an editorial on Friday (July 9) headlined “Whoever sanctions China over Hong Kong will receive relentless retaliation.”

“If the EU sanctions officials from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, in return, it will receive China’s retaliation,” the mouthpiece outlet threatened. “The Winter Olympic Games belong to the world, and China is only the host. Beijing will not exchange China’s core interests for some European forces’ support of the Winter Olympic Games.”

In a statement, the Hong Kong government also condemned the European Parliament’s resolution “for disregarding the facts on the ground, disregarding international law and basic norms governing international relations, and attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of China and the HKSAR.”

It said its officials would not be intimidated by the so-called “sanctions” by foreign governments and would continue to discharge their responsibility of safeguarding national security resolutely.

On June 10, the National People’s Congress’ standing committee passed the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law. Under the law, the State Council can launch countermeasures if any Chinese company or person is sanctioned.

That means mainland-based people or organizations cannot implement foreign sanctions imposed on any Chinese person or company in mainland China. Beijing has reportedly not yet decided on whether the new law should be extended to Hong Kong.

US sanctions

On Friday, the United States’ Commerce Department added 14 Chinese companies and other entities to its economic blacklist over alleged human rights abuses and high-tech surveillance in Xinjiang.

The Department said the companies had been “implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass detention, and high technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other members of Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

The sanctioned Chinese companies include the China Academy of Electronics and Information Technology; Xinjiang Lianhai Chuangzhi Information Technology Co; Shenzhen Cobber Information Technology Co; Xinjiang Sailing Information Technology; Beijing Geling Shentong Information Technology; Shenzhen Hua’antai Intelligent Technology Co, Ltd; and Chengdu Xiwu Security System Alliance Co, Ltd.

“The Department of Commerce remains firmly committed to taking strong, decisive action to target entities that are enabling human rights abuses in Xinjiang or that use US technology to fuel China’s destabilizing military modernization efforts,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Friday that China opposed the US’s moves to destabilize Xinjiang and suppress China’s specific companies and industries in the name of human rights.

Wang said the US wanted to use Xinjiang matters to suppress China, while adding that Beijing would take every necessary measure to safeguard its companies’ legal rights and stop the US from interfering in China’s internal affairs.

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