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April 12, 2024

Re: Upcoming China visit and human rights

Dear Chancellor Scholz,

We are writing to you on behalf of Human Rights Watch in advance of your visit to China on April 13-16, 2024.

We recognize that Germany has a complicated and multifaceted relationship with China. While the German economy remains heavily reliant upon China, the German government has increasingly recognized the Chinese government as a “systemic rival.”

As Germany’s experience with Russia makes clear, conducting business with abusive governments without attention to the human rights impacts can carry considerable costs. Germany’s new China strategy, which includes efforts to “de-risk” from China – reducing reliance on China for critical supply chains – and which includes a commitment to promoting human rights, demonstrates the understanding that respect for human rights norms is the foundation for sustainable, healthy Sino-German relations.

Human Rights Watch therefore urges you to use the upcoming visit to put this strategy into action, by expressing firm, unequivocal messages to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chinese leadership that:

  • Germany will pursue accountability for Beijing’s crimes against humanity targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic communities. Such efforts will include Germany pressing ahead with steps toward a United Nations Human Rights Council-backed investigation into these egregious abuses, and that German judicial officials could open preliminary investigations into crimes against humanity committed in China;
  • Beijing needs to free the hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs who remain arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, including the prominent ethnographer, Rahile Dawut, sentenced to life in prison, as well as the Sakharov Prize laureate and Uyghur scholar, Ilham Tohti;
  • Beijing also needs to end its relentless repression of peaceful activists across China, including by freeing human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife, Xu Yan, arrested on their way to meet a European Union delegation in Beijing;
  • Beijing needs to end the serious abuses that would hinder trade and business with the EU under new EU laws on due diligence and forced labor; and
  • China’s relationship with Germany will also be negatively affected if Beijing does not revoke the two draconian national security laws it imposes in Hong Kong. As both laws can be applied extraterritorially, infringing upon the fundamental freedoms that citizens and residents of Germany enjoy in Germany, they are a form of transnational repression.

Germany can have considerable impact on the actions of the Chinese government if it remains committed to a principled and public human rights foreign policy, especially if it does so with its partners. The Chinese government should also come to recognize that this is to China’s benefit as well. At this pivotal moment, we urge that you use your visit to China to secure Germany’s long-term interests by building toward a rights-respecting bilateral relationship.

Yours sincerely,

Wenzel Michalski
Germany Director
Human Rights Watch

Maya Wang
Interim China Director
Human Rights Watch

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