In response to the decision by EU foreign ministers this morning (22 March) to sanctions imposed on four Chinese nationals and one entity linked to the persecution of the Uyghur minority in Xiangjiang province, China has announced retaliatory sanctions for ten individuals and four entities. One of those listed is Reinhard Bütikofer MEP, chairman of European Parliament’s China Delegation. EU Reporter spoke with Bütikofer about the sanctions and what they would mean for Europe.
“Well, it did come as a surprise that China went this far in their reaction to our human rights sanctions,” said Bütikofer. “[The EU] sanctioned four individuals and one entity over atrocious human rights violations and they retaliated with sanctions on ten individuals and four entities because the EU criticized human-rights violations. When you look at the people they attack, it is five members of the European Parliament from the four major political groups, national parliamentarians, esteemed think tanks, the whole human-rights subcommittee of the European Parliament, and the political and security committee of the European Council. So they are signaling that if you criticize human-rights violations in China, we will go against your very institutions.” Rather than intimidating the European Union, Bütikofer says that China has miscalculated and that they have probably galvanized public support for the EU’s measures.
The European Union has said that it wants a strategic partnership with China, while recognizing that it is a systemic rival. We asked Bütikofer if this approach should still apply.
“No, I don’t think so. The strategic partnership, that was ten years ago, that has fallen by the wayside. Today, we say that China is a systemic rival. It’s also a competitor. While we want to co-operate with China, China refuses to co-operate.”
Asked about the recently agreed China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)
Bütikofer says it is too early to assess, but that it was unlikely to receive the approval of the European Parliament without the removal of sanctions.
On further co-operation, he said that there is still a lot the Parliament can do – without waiting for the National People’s Congress: “Look, we’re not saying we don’t want to talk to China. We’re not saying we want to rupture the relationship. We’re not saying we want to avoid co-operating. It’s just the opposite, but what we’re not going to accept are Chinese rules, that they don’t accept freedom of speech in their own country is bad enough, that they now want the suppression of freedom of speech of other countries is just utterly unacceptable. And it will not happen in this European Union.”