Wednesday

1st Feb 2023

Opinion

EU arms embargo against China and human rights

Twenty years ago, non-violent Chinese democracy protesters occupied Tiananmen Square for weeks to ask for more democracy and less corruption.

For 20 years now, the Communist Party of China (CPC) has been playing down or denying the seriousness of the protests and massacre. According to the Chinese authorities, the "4 June incident" allegedly only cost 241 lives, including soldiers, while experts evaluate the number of dead between 800 and 1,500.

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  • The Great Wall of China (Photo: EUobserver)

No international investigation has ever been allowed to have access to first-hand information in China. The families of the victims have never received any financial compensation for the tragic loss of their loved ones. The event has been erased from the collective memory and the young generation of Chinese is kept in total ignorance about this historic democratic movement.

In a spontaneous move of support, the EU then adopted a resolution installing an arms embargo against China. For 20 years, that ban has held despite the efforts of China to have it lifted. The last move in that direction was recently made by China's ambassador to the EU, Mr. Song Zhe. The embargo is out of step with the deepening relations between the EU and China and "it is an absurd political discrimination against a strategic partner," he said to an audience in Brussels on 12 June.

Should the EU follow Paris and Berlin which want to lift the EU's arms embargo, the last remaining post-Tiananmen-massacre sanction imposed by Europe, because the Asian giant has widely opened its doors to French and German investments? Should the European Commission go on spending more than €100 million a year on trade-related and business projects? Should Brussels continue losing €1 million a year on a fruitless Human Rights Dialogue with China?

Human rights dialogue failed

For years, dialogue on human rights with China has failed to achieve concrete results. Recent audits confirm this negative assessment: it is more or less pointless to attempt to engage Beijing on Tibet or political prisoners. Beijing simply instrumentalises its "dialogues" with the EU, the US, the Dalai Lama and other countries to neutralise its interlocutors.

Over the 20 years, there has not been any progress in the field of democracy, rule of law and human rights. Moreover, in the last few years, Beijing has increased the number of missiles pointed at Taiwan to 1,500. Despite repeated moves by President Ma to ease the tensions between both countries, Beijing has not reduced its threat and the international community keeps silent and inactive.

On January 18, 2007, the EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said to the Chinese Prime Minister that there are three conditions China must meet before the arms embargo imposed in 1989 can be lifted.

The conditions are: (1) to ratify the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; (2) to free those jailed for their involvement in the Tiananmen Square events; (3) to abolish the "re-education through labour" system of imprisonment without trial. Two more conditions could certainly be added: to remove all the missiles deployed along China's southeast coast targeting at Taiwan and to formally renounce the use of force against Taiwan.

Unfortunately China does not want peace settlements through dialogue and democracy. The most blatant and recent evidence was the review of China's human rights record at the UN in Geneva on 9 February 2009. The Chinese delegation sabotaged the whole procedure and arrogantly rejected almost all the recommendations aiming at promoting democracy and human rights made by all the EU member states, as well as by Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland.

In the last 20 years, the European Parliament has adopted more than 25 resolutions pointing at the deficit of democracy, rule of law and human rights in China. To no avail and without any further sanctions. Recently, the EU has agreed to China's entry into the WTO in return for very limited change to China's system of economic governance and the hope for political liberalization, thereby giving up a useful leverage tool. It even spends €1 million a year on a fruitless human rights dialogue.

Human rights dialogues must be more result-oriented and concessions must only be granted to China in light of real achievements and political liberalization.

No human rights progress, no lifting of the arms embargo. No removal of the missiles threatening Taiwan, no removal of the ban on arms sales to Beijing.

The writer is Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers International, based in Brussels.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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