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17th Oct 2019

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China keen to scale down EU human rights talks

  • Wang: 'We don't believe anybody should be a 'teacher' ... We do not yield to pressure' (Photo: Stefan)

China wants to hold human rights talks with the EU just once a year and to curtail discussion of individual cases.

Wang Xining, the Chinese EU embassy's spokesman, told EUobserver the meetings should take place "maybe once a year and not twice."

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The behind-closed-doors talks of mid-level diplomats have been going on for 16 years. In 2010 and 2011, China declined to hold a second meeting. The last one took place on 29 May in Brussels. But the second 2012 talks have not been tabled yet.

Wang added the EU should ask fewer questions about individual victims.

"We look forward to more system-building and policy-making that would improve and protect human rights on a general level ... But in my view, maybe we spend too much time and energy on the individual cases," he said.

He also indicated the EU should soften its tone.

"We listen to the EU, but also to the US, to people from developing countries. We follow good examples and we are determined to improve human rights. But we don't believe anybody should be a 'teacher' ... We do not yield to pressure," he said.

For her part, Maja Kocjiancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said: "We are very much keen to see the dialogue happen twice a year."

"We reserve the right to address individual cases. We have always done so and this is not going to change ... It is not easy to engage China on this issue but our approach is very clear," she added.

At the 29 May event, the EU handed over its usual list of questions on specific people and received replies from China about 25 individuals mentioned in last year's talks.

Leading NGO Human Rights Watch says the dialogues in any case amount to a pretence the EU is doing something on values while its real focus is trade.

But EU diplomats claim they have in the past led to better medical care for prisoners and to early releases.

Ashton herself in the European Parliament on Tuesday (12 June) spoke out on China's prickliest subject - Tibet.

The Tibetan government in exile says 38 people have set themselves on fire since 2009 in reaction to repression and that "hundreds" were recently detained in Lhasa in a new crackdown.

China says Tibet's leader in exile, the Dalai Lama - whom it calls "a savage" - brainwashes monks into committing suicide to stir unrest.

Ashton took the Tibetan side.

She attributed the self-immolations to "the deterioration of the situation in Tibet."

She urged Beijing to let "foreign diplomats and journalists" have full access and to restart talks with Dalai Lama envoys on Tibetan autonomy.

In an aside on China's forced resettlement of Tibetan nomads in the name of environmentalism, she added: "The EU questions whether the objective of environmental protection can only be reached by eliminating the traditional way of life of Tibetans who have lived in harmony with nature for centuries."

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EU diplomats are asking sensitive questions about Tibet and disappeared persons. But critics say that after 16 years of low-profile human rights talks, China is more repressive than when the process began.

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