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EU Should Address Beijing’s Assault on Rights

European Parliament Calls for a More Robust China Strategy

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seen on a screen during a video conference to approve an investment pact between China and the European Union on December 30, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.  ©2020 Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a landmark report on Thursday, the European Parliament urged the European Union to adopt a new China strategy and place human rights squarely at the heart of it.

The report’s focus on Chinese government human rights violations is further evidence that Beijing’s bullying attitude in Brussels has backfired. Baseless counter-sanctions adopted in March against EU bodies that “dare” criticize the Chinese government only led to freezing prospects for a bilateral trade deal, and galvanized cross-party support in the European Parliament for stronger EU action against Beijing.

Building on previous European Parliament resolutions, the report makes a number of detailed recommendations to the EU and its member states, including calls to adopt targeted sanctions against senior Chinese officials responsible for abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. It calls for better coordination to counter Beijing’s growing global influence and anti-rights agenda, and for a diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing. The European Parliament also urged the EU’s foreign policy branch to seek a more effective and benchmark-based human rights dialogue, and organize a shadow dialogue with civil society. The report reiterated the European Parliament’s call for the adoption of binding due diligence legislation for companies, a ban on forced labor goods, and a business advisory on the risk of employing Uyghur forced labor.

But both the European Parliament and the Chinese leadership know that in EU foreign policy, it takes all 27 member states to tango. In the report, lawmakers regret the “bilateral and uncoordinated engagement of some Member States with China,” including those that have signed bilateral deals, undermining EU unity. In May 2020, Hungary vetoed the adoption of foreign ministers’ conclusions on Hong Kong. The report urges the EU to coordinate member states’ bilateral policies with China, and even urges a review of European Commission policies that risk making it harder to ensure a coherent and consistent policy across all EU branches.

The EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell has said he wants “a more robust China strategy.” The European Parliament has just given him one, and the EU would be wise to follow it.

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