China is the EU’s second-biggest export market behind the United States. China-EU trade is worth, on average, over €1 billion in goods and services every day. The biggest EU exporter to China is Germany (currently struggling to avoid recession) followed by the UK, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

China has also been increasing its investments in Europe over the past decade. While total Chinese investment in the EU is still relatively small compared to other countries (such as the US), it includes investment in strategically sensitive sectors such as infrastructure; Chinese firms now control 10% of Europe’s port capacity, and Italy’s decision to endorse China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project has provoked unease among other EU leaders.

Could sensitivity over economic relations with China be why Europe has been so slow to speak out about the protests in Hong Kong? Beijing can be notoriously prickly over human rights, and countries such as Norway and the United Kingdom have suffered “diplomatic freezes” after upsetting the Chinese government. The EU’s approach to China and human rights has not always been united.

At the same time, there are signs that Europe is willing to take a stand. The EU Commission recently labelled Chinasimultaneously a cooperation partner [and] a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance”. EU officials have spoken out about mass detention and “re-education” camps in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Is Europe too soft on China’s human rights abuses? Or has the EU got the balance right when it comes to cooperating with China, but maintaining diplomatic pressure over issues of human rights? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Studio Incendo

64 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    catherine benning

    Is Europe too soft on China’s human rights abuses?

    Here is another question that makes little or no sense.

    First expose the human rights abuses as the EU and us, a Western society, see it. What do you mean by soft? Not a lot of people understand just exactly what China is doing that is more ghastly than other parts of the world we trade with. Hong Kong is a part of China once run in full by the UK. The people there are used to a more Western style of administration which is not communism. It is not easy for them to adjust to a different expectation by their rulers.

    However, the British always knew they would have to return Hong Kong to Chinese rule at the end of the lease they had taken on it. They had a century to make changes to that lease during that time. They did not do so. The UK did inform the people of Hong Kong that the end of the lease was the end of UK rule and that, as a result, they would find many differences in their society. This meant, the Chinese were aware of the impending situation this change in political adjustment would make in their lives. They chose to stay with that prospect. Those who didn’t want to, left for other parts of the world. Just as they did in South Africa when their government was changed to African rule. Are you contemplating change toward that countries dire policies on human rights? It is for the people to make their own moves. Not the EU to take it upon themselves at a whim.

    Secondly, China has a functioning political country of billions. Those people are not willing, or, do not appear to want to be part of the Western style of culture. I think, had they wanted change at the top, a billion people would make moves to bring it about and would get somewhere. Just as the West brought about change from the 1800’s style rule another poster wrote of on this forum.

    What can the EU do? Financially squeeze the Chinese through starvation? War? Trade sanctions? To what end? Where does the EU see this taking the Chinese people? How long and how will they remove the abuses they allude to from the Chinese and at what cost to those people? Add the big question, have you asked permission of the billion Chinese to make these changes for them? And, what are you offering that will enhance their life should you succeed? Asking a Western world of people, living a very different life in a totally different culture, what others should be deciding, is a bit rich, isn’t it? Especially when you have changed the European life and culture into an unwanted cesspit, without once asking the inhabitants in their own sphere, if this is what they want. And, in fact, knowing full well from the onset, had they revealed what it was they intended as change for us all, it would have been soundly rejected. This is not a good place to begin a change bombardment on another part of the world. The failure in the European States to date is so obvious. Europeans are not doing well in their human rights fiasco here, are they?

    What is needed from the EU, is to return our manufacturing, agriculture, fisheries, education, health service, scientific and technological masterpieces to what it once was, as offered to the citizens paying for it right here. And do this before you set your eyes on changing life elsewhere in the world, intending it to be the way you have savaged ours. Let the Chinese sort out their own cultural way of life, just stop using their cheap labour which is promoting the abuses you claim you see there. It is not the EU who should be taking this kind of decision. And why should EU citizens be asked to fund a people who are very capable in their own right, out of their tax contributions, whilst ignoring the Human Rights issues in their own back yard? Please enlighten me.

    • avatar

      I disagree with your opinion wholeheartedly, but from some of your statements I am getting the impression that they mostly come from a place of misunderstanding of the Chinese sociopolitical environment than anything else. Allow me to address this point-by-point and hopefully you’ll feel somewhat more enlightened by the end.

      Firstly, you say that “not a lot of people understand just exactly what China is doing that is more ghastly than other parts of the world we trade with.” China is currently ethnically cleansing the entire Xinjiang region of millions of Uyghurs, putting them in “re-education camps,” destroying their neighborhoods, and virtually erasing their culture. This is not a secret, and it’s been very well reported, but there is yet to be a significant action taken by either the West or the Muslim countries. If you have time, I suggest watching “Behind the Walls” (1).

      Secondly, China is not a “functioning political country of billions.” China is an illiberal regime that functions for the members of the Communist Party and those who are loyal to it, and that number is far from a billion. Chinese rule is very repressive, a people have tried to “make moves to bring it about and get somewhere.” That is how Tiananmen happened. For someone who appears to be arguing against Eurocentrism, you are making some very Eurocentric assumptions there.

      Furthermore, you ask what the EU can do. Personally, I think the EU can and should do a whole lot more than it currently is doing. Economic sanctions would not “financially squeeze the Chinese through starvation,” since a) hundreds of millions of Chinese are already starving and the vast majority of people wouldn’t even be affected by the trade with the EU, as over 40% still live in rural areas, and b) the EU is not that important of a trade partner for China, and even the most important out of the EU countries (Germany) doesn’t even make China’s list of top 5 trading partners. Chinese people wouldn’t be that negatively affected if there were a few less Volkswagens on the streets, however, the Party members and those who profit the most out of trade deals might.

      It is concerning that you believe that human rights in Europe are even comparable to those in China, so I will not even go there. The EU certainly has it issues that it needs to address, and needs to do so urgently, but to compare the two is nothing but a sign of ignorance on the topic.

      One of the main missions the EU officials claim to have is to bring about positive changes globally and strengthen the EU’s image of a normative power. The lack of action regarding human rights violations by not only China, but numbers other countries as well, is destroying this goal in its entirety and leaving the EU with very little credibility to use when negotiating with other partners. I find it repulsive that the biggest reaction against China came after the EU’s businesses felt threatened by the BRI and the Chinese growing presence in Italy, Croatia, Serbia and elsewhere. We should absolutely protect our market, but we cannot claim to be a normative power in the world if our actions are dictated by our wallets, and not our morals.

      Currently, all the “efforts” and “diplomatic pressures” aimed at condemning China serve as nothing but an alibi. That is not even the bare minimum the EU should be doing, and it’s only adding to the image of the EU as one big complicated bureaucracy instead of a competent world power.

      I truly, truly believe the EU must begin putting it’s money where it’s mouth is and start acting as a global power, and a global leader that it claims to be. I believe we have the capacity and I know we have the resources, I only hope we have the willingness as well.


  2. avatar

    Look at G-7 protest in Bayonne. Protesters are doing exactly what HK rioters are doing, digging bricks from the pavement to attack the police, burning cars, attacking police staff quarters, paralyze the airport by blocking all passengers from taking their planes, cutting part of the traffic light wires leaving the green light for pedestrians and vehicles have no lights, so that they can run over pedestrians…yesterday, they stabbed a police…

  3. avatar

    If airports of France, Germany, UK are being paralyzed for days, French, German and British police are being attacked with weapons, fire, corrosive products, bricks, metal traffic signs, high power laser beams, bows and arrows, umbrellas and knives…. People are forced to “strike”by the mob who blocked all doors of the mass transportation, major routes. British, French and Germany national flags and emblems are being damaged, the parliament or congress are damaged together with all electronic and electrical devices and computers damaged… People obliged to find protection at their home all weekends and rush home after office hours, and watch all terrorists damaging all over HK and attacking the police everywhere in front of the TV… what peaceful force your police of free and democratic states would be using? I am here witnessing everything going on for more than two months in HK.

  4. avatar

    Yes. However, EU better deal with the problems in its own back yard before taking on an argument with China. We are weakened and internally divided, we have a ton of problems that should have a higher priority than human rights in China.

  5. avatar

    Yes especially the UK its one of their ex colonies

  6. avatar

    is tooo soft with Turkey, why ask for China, is too far

  7. avatar

    No, EU politics has been and should stay exactly where it is on this matter. As mentioned below, plenty of internal problems to picking up another fight instigated by US…

  8. avatar

    Look closer to home…the EU (German) craven attitude to Russian abuse of human rights in the pursuit of gas demeans any criticism of others.

    • avatar

      Well said sir.

  9. avatar

    No its China/Hong Kong problem not ours. Keep out and sort out own stuff first

  10. avatar

    Please EU, don’t get more and more enemies, the last one is Boris Johnson…
    It is not the purpose to write something negative about Boris Johnson as media does. EU-enemies are nowadays are Putin, Bolsonaro, Trump, China, AL-Assad and other..,

  11. avatar

    China’s human rights is Europe’s responsibility now? Stay out of it. They can sort it out themselves.

    • avatar

      Rumy, after Brexit the Brits will teach them the real deal because they will have a stronger voice…

    • avatar

      Cãlin, Brits will have a stronger say in what exactly? How to open borders for more Indians?

    • avatar

      Borislav, a stronger voice than you will have when you have been in the eu 10 years and have to sell everything to pay them back double for what you recieved.

    • avatar

      Susan, nahhh with shrinking economy and big multinationals relocating to continental Europe for access to the market, UK or perhaps England will hardly have a voice…

  12. avatar

    Europe is nothing!! It’s been but it’s not. Oppose China?? This is laughing!!

  13. avatar

    “human right abuses” ?
    The right questions should be – “Is EU too soft on propaganda aiming to build up tension between East and West, just so the military industrial complex can sell more weapons?”
    China is doing well to stop extremism. Can Germany or EU say the same?

    • avatar

      George, Have you been watching the news about Hong Kong? And btw, what idea is that of yours on EU wanting the weapons industry to sell more? You have it all wrong wth

    • avatar

      Carlos, seems like you have been watching only “propaganda”.
      What are the “protesters” protesting actually? Do you know?
      Usually when a small group funded by foreign interests are going against the country it’s called treason.
      Why don’t you try the same in California (lets say Russian supported riots), and see want would the response be.

    • avatar

      George, no man, you are off

    • avatar

      Jack, if you have something we can check, and not just propaganda theoretic, show us some evidence.

    • avatar

      Carlos/Jack….ignore the posts from George…..telesur is a propaganda company based in venzuela established during Chavez reign & designed to produce “fake news” and anti US reports on all subjects ….its complete nonsense.

    • avatar

      George, what about the Uigur Muslim minority which the Chinese authorities imprison in camps? Is this propaganda too or is a normal practice to put people in camps in order to be educated about Communism and be less Religious?

    • avatar

      Paul, if you call a video proof, “propaganda”, maybe something is not quite right with your reality.

    • avatar

      George, 2 million people or more in Hong Kong are fighting back in the streets the law that the government is trying to push down their throats that they don’t accept. Go check the laws please. People are not stupid anymore

    • avatar

      Carlos, the law was giving right to China to request extradition, however it has to be approved by HK government on a case basis keeping the power in HK. What is wrong with this law? Care to read where this whole thing started? A couple traveled to Taiwan, guy butchered his girlfriend flies back to HK and no one can touch him there because they have no extradition agreement… that is the kind of things you are supporting?

    • avatar

      Carlos, “Go check the laws” ??? – whose laws? USA’s? … do you think if Russia was orchestrating mobs and rebels in order to destabilize USA it would be seen as “legal”?
      I bet California can use some pro-democracy movements to separate from USA and even maybe join Mexico. ;)
      Let’s leave China to the Chinese.

  14. avatar

    The EU should not interfere in other countries policies.

  15. avatar

    We are soft on China, yes. However remember that we Europeans used to have signs on land colonised in China stating ‘No Chinese, No Dogs’ on the lawns, etc. Europeans treated the Chinese like dirt and they remember it. Also we Europeans flooded China with drugs, which is another sore point in China. Haw about we co-operate on the Silk Road on condition of transparency in projects and help bring China with us instead of attacking them?

  16. avatar

    We over look them in America, why not China

  17. avatar

    What about the human rights of the native Europeans? Wouldn’t that be your first concern?

  18. avatar

    What about human rights in France and the now 1 year long protest repression with its many heavy injuries and the few deads?

  19. avatar

    All our problems are solved. Now let’s fix China

  20. avatar

    We are too soft on commercial trades with China, inside their own country is not my business what they do

  21. avatar

    Every country is with China , (except trump but for economical and political reasons nothing related to human rights ), China is not small country that you can mess with, that why it’s doing whatever it likes, no question asked

  22. avatar

    I think that répression in France is much harder than the one in China. Open your eyes

    • avatar

      Olivier yes you’re right France too is a problem, and still has colonies! But China has a more devastating power to corrupt souls all over the world: money for silence!

    • avatar

      Olivier you are the exact example of too soft. You wouldnt even be able to post this in china. You would be in a concentration camp though. For reeducation.

    • avatar

      Arnout That is not true, been in China and post such comments on Wechat, Facebook and WhatsApp yet i am in no concentration camp. Enough over-exaggerations…

  23. avatar

    Guys, US is smashing civilians, UAE is killing people, but they are allies to EU right?

  24. avatar

    Stefano I don t see the colonies you are talking about.. Arnout maybe but we are not in positions to give lessons

  25. avatar

    Too soft?! What should Europe do? Apply sanctions? :D Come on! If Europe wants to be tough, they(we) should unrecognise the PRC and recognise the Republic of China (Taiwan). That’d be tough, and also will never happen.

  26. avatar

    Yes. Because everything is made in China, but with EU label or under EU patent.

  27. avatar

    The EU is aggressive with the weak – see how Greece was treated – and coward with the powerful – see the smiles of the eurocrats when they meet Iranian officials.

    • avatar

      Why eurocrats cannot smile when they meet Iranian officials? Isn’t this a proper manner of diplomats? What has Iranian people done with Europe? Why eurocrats have to act on behalf of Iranian enemy, the US? Are EU not mixing up interests of the European people with that of the American people? Who is paying for eurocrats?

  28. avatar

    Rioters are using laser lights trying to blind her as they have been using to attack the police.

  29. avatar

    Our Hong Kong people’s human rights are being attacked by rioters organized and sponsored by the America. It is before our local election. This is exactly a replication of the Yellow Vests just before the EU Parliament election. Both are targeting to adversely affect a fair and open election. Is this what you European people call democracy? Democracy is now using by a declining hegemony to disrupt lives and development all over the world so that the America would not be lagging behind too much! So, beware of democracy when it is under the dirty hands.

  30. avatar
    My son was delayed by two days when leaving for France. I was blocked from going to the airport because the rioters had blocked the road. Fortunately, it was early and a Police vehicle just arrived to open the road. I was obliged to leave for the airport more than 5 hours before the departure of the planes. It was just a 45 minutes bus driving time/less than 30 minutes taxi time to the airport from my home. People were evening locked up in a big Shopping Center because the rioters had tied up all exits with plastic strips outside. If someone has ignited a fire, this would cost lives….So, stopping talking whether Europe is too soft on China’s human rights abuse, look at what your key ally has been doing to abuse our human rights of over 7 million people here in Hong Kong first.

  31. avatar

    When Europe ought to be paying attention to your own governance and how to contribute goods to your own people, try not to get yourself infected by the American anti-China virus. As we have seen very clearly that China is using the collective effort of the whole country to save lives in Wuhan but Boris Johnson has almost died of his policy of crowd infection. When 100000 Americans are dying, their president is sending warships to the South China Sea doing nothing and to the Middle East to threaten Iran? Which country treasure more human rights? Who is actually abusing human rights?

  32. avatar

    Why EU has attacked China, which is the only big country and third military power, second largest economy but it has not go to war for decades, while the EU has turned a blind eye to the military superpower US is waging wars in the Middle East and making millions of homeless and killing hundred thousands of soldiers and civilians indiscriminately? Even worse, some of your member states have sent troop to kill these soldiers and civilians in the Middle East with advanced weapons. Do you think EU can look more humane and respectful by killing innocent people of the Middle East with a war-monger country?

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