CHAPTER 8: HUMAN RIGHTS
AND THE RULE OF LAW
226. Support for China's transition to an open
society based upon the rule of law and respect for human rights
is one of the main objectives of EU policy towards China.
The EU has sought to engage China in a structured dialogue on
human rights and the rule of law, including at summit meetings.
The main forum for this is the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue.
The UK and several other Member States also maintain bilateral
human rights dialogues with the Chinese government. The EU and
several Member States have carried out a range of projects in
China to help improve the rule of law and support the development
of civil society. The EU and its Member States also engage China
on human rights through the UN. We discussed the EU arms embargo,
which was imposed in response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square repression,
in Chapter 4.
227. Isabel Hilton thought that the general direction
of travel in China on human rights was positive and that there
had been many improvements compared to several decades ago. In
the past the government used to be involved in every aspect of
life, e.g. people were assigned a job, a study course.
However, there were areas in which there was no progress and she
advocated a more robust approach by the EU (Q 127).
228. Lord Mandelson said that the Chinese government
considered human rights to be an internal matter and resisted
what it saw as international interference (QQ 744-5). The
Chinese position remained that it was delivering economic and
collective rights, which took priority over individual rights
(Dr Brown, Q 58). Nevertheless, China was gradually
realising that the treatment of individuals and the freedom to
report on human rights in China had to change. There was a growing
realisation in China that the world had a legitimate interest
in the situation there (Lord Mandelson, QQ 744-5).
229. One of the main objectives of the EU is
ratification by China of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, which China signed on 5 October 1998. The EU
continues to press for a timetable for ratification and for reform
of the Chinese legal system to ensure compliance with the Covenant.
The then FCO Minister Bill Rammell MP wrote that the National
Human Rights Action Plan of China (2009-2010) referred to work
towards ratification in general terms. China had reported at the
EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in October 2008 that it had been
actively preparing for 10 years for the ratification process.
However, in reality the situation was complicated by incompatibilities
between Chinese legislation and the Covenant (p 271).
230. Patrick Child (then Head of Cabinet of the
Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner),
stressed that despite setbacks, human rights had to remain central
to the relationship with China: "We cannot ignore the very
important human rights agenda because we have very important economic
or commercial issues to discuss with China, and certainly that
is a point that Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner has always stressed."
The EU favoured comprehensive agreements with important countries
like China "precisely in order to bring together different
strands of the relationship, including the more difficult ones
and we must continue to make efforts in that respect"
(Q 353). The EU would like to include references to human
rights in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) currently
under negotiation with China (see Chapter 3). Elements of the
text on human rights had been agreed but agreement on the full
article was "likely to take some time yet" (Julia Longbottom,
Far Eastern Group, FCO) (p 260).
231. Riina Kionka, the EU High Representative's
Personal Representative for Human Rights, said the EU sought to
convince the Chinese that it was in their interest to build up
the rule of law and respect for human rights as a way of modernising
their country (Q 468).
232. Michael Pulch
told us that the delegation had one officer working on human rights,
which was not sufficient. Given its importance in the EU-China
relationship, the EU Delegation in Beijing should consider increasing
the number of those working on human rights. Mattias Lentz,
representing the then EU presidency, thought that companies operating
in China could play a role in improving human rights, including
through the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda.
233. Dr Steve Tsang (Oxford University)
argued that in engaging China the EU must adhere to its values,
including respect for human rights. However, this did not mean
that the EU should interfere in China's domestic affairs. Rather,
the EU should work with the Chinese government and Chinese and
international NGOs to ensure that the rights of Chinese citizens
set out in the constitution were enforced. This would be on the
understanding that China was free to monitor and comment on human
rights protection in the EU. The EU should not incite Chinese
citizens to break the law, but should give "moral support"
to Chinese citizens who sought to exercise their constitutional
rights (p 323).
234. The Government recognise in their framework
document on China that the UK's main influence in the area of
human rights and the rule of law comes through working with others,
primarily within the EU. FCO Europe Minister Chris Bryant MP
commented that occasionally one Member State might take an overly
conciliatory line on human rights for commercial reasons, and
it was therefore important to ensure a united European voice across
the full range of policy areas when dealing with China (Q 764,
see also Brown Q 60).
235. Dr Brown (Chatham House) wrote that
for most of 2009, relations between the UK and China had been
good. The UK had even become the main destination for Chinese
investment in the EU. However, over a few months, China's relations
with the rest of the world had deteriorated. On 28 December 2009,
British citizen Akmal Shaikh had been executed by lethal injection
on a drugs charge, despite over 25 representations from the British
Government, including two letters from the Prime Minister to President
Hu Jintao. "While an explicit link is unlikely, many in the
UK, and some in China, saw the Chinese government's failure to
grant clemency in this case as a direct response to the British
government's open criticism of China at Copenhagen" (p 26).
The EU issued a statement
condemning "in the strongest terms" the execution of
Akmal Shaikh, and reaffirming its "absolute and longstanding
opposition to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances".
236. Dr Brown commented that the UK, and
other major partners of China, had to consider seriously what
their engagement had delivered over the last few years. Despite
some successes, it was not clear what the UK's change of policy
over Tibet, for example (see below), had achieved. China's treatment
of dissidents, including Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng, had grown
"increasingly harsh" in the last six months. The Chinese
had cancelled the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue in January 2010
at short notice; it might be time for the Government to "review
its commitment to a forum even some activists say delivers nothing
except propaganda value for the Chinese" (p 27).
237. The UK and the EU engagement strategy
towards China must be robust and focused, including on human rights.
238. We welcome the EU's rapid support for
the Government's position on Akmal Shaikh. We are very disappointed
that the UK and EU requests for clemency were ignored by the Chinese
239. The EU must demonstrate much greater
unity and consistency if it is to convey effective messages to
the Chinese government on human rights and the rule of law. We
recommend that EU Member States show greater solidarity, through
public declarations if necessary, with other Member States when
they come under pressure from the Chinese government on questions
of human rights (see also Chapter 3).
EU projects in China
240. James Moran (EU Commission) pointed out
that building the rule of law in China was "extremely important",
including as a way to promote respect for human rights, but was
often overlooked because it was an arduous process. The Commission
"never, ever" failed to press the importance of the
rule of law in its dialogue with the Chinese (Q 354). For
Isabel Hilton, the rule of law was a central aspect of the EU-China
relationship. In the absence of the possibility of political action,
the law was an interesting instrument. China had many statutory
rights which were not defended by the state but Chinese citizens
had begun to use legal redress to assert them. The EU could make
more progress by working with the Chinese on technical aspects
of the rule of law, than by sterile exchanges on human rights
(QQ 88, 128-9).
241. We were pleased to learn that the EU and
individual Member States had done much to support China's efforts
to build the rule of law; promote respect for human rights; improve
capacities in the Chinese legal system; improve the penal system;
educate intellectuals; and build capacity in civil society (Q 127).
Professor Shambaugh (George Washington University) wrote
that implementation had largely been carried out by private sector
actors, albeit often funded by the EU or its Member States. "Collectively,
European nations and the EU have done far more than any other
country in these areas" (pp 307-8). Professor Flemming
Christiansen (University of Leeds) noted that the EU's policies
had helped bring about growth in local and international NGOs
dealing with community-level governance and advice to citizens
242. Specific examples of projects include Commission
support for human rights seminars to facilitate exchanges of views
between European and Chinese legal experts. The EU-China Legal
and Judicial Cooperation Programme to strengthen the rule of law
in China was described by the then FCO Minister Bill Rammell MP
as "by far the most important foreign assistance project
of its kind in China" (p 271). Ms Lei Vuori (European
Commission delegation in Beijing) explained that the EU-China
Law School was running two major governance projects in partnership
with the United Nations Development Programme.
The School trained judges on international law, including human
rights law. She thought the School could have a major impact on
a new generation of Chinese lawyers.
243. The Commission is carrying out an impressive
range of civil society, rule of law and human rights projects
in China, often in partnership with Chinese civil society organisations.
The UK and other Member States are also doing important and successful
work in this area. We welcome these activities and believe they
should be strengthened.
EU-China Human Rights Dialogue
244. Stephen Lillie (then Far Eastern Group,
FCO) stressed that the Government saw both EU and Member State
human rights dialogues with China as important symbols of European
concern as well as an opportunity to raise individual cases. They
were also important to help China address institutional, political
and legal reform (Q 12).
245. The EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, established
in 1995, takes place every six months. It covers a variety of
human rights issues, spanning all the categories of rights. The
EU always raises the question of the death penalty and the arbitrary
detention system called "re-education through labour"
246. Our witnesses were generally critical of
the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. Riina Kionka, the High Representative's
Personal Representative for Human Rights, expressed disappointment
with progress. However, a regular and confidential dialogue was
more likely to be effective than sporadic outbursts or lecturing
the Chinese in public (QQ 462, 467). Dr Brown thought
that the Chinese tended to listen politely but not engage in a
dialogue on human rights. The Chinese government quickly became
defensive and felt that its achievementsincluding lifting
people out of poverty, creating a legal system and local village
electionswere not recognised (Q 60).
247. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that
the EU-China Dialogue had become "largely a rhetorical shell,
lacking in accountability, transparency, and clear benchmarks
for progress". The EU had allowed China to dictate which
NGOs were invited, even for meetings in Europe. The discussions
were "structured to prevent frank discussions about human
rights conditions inside China". Establishing connections
between experts in areas such as labour law had merit but should
not substitute for discussions of serious abuses. The dialogues
had also suffered from a lack of high-level political effort,
with the EU conveying inconsistent messages at summit meetings.
The Chinese government was adept at exploiting these inconsistencies
in order to undermine dialogue (pp 302-6). Lord Patten of
Barnes thought that the Chinese had made no substantive change
in internal human rights policy as a result of pressure from the
EU (Q 553).
248. On a more positive note, Stephen Lillie
noted evidence that individuals whose cases were regularly raised
by European governments, the United States or others were "ultimately
progressed" (QQ 12-13). James Moran, Director for Asia
in the Commission, noted that the EU had had some influence insofar
as all death sentences were now reviewed in Beijing. He was convinced
that with patience, the dialogue could achieve results (Q 353).
249. Riina Kionka noted that the Chinese were
increasingly raising issues of concern in the EU, such as the
situation of Roma communities, which made the dialogue "more
meaningful". The Chinese always reminded the EU that the
dialogue should be conducted on an equal basis and in a spirit
of partnership (QQ 464-466).
250. The EU should continue to pursue a regular
and confidential dialogue with China on human rights. In most
cases this is likely to be more effective than public declarations
or high-handed moralising. However, such a dialogue must produce
results and not become a cover for inaction. If the EU-China Human
Rights Dialogue fails to make significant progress, EU Member
States should consider raising China's human rights record more
actively in the United Nations Human Rights Council.
251. We believe that the Chinese government
should not be allowed to dictate who participates on the European
side in the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. The list of civil
society participants from the European side should be drawn up
by the EU, taking into account expertise on China and the issues
on the agenda. The EU should also encourage China to permit the
participation of a wide range of Chinese civil society organisations
in the dialogue.
Promoting human rights through
the United Nations
252. Bill Rammell MP (former FCO Minister)
wrote that the EU sought to work with all members of the UN Human
Rights Council. China had played a role in the Universal Periodic
Review (UPR) process by asking constructive questions in other
Member States' reviews. The EU had encouraged all States to prepare
rigorously for their UPR, engage independent civil society in
every stage of the process, and adopt an open, self-critical approach.
The Minister was satisfied that the Chinese had approached their
review in February 2009 seriously but was disappointed that all
recommendations proposed by EU Member States had been rejected
253. For Human Rights Watch, Chinese diplomats
had become adept at undermining the UN's promotion of human rights.
They gave examples of China's attempts to weaken the Human Rights
Council's procedures. China had also often blocked UN Security
Council resolutions on sanctions. However, China had responded
more positively on Darfur and the Middle East, issues on which
the EU had engaged China at the highest levels (see Chapter 4)
254. Stephen Lillie told us that the international
community had expanded its dialogue with China on international
issues, but in general China did not favour sanctions and would
always emphasise dialogue (Q 21). On Burma (see Chapter 4),
the Chinese had concluded that the military junta was more likely
to provide stability than any democratic elections. They had,
however, tried to encourage political change "in a quiet
way" (Lord Patten of Barnes, Q 560).
255. We are concerned that China may be undermining
the efforts of the United Nations to protect and promote human
rights worldwide. While China has responded more positively than
in the past to high-level EU engagement on human rights violations
in Darfur and the Middle East, it has also blocked some UN Security
Council resolutions entailing targeted sanctions against gross
human rights offenders such as the military junta in Burma and
the regime in Zimbabwe. The EU should press the case that, as
a member of the United Nations, China has a duty to respect and
promote human rights; but also that respect for human rights around
the world is a cornerstone of stability and human development
and is therefore in China's long-term interest.
Tibet and Xinjiang
256. Western China has an entirely different
composition to eastern China. At the foundation of the PRC in
1949 there were few ethnic Chinese (Han) in these areas and they
had been largely self-governing since 1911. On the establishment
of the PRC, Tibet and Xinjiang were designated autonomous regions
indicating that their distinctiveness would be guaranteed in the
constitution. The EU Member States all recognise these areas as
Chinese sovereign territory; but the way that the Chinese government
has handled political incorporation and economic opening has led
to rising opposition to Beijing's policies and a potential for
257. Isabel Hilton said that Tibet and Xinjiang
were areas of tension. Tibet was effectively under military occupation.
Xinjiang, with its mostly Sunni population with a strong Sufi
influence, was tightly controlled by the Chinese authorities.
There had been long-running discontent which was of concern to
the government (QQ 97-99, 134-136). The EU does not currently
have a policy on Tibet or Xinjiang agreed by the Member States,
but it has issued statements.
258. There have been several cases of unrest
in Tibet in recent years. For example, in March 2008, in advance
of the Olympic Games in Beijing, there were riots and protests
in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet.
(For historical background on Tibet see Appendix 9.)
259. Isabel Hilton thought that there was "widespread
and justified discontent" in Tibet which could be resolved
if the Chinese government adopted a more "enlightened"
approach. The Chinese government had recently issued a White Paper
on Tibet which downplayed the problems. In 2008 the Chinese government
had blamed the Dalai Lama, maintaining that Tibet was making great
economic progress within the embrace of the motherland; and that
the trouble in Tibet was instigated by foreign powers with the
intention of damaging China and encouraging "splitism".
These were "extremely weak" arguments. The administration
in Lhasa was the most politically reactionary part of the Chinese
state. The EU could play a role by supporting a "one country,
two systems" solution, an approach which had worked well
in Hong Kong. The EU should also point out to the Chinese that
the Dalai Lama was a moderate and effective interlocutor who represented
all Tibetans and that China should therefore seek a negotiated
settlement with him (Q 134).
260. The Office of Tibet
commented that the Chinese government's approach had been "cultural
genocide" against anything "Tibetan". Tibetans
had become a minority in their own country and were subjected
to "racial discrimination" by the Chinese. The Tibetan
language was being made redundant and Tibet's natural resources
were exploited. The repression experienced by Tibetans was like
"hell on earth". In order to resolve the issue, the
Dalai Lama had renounced the Tibetan people's right to an independent
state and agreed that Tibet could remain within the PRC to help
maintain unity and stability, despite the dubious nature of China's
historical claim to Tibet. The EU should urge China to:
- invite impartial international bodies to investigate
who instigated the 2008 uprisings in Tibet;
- open all Tibetan areas to independent monitors
and the international media;
- release all Tibetan political prisoners of conscience.
All detained Tibetans must have access to independent lawyers
and the right to lodge complaints, in an atmosphere free of reprisal
and harassment (pp 318-20).
261. The European Parliament, in a resolution
of 10 April 2008 on Tibet,
condemned the "brutal repression visited by the Chinese security
forces on Tibetan demonstrators and all acts of violence from
whichever source". The Parliament criticised the "often
discriminatory treatment of non-Han Chinese ethnic minorities",
and called on China to "honour its commitments to human and
minority rights and the rule of law". The resolution called
for a UN inquiry into the 2008 riots and repression in Tibet and
for a constructive dialogue "without preconditions"
between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama, as well as
the appointment of a special EU envoy for Tibetan issues.
262. Dr Brown said that the UK Government
had recognised Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in November 2008,
whereas previously it had only recognised Chinese suzerainty.
These changes meant that all EU Member States now recognised Chinese
sovereignty over Tibet. The EU could be tougher on China over
Tibet and, in particular, argue that unrest in Tibet damaged China's
international image. However, the Chinese leadership regarded
sovereignty not as a legal but as a moral issue. The Chinese government
wanted western leaders to affirm not just that the Chinese had
the legal right to be in Tibet but that they had a moral right.
Western and Chinese leaders were "talking different languages"
in relation to this issue (QQ 60, 71). It was a particular
problem for the EU because in the eyes of the Chinese Tibet was
associated with Europe rather than the United States (Q 60).
(See also Chapter 3.)
263. For Professor Godement, there was no
reason for the EU to give priority to the Tibet issue. Several
European countries had adjusted their Tibet policy significantly
in 2008. The French had made a declaratory statement which recognised
Chinese territorial integrity and that Tibet was part of China
264. FCO Minister Ivan Lewis MP set out
the Government's policy on Tibet in October 2009.
The UK had an interest in long-term stability in Tibet, which
could be achieved through respect for human rights and greater
autonomy for Tibetans. The UK's change in policy on Tibet had
enabled it to exert significant influence over the Chinese government.
Minister for Europe Chris Bryant MP told us that no country
in Europe would abandon the issue of Tibet, but that the way to
raise it was with "steadiness and resolve" rather than
by "sudden grandstanding" (Q 789).
265. Representatives of the Dalai Lama and the
Chinese authorities met on 26 January 2010,
but no progress was made on substantive issues. This was the ninth
round of dialogue and the first visit for 15 months in the process
that began in 2002.
266. At a high-level meeting on 18-20 January
2010 attended by President Hu Jintao, Chinese leaders agreed plans
to "accelerate development" in the Tibet Autonomous
Region. They said
that greater efforts had to be made to improve the living standards
of the people in Tibet, as well as ethnic unity and stability.
267. Tibet is an extremely sensitive issue
for the Chinese government and one that it perceives as a threat
to national unity and territorial integrity. However, there is
evidence that there have been grave violations of human rights
in Tibet, which we deplore.
268. The issue of Tibet needs to be handled
carefully by the EU and its Member States. A regular, constructive
dialogue between the Chinese authorities and Tibetan representatives
is the only way a long-term solution can be found. We welcome
the resumption of talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama
and the Chinese authorities.
269. The EU should call on China to pursue
the dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama in a spirit
of compromise and mutual respect. The EU should seek to persuade
China that respecting human rights in Tibet is a legal and moral
obligation; and that fair treatment of all Tibetans will help
rather than hinder China's long-term stability and unity. The
EU should continue to raise the issue of Tibet in its human rights
dialogue with China.
270. China has attempted to pressure individual
EU leaders to discourage them from meeting with the Dalai Lama.
EU Member States must coordinate their approach and show solidarity
with each other in resisting this pressure.
271. In July 2009, inter-ethnic rioting erupted
in Urumqi, the provincial capital of Xinjiang, leading to several
hundred deaths. (For historical background on Xinjiang see Appendix
9.) The apparent trigger for these events was media reports that
Uyghurs migrant labourers had been killed in street violence in
eastern Guangdong province. The Chinese government attributed
the events to "internal and external forces of terrorism,
splitism and extremism".
This resulted in a new wave of detentions, prosecutions, and sentencing
in the region, including death sentences. It was against this
background of intensive security measures in Xinjiang, that the
UK citizen, Akmal Shaikh, was executed for drug offences in December
2009 (see paragraph 237 above).
272. Scott Wightman of the FCO told us that the
Chinese government had shown "selective deafness" in
interpreting statements by western governments during the riots.
The UK and the EU had condemned the violence and stated that there
was no justification for the extremist attacks on innocent people.
They had also called for the rights of the detainees to be respected.
The Chinese had been surprised by the underlying problems in Xinjiang,
and were unsure how to deal with them. The UK and EU were looking
for ways to help the Chinese address some of the underlying tensions
that had led to the violence (Q 796).
273. The UK and the EU were right to condemn
the violence in Urumqi in July 2009. We also welcome their efforts
to assist the Chinese in searching for ways to address the underlying
problems that affect Xinjiang.
274. China plays an important role in the
countries and regions bordering Xinjiang, including Central Asia,
Afghanistan and Pakistan. China and the EU have common interests
there, not least security and economic development. However, the
EU should not temper concerns about human rights and ethnic tensions
in Xinjiang in exchange for China's cooperation on fighting terrorism
and insurgency in Central and Southwest Asia (see also Chapter
99 See: http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/china/index_en.htm Back
Meeting with Frank Ching, Hong Kong-based journalist, Appendix
Chargé d'Affaires at the EU delegation in Beijing, Appendix
Chargé d'Affaires at Sweden's embassy in Beijing, Appendix
Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the EU on the execution
of Akmal Shaikh, Brussels, December 2009. Back
Roundtable on human rights, Beijing, 22 July, Appendix 4. Back
For example, the Declarations by the Presidency dated 29 October
2009 and 12 November 2009. Back
House of Commons Library standard note, 20 March 2009. There were
divergent interpretations of what had caused the disturbances,
with the Chinese saying that Tibetans had started the violence
with attacks on Chinese inhabitants in Lhasa, alleging that about
20 people died. Supporters of the Tibetan cause focused on the
repressive response of the authorities, with over a thousand Tibetans
being detained, and claimed that up to 200 people had been killed.
Amnesty International described Tibetan protests as "largely
peaceful" and spoke of a subsequent "lock-down"
in Tibet. For Amnesty's June 2008 report, see: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/china-one-thousand-protesters-unaccounted-tibet-lock-down-20080620 Back
The official agency of the Dalai Lama for northern Europe, Poland
and the Baltic States, based in London. Back
House of Commons Official Report (Hansard), 20 October 2009, columns
759 & 764. Back
Statement by FCO Minister Ivan Lewis MP, 25 January 2010.
Chinese state news agency (Xinhua), 22 January 2010. "China
to achieve leapfrog development, lasting stability in Tibet".
White Paper on Xinjiang published by the State Council of the
People's Republic of China, September 2009. Xinjiang de fazhan
he jinbu [Xinjiang's development and progress] PRC, Central People's
Government. Available at http://english.gov.cn/official/2009-09/21/content_1422566.htm Back