Recent reporting on repressive government policies in the northwestern region of Xinjiang gives Le Drian an opening to do so. Human Rights Watch’s new report, "Eradicating Ideological Viruses," documents mass, systematic abuses against Xinjiang’s 13 million Turkic Muslims.
The Chinese government has long treated Muslims in Xinjiang with hostility and considers their religion and culture evidence of disloyalty and separatism, justifying a wide range of abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.
Particularly since late 2016, when Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo took over Xinjiang after running Tibet, repression has dramatically increased, plunging the region into a human rights crisis of a magnitude not seen in decades.
The facts are terrifying: according to credible estimates, one million people are arbitrarily detained in "political education camps" that have no legal basis and are subjected to forced political indoctrination. Detainees are held indefinitely without any due process rights, are cut off from their families, and have no access to lawyers.
Life outside the camps is little better. The authorities subject Muslims to increasingly pervasive control on daily life. Mass surveillance, denunciations, travel restrictions and forced indoctrination make Xinjiang an open-air prison for the Muslim population. With an unprecedented degree of control over religious practices, the authorities have effectively made Islam illegal in the region.
China’s repression reaches beyond the country's borders: ethnic Uighurs and Kazakhs living abroad and their families are subject to threats, pressure and close surveillance.
The French government needs to stop ignoring the large-scale human rights violations in Xinjiang, which are symptomatic of the deepening repression throughout China under President Xi.
Le Drian should use his visit to publicly call on Xi to close the political education camps and end other repressive policies. He should make clear China’s failure to do so would harm its relations with France. Only then will Chinese leaders recognize that their violations of human rights carry a political cost.
France and other countries should also take initiatives in multilateral forums, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, to impose targeted sanctions against Chen Quanguo and other officials responsible for serious abuses.
Further French silence would send a dangerous message of encouragement for repression in Xinjiang, while weakening the credibility of France, which claims justice and freedom, as well as multilateralism, are at the heart of its diplomacy.