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16th Jun 2019

China does not need human rights lesson, says top envoy

  • China and EU praised dialogue on human rights but delivered little of substance (Photo: Patrick Rodwell)

A top Chinese official in Brussels told reporters that China doesn’t need lessons on human rights from the EU.

Li Junhua, a director general in the foreign affairs ministry, on Monday (8) said China has its own model of human rights.

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“China has a clear understanding of how human rights will be carried out in our country and we are confident of our own model,” said Junhua.

Junhua described the different human rights model between Europe and China in culinary terms.

“Europeans like to eat bread and Chinese people like to eat buns. Who is to say which one is more delicious?”

The EU-China human rights dialogue started in 1995 - two rounds take place each year.

Monday marked the 33rd meeting between the two sides.

Pro-rights group say the 'dialogue' has achieved little in terms of advancing human rights in the country.

But Junhua’s appearance before the press in Brussels is not without significance.

It is the first time China agreed to hold press conference on the issue in Europe. He fielded questions from both western and Chinese reporters.

Asked to comment on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, Junhua said it was a purely legal issue and described the street protest and as an “illegal activity”.

“The situation of the election of Hong Kong is a domestic issue, this involves the sovereignty of China,” he added.

Pro-democracy activists have occupied Hong Kong’s financial district for the past two months. On Monday, Beijing-backed authorities in Hong Kong gave the protestors until Thursday to clear out.

On other issues, Junhua said China and the EU have reached a consensus.

“We’ve reached a new level of understanding as well as development on various issues, including women’s rights, technical cooperation, human rights cooperation, and very deep and open exchanges,” he said.

At the same time, he noted that the welfare of the few cannot override the needs of the many in reference to imprisoned Chinese dissidents.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an 11-year jail sentence in northern Liaoning province. His wife is under house arrest.

Xiaobo’s brother-in-law was also sentenced to 11 years on fraud charges - charges Human Rights Watch say are unfounded.

“It is widely believed the heavy sentence is part of broader effort to punish Liu Xiaobo’s family,” said the NGO said in its 2014 World report.

Other dissidents, such as Beijing-based activist Cao Shunli and Xu Zhiyong of the civil rights movement, are often harassed by Chinese authorities. Cao Shunli died earlier this year.

Gerhard Sabathil, director for east Asia and the Pacific at the EU External Action Service (EEAS), headed the talks for the EU side.

He said minority rights in Tibet and Xinjiang, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, procedural and court issues, reform, and the dissident cases were discussed.

He told EUobserver that the Chinese model of human rights is able to address issues of economic and social rights but is not sustainable. The model needs to address all human rights issues, he noted.

Next year’s EU-China human rights dialogue will be held in China.

This article was updated on Wednesday 10 December at 9.00 to note that Cao Shunli had died earlier this year

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