Skip to main content

Letter to the EU High Representative ahead of her visit to China

Federica Mogherini

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy /
Vice-President of the European Commission
Rue de la Loi / Wetstraat 200
1049 Brussels

Brussels, April 14, 2017

Re: EU-China Strategic Dialogue and Human Rights

Dear High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini,

We write on the occasion of your visit to China on 19 April for the 7th European Union-China Strategic Dialogue to urge that you speak both publicly and privately about the deteriorating human rights situation in China. 

We appreciate the EU’s Item 4 statements at the March and September United Nations Human Rights Council sessions raising concerns about the detention and alleged mistreatment and torture of human rights lawyers and activists and the situations in Tibet and Xinjiang. But we are also disappointed that because of the objections of some member states the EU did not sign a recent joint letter from governments urging China to investigate torture claims and raising concerns about human rights in China.

In the past few years, the Chinese government has intensified its campaign against peaceful critics, activists, and lawyers. For example, over 300 human rights lawyers and activists were detained in a wave of arrests in July 2015 aimed at intimidating their movement into silence. While most have since been released, six have been sentenced to prison terms of up to seven years, while eight others are still facing trial. In March, Chinese courts sentenced three activists to sentences ranging from three to four-and-a-half years for supporting democracy in Hong Kong and commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen massacre. Chinese authorities have also taken to kidnapping, forcibly disappearing and arbitrarily detaining citizens of other countries. Among those wrongfully held have been Taiwanese activist Lee Ming Cheh, Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai and American publisher James Wang.

As you will discuss cooperation on climate change, security issues, and business, it is worth remembering that these and virtually all issues in the EU-China relationship depend to some extent on upholding the free flow of information, freedom of expression, the rule of law, and an independent judicial system. A free internet and a free media are prerequisites for citizens and governments of both China and the EU to be informed about critical issues, such as environmental degradation and regional security. The rule of law provides EU businesses in China with security, stability and accountability, especially when disputes with local governments or state-backed companies arise.

In other words, progress on any aspect of the EU and China’s security and economic relationship requires progress on human rights. 

We therefore ask that you:

  • Call publicly for the immediate release of all detained peaceful government critics, activists, lawyers and journalists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, Martin Ennals Award winner Ilham Tohti, lawyers Wang Quanzhang, Li Heping, Xie Yang and Jiang Tianyong, internet activists Huang Qi, Liu Feiyue , Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, and women’s rights activist Su Changlan, and for thorough and impartial investigations of allegations of ill-treatment and torture in detention.
  • Make clear that the issues identified in the EU’s Item 4 statements at the March and September sessions of the Human Rights Council will also be raised at the EU-China Summit in June.
  • Meet with human rights defenders and representatives of China’s civil society organizations, including individuals from ethnic minority groups and religious communities. If such a meeting is not possible because activists are put under house arrest or detained during your visit, please speak with them via phone or the internet while you are in China.
  • Express publicly the EU’s concerns about a slew of new legislation that violates human rights and restricts civil society: the Counterterrorism Law that could be easily abused to prosecute peaceful criticism of the Chinese government; the Cybersecurity Law that strengthens censorship and surveillance; and the Foreign NGO Management Law that gives police unprecedented power to restrict the work of foreign groups in China.
  • Urge the Chinese government to stop suppressing religious teaching and expression, including halting the demolition of Larung Gar, a major Tibetan Buddhist institution; rescinding the ban on the wearing of “abnormal” beards and full-face veil in public places in Xinjiang; and allowing the Roman Catholic Church to appoint its own bishops in China. 

We believe such steps are necessary to foster a meaningful bilateral relationship with China that respects fundamental human values and stays true to the EU’s core principles. We urge that you seize this opportunity to work for lasting change in China.

Thank you for your consideration of these important matters. We wish you a productive visit and please do not hesitate to contact us for further information.


Lotte Leicht                                                                 Sophie Richardson
EU Director                                                                 China Director
Human Rights Watch                                                Human Rights Watch

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country