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French President Emmanuel Macron and China's President Xi Jinping during the official welcoming ceremony in Beijing on April 6, 2023. © 2023 Sipa via AP Images

(Paris) – French President Emmanuel Macron should lay out consequences for the Chinese government’s crimes against humanity and deepening repression during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris, Human Rights Watch said today. Xi’s visit on May 6-7, 2024, will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between France and the People’s Republic of China, and will likely focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, conflict in the Middle East, and trade issues.

“President Macron should make it clear to Xi Jinping that Beijing’s crimes against humanity come with consequences for China’s relations with France,” said Maya Wang, acting China director at Human Rights Watch. “France’s silence and inaction on human rights would only embolden the Chinese government’s sense of impunity for its abuses, further fueling repression at home and abroad.”

Respect for human rights has severely deteriorated under Xi Jinping’s rule. His government has committed crimes against humanity – including mass detention, forced labor, and cultural persecution – against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, adopted draconian legislation that has erased Hong Kong’s freedoms, and intensified repression of government critics across the country.

In March 2021, European Union governments unanimously agreed to adopt targeted sanctions against a handful of Chinese officials and entities deemed responsible for the crackdown in Xinjiang. China immediately retaliated with counter-sanctions, which contributed to cooling bilateral relations and the suspension of a bilateral trade deal.

Macron visited Beijing in 2019 and 2023, but refrained from publicly speaking out about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. He should change course and publicly raise human rights concerns during Xi’s visit, Human Rights Watch said.

Specifically, Macron should urge Xi to end crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and release hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs who remain arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, including Rahile Dawut, a Uyghur academic, and Ilham Tohti, the economist and Sakharov Prize laureate. Macron should press Xi to end Chinese government oppression in Tibet.

Macron should also urge Xi to revoke the two draconian national security laws that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong. As both laws can be applied for actions outside of China, they affect Hong Kong people and registered businesses in France that criticize the Chinese government. Macron should press for the release of jailed Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders including Joshua Wong, Chow Hang-tung, and Jimmy Lai, among others.

Finally, Macron should press the Chinese government to end its relentless repression of peaceful activists across China, including by freeing the human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng and his wife, Xu Yan, arrested in April 2023 on their way to meet an EU delegation in Beijing.

However, speaking out on human rights, as the EU has repeatedly done in its statements, will only lead to positive results if accompanied by concrete consequences, Human Rights Watch said. Macron should make clear to Xi that France will pursue accountability for Beijing’s egregious crimes, including by pressing ahead toward a United Nations Human Rights Council-backed investigation in Xinjiang.

And he should spell out how Beijing’s continued repression will hinder trade and business between the two countries and with the EU more broadly; including once the EU’s due diligence and forced labor legislation come into force.

This approach to human rights is in line with Macron’s vision of “strategic autonomy” for Europe; an idea that the continent should be strong and not a strategic “vassal” to the United States, as well as not to rely too heavily on China for production. He has also described a “humanist model” that is based on values such as democracy and human rights.

“Macron should demonstrate the French government’s commitment to addressing Xi’s assault on rights inside and outside China,” Wang said. “That requires leadership, determination, and clarity on human rights. He should step up to the task, and not succumb to business as usual.”

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