Fled China to escape the CCP’s persecution, now seeking asylum in Europe

– HRWF calls upon the relevant Spanish authorities to grant asylum to Wang Dongdong and other members of The Church of Almighty God whose case is similar.

 

HRWF (30.06.2020) – Wang Dongdong is from Jiaozuo City in Henan Province, China. In 2001, his family all joined The Church of Almighty God and so he has been a member since childhood. He once had a happy family, but it was torn apart by the CCP’s arrests and persecution. In May 2015, he managed to escape China and reach Spain to seek asylum.

 

The following is Wang Dongdong’s personal experiences under the CCP’s persecution that he shared with Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).

 

Arrested at the age of 12, forced to drop out of school

 

“One day during the spring of 2002, someone reported that my parents were preaching the gospel to the police. About eight police officers arrested my father and three other church members on charges of ‘illegal preaching’ and took away all of their faith-related books. My father was released one day later. After that, the police would regularly come and raid our home, intimidating and threatening us by saying that they were going to take my father away to be re-educated through labour. In order to avoid another arrest, my father had to run away from home and go into hiding.

 

The harassment by the police and the CCP’s persecution had a long-lasting impact on my mental and emotional wellbeing. Even today, I am overwhelmingly fearful when I see police on the streets in Spain, and I panic. My entire body shakes uncontrollably.

 

In 2003, when I was 12 years old, I was arrested while preaching on the streets. The police informed my school and my teachers began discriminating against me. For example, I was disqualified from exams. Later, I had to drop out of school because of this.”

 

Mother died due to being in hiding and unable to see a doctor

 

“In November 2011, the CCP carried out a massive repression campaign in Henan Province. They frantically arrested and persecuted Christians everywhere: 29 leaders of our Church as well as many members were arrested in our area. My parents had to leave the region to escape capture.

 

Afterwards, the police learned that my parents were custodians of church funds. They went to our home and turned it upside-down during their search for them. My home was a total mess after that, as if it had been cleaned out by looters. Fortunately, my parents had transferred the church’s money when they had fled home. The police didn’t find the funds, so they arrested my older brother and waited at our home until the evening, hoping to capture all four members of my family.

 

In order to avoid being caught by the CCP, my parents hid in a cave for a long time. Due to the lack of clothing and food, they suffered from extreme cold and hunger. They lived in fear the entire time. My mother soon fell ill. My parents didn’t dare go to the hospital because they were afraid of exposing their whereabouts after showing their ID cards. Unable to receive treatment, my mother passed away.

 

When I heard about my mother’s death, I was absolutely devastated and am heartbroken to this day. I wish I could have seen her one last time before she died but that was made impossible. It was the CCP’s persecution that separated us and broke my family.

 

Unexpectedly, I met my father one day. When I saw him, I was shocked. He had become so thin, aged and haggard. Almost all of his hair had turned white. His eyes were swollen, and he looked defeated. I held my father tightly in my arms and we cried. The passing of my mother is an anguish that will never end for us.”

 

Arrested again in 2013

 

“In 2012, I faced great difficulties in my attempts to reach Sichuan Province to spread the gospel. On the morning of 29 March 2013, I was meeting two church members at the Guangyuan City Wetland Park when, within five minutes, we were surrounded by twenty to thirty heavily armed special force officers, all of them pointing their guns at us. An older member tried to run, but several police rushed up to her and violently kicked her onto the ground. They forced us in police cars and drove us to the police station.

 

The police took away my two cell phones, my watch, and RMB 1,500 (approximately 212 USD) in cash. After they had searched me, they yelled at me and violently kicked me onto the floor. They kept kicking if I made even the slightest movement. Later, they took me to the interrogation room and cuffed me to a tiger stool, without allowing me to relieve myself, and while denying me any food or water.

 

That evening, the Cangxi County National Security Brigade Police escorted me to the Cangxi County Detention Center.”

 

Torture and forced labour

 

“On the morning of 30 March 2013, the police cuffed me to an iron chair and interrogated me with the aim of extorting information about myself and the church. When I told them nothing, they threw burning cigarette butts on my face. For more than half a month, I was threatened and interrogated every day. They showed me many photos of church members and pressed me to identify them. They told me details about phone conversations I had with other church members. It was then that I realised that they had already been tracking us for at least half a year using video cameras, wiretapping our phones, and recording our conversations.

 

While I was incarcerated at the detention center, I was forced to make tin foil for up to ten hours every day. This tin is poisonous, and if you continually breathe it in, you will eventually get cancer. After working for a long period of time, every inmate there developed numerous red blotches on their skin which were insufferably itchy, and our mouths were also festering.

 

One time, a flu was spreading amongst the inmates, but the guards refused to give us medicine and forced us to continue working. According to one inmate, the work of just our cell alone would net them over one million yuan in one year. We ate moldy rice and rotten vegetables boiled in water, without any salt or oil. We never had enough to eat. Apart from that, two video cameras were installed in every cell to monitor us 24 hours a day.

 

I was detained under these horrendous and dangerous conditions for three months and eleven days.”

 

Fleeing China and arriving in Spain

 

“On 28 May 2014, the CCP accused members of our Church of a horrifying homicide at a McDonald’s in Zhaoyuan, Shandong. This tragic incident was used by the CCP to justify a large-scale mobilisation of armed police and military troops to arrest leaders and members of our Church. Fellow followers of the Church of Almighty God were captured one by one and so I had to relocate many times. In 2017, Dr Massimo Introvigne investigated this criminal case and uncovered the CCP’s deliberate deception in an article published in The Journal of Cesnur.

 

In 2015, as there was a high risk of being re-arrested, I somehow managed to obtain a passport. After many challenges, I finally escaped China and have now reached Europe where I am applying for asylum.”

 

HRWF calls upon the relevant Spanish authorities to grant asylum to Wang Dongdong and other members of The Church of Almighty God whose case is similar.




From China to Italy after being on the run for three years

– HRWF calls upon the relevant Italian authorities to grant asylum to members of The Church of Almighty God who have fled China because of the persecution.

 

HRWF (30.06.2020) – After being persecuted and living in hiding for three years in China, Cheng Lu, a pseudonym used to protect her family who still live in China (*), arrived in Italy and asked for the protection of the Italian government.

 

Cheng Lu is from Henan Province, China, and used to work as a designer at a shoe company. In 2012, she was arrested by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) because of her membership in The Church of Almighty God. Consequently, she lost her well-paid job.

 

In 2013, she narrowly escaped from the CCP’s mass arrest campaign targeting believers of all faiths. After that, she lived on the run. In 2015, she escaped China and sought asylum in a democratic country overseas.

 

She shared her experiences of persecution in China during an interview with Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).

 

Arrest in 2012

 

“It was 12 December 2012. Two church sisters and I were sharing the gospel with other people when four police officers caught us. They put us in a police car without showing any official identification. One of them shouted at me: ‘You break the law by believing in God in China. Instead, you should believe in the Communist Party. If all people become followers of God, then who will follow the Party?’

 

At the police station, the officers ordered us to take out all of our religious materials and personal belongings and to put them on our legs. They photographed us and then separated us for interrogation. An officer questioned me about how I got the religious material. As the three of us refused to say anything, they locked us in a very small room and deprived us of food and water.

 

That night, my then company manager bailed me out. When I left, an officer warned me that if I was found to be continuing to believe in God and spreading the gospel, I would be sentenced to between eight and ten years in prison. My manager became afraid for his business and gave me an impossible choice: to leave The Church of Almighty God and continue working there or to leave. I chose to quit my job.

 

Since I now had this arrest on my record, I was unable to find a job or rent an apartment, and I was afraid to show my ID card to others. I had no other choice than to flee to another city and live in hiding.”

 

A narrow escape in 2013

 

“In late June 2013, the CCP launched a mass arrest campaign in Zhejiang Province, which led to the arrests of over 100 members of our church, including leaders and general members. Among them was Sister Liu, who managed the church in the town I lived in. She had been secretly tracked by the police for six months. Since I had frequent contact with her, I was in grave danger. I decided to escape immediately to another province. Later I learned that five leaders and church staff were arrested there after I left.

 

Sometime in August 2014, the CCP ordered the police to re-arrest believers of The Church of Almighty God who had arrest records and to re-sentence them. The CCP police conducted a blanket search for church members by going from door to door under the guise of a census or checking either the water or electricity.

 

To escape another CCP arrest, I moved from place to place and had to constantly hide. Wherever I was, I dared not go out and only spoke in whispers, living in stifling fear every day. Once, when residential committee staff visited our place for a check, I had to hide in a small cupboard, curling myself into a ball in total darkness. I could only see a gleam of light from the crack in the cupboard door, and in that moment, I felt miserable. It occurred to me that believers in God had nowhere to live in China where they would be free from persecution. This realisation led to a great deal of pain. I longed for freedom.

 

In the 14 months I spent in hiding, I did not dare to call my parents because I knew their phone was under surveillance.”

 

Forced to flee China

 

“In 2014, the CCP falsely accused members of our Church of a homicide at a McDonald’s in Zhaoyuan, Shandong. The CCP used all of the media outlets under its control to attack, defame, and slander our Church. In 2017, Dr Massimo Introvigne investigated the criminal case and uncovered the CCP’s deliberate deception in an article published in The Journal of Cesnur.

 

Afterwards, the CCP mobilised armed police and military forces to carry out a nationwide ‘Hundred Day Battle’ with the sole purpose of arresting members and leaders of our Church. Throughout the campaign, almost 1,900 members of The Church of Almighty God were arrested and at least six of them were tortured to death. From time to time I heard news about the arrests of members and leaders that I knew or had worked with. My situation became even more dangerous and I ran out of places to hide.

 

In 2015, I managed to get a passport and escape China to seek asylum in a democratic country. I have filed my application for asylum in Italy and I am waiting for a decision that will change my whole life. During my hearing in March 2018, I talked about how I joined The Church of Almighty God, my participation in the church activities, and my persecution by the CCP. The Church of Almighty God overseas confirmed my membership after rigorous review and issued a certificate.

 

However, in July 2018, Italy’s Ministry of the Interior rejected my asylum claim. They didn’t recognise my affiliation to The Church of Almighty God and my persecution in China because I managed to obtain a valid passport. This demonstrates ignorance of the loopholes within the Chinese system and the widespread corruption that allowed me to purchase this passport. I have appealed this decision.”

 

HRWF calls upon the relevant Italian authorities to grant asylum to members of The Church of Almighty God who have fled China because of the persecution.

 

(*) The real name of this asylum-seeker is known to HRWF.




EU-China Summit: Europe can, and should Hold China to Account

– In Dealing With China, The ‘European Way’ Should Be One Of Courage And Integrity

 

By Yang Jianli & Aaron Rhodes

 

FOREF (20.06.2020) – https://bit.ly/2YhzyHq – As human rights advocates, we are appealing to European Union member states to condition trade relations with China on specific improvements in China’s human rights practices, and on transparency as regards the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. China’s economy depends on European imports; trade between the two entities exceeds over one billion Euros per day. In this situation, Europe has a historic opportunity, and a responsibility to the moral principles upon which it was founded. The EU should use its immense soft power to help China stop persecuting religious, ethnic and political minorities, and start working with the international community to protect global public health.

 

China is the world’s greatest threat to religious freedom and other basic human rights. Despite years of dialogue with the European Union, and increasing trade cooperation, human rights have deteriorated precipitously. China incarcerates and pressures its Muslim citizens, persecutes Christians, Falun Gong practitioners and other religious minorities, is ethnically cleansing Tibet, and persecutes human rights defenders; China has abrogated an international treaty guaranteeing freedoms to the people of Hong Kong. China has pushed an authoritarian approach to human rights in the UN system, one that degrades the sanctity of basic individual rights and freedoms. China is ranked 177 out of 180 countries in press freedom, and censorship allowed Covid-19 to get out of control. We can’t even assess the loss of human life due to China’s cynical malfeasance in suppressing, rather than dealing openly with the virus, and we need China’s transparency to stop the crisis China created.

 

The episode has vividly confirmed that a state that mistreats its own citizens is not likely to respect the dignity and rights – and health — of others. But in the face of these threats, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell’s call for a “big, positive agenda for EU-China cooperation” without mention of human rights issues dividing Europe and China is discouraging.

 

Josep Borrell, EU High Representative to Foreign Affairs

 

Trade imbalances need to be addressed. But the main challenge for Europe should not be to cut a better deal and assume an equidistant posture between the United States and China, as Borrell emphasized. Instead, it is to use the EU’s huge moral and economic leverage to put China on notice that the regime cannot violate human rights, and the very idea of human rights, without consequences; that the people of Europe cannot have normal relations with a dictatorial, human rights-abusing government. The EU’s failed, German-inspired “Change through Trade” policy needs to be transformed into a policy of no trade development without change.

 

More mercantilism and naiveté on the part of the EU will make the Union into an enabler of human rights atrocities. The Chinese Communist Party’s grand strategy seeks to avoid direct confrontation with the United States, and to use global “rural areas,” including Europe, to encircle the US. It wants to join the EU in a united front against the US, a Maoist strategy. The EU is thus a main battle- ground in China’s cold war for world dominance. China is pretending to be a peace loving, benevolent authoritarian ruler to get a foothold in relations with the EU and to expand its political and economic influence. Central Europe is a particular target because the CCP believes it to be a weak link in the chain, where democracy has not firmly rooted — a region where China can achieve a breakthrough.

 

Since its formation, European Union leaders have claimed it to be a “community of values,” that is, “European values,” diametrically opposed to the totalitarian ideologies the EU was founded to protect citizens against. In fact, the European Union’s basic political principles of individual human rights, democracy, and the Rule of Law are considered universally applicable in the international human rights framework. But the Chinese Communist Party subverts these principles at every opportunity, claiming that human rights are a gift from the state, and defending oppression as “human rights with Chinese characteristics.” China is a one-party, essentially fascist state, and increasingly aggressive in its efforts to stamp out any dissent at home, while confronting opposition to its land-grabs in the South China Sea with bullying and violence.

 

To make a significant, not merely symbolic stand against these fearful trends will require moral discipline and a willingness to sacrifice. Referencing the Frank Sinatra song, High Representative Borrell spoke of the virtue of a European Way. Let that be the way of integrity and courage. Europeans, and people around the world, need the EU to stand firm for human rights, and refuse to be China’s puppet against America.

 

Dr. Jianli Yang, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, is President of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. Dr. Aaron Rhodes is President of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and Human Rights Editor of Dissident Magazine.




EU/GREECE: The EU’s lopsided ‘solidarity’

By Dimitris Christopoulos

 

International Politics and Society (06.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2TzzMY3 – By denying human rights to refugees, the EU has outscored both Greece and Turkey in a competition of anti-humanitarianism. On 2 March, the Greek government announced a one-month suspension of new asylum applications. This measure was taken in response to the exceptional circumstances created after the arrival of thousands of refugees on the Greek-Turkish border in Thrace and the decision of Greece to seal its borders with Turkey.

 

From this point onwards, we marched into the theater of the absurd. Turkey’s Minister of Interior claimed that the Greek decision was ‘unlawful and shameful’. Yet, at the same time, Turkey has ratified the Geneva Convention with a declaration of geographical limitation that only allows European citizens to apply for asylum. This is why, with no exceptions, the world of human rights had opposed the EU-Turkey Common Statement of March 2016. Turkey is not, by definition, a substantial ‘safe third state’ for non-European asylum seekers.

 

Following recent events, the European Union stands by the Greek decision to suspend the Geneva Convention. Or at least, remains silent and apathetic. The future student of European affairs and international relations will be facing a paradox: the EU, self-proclaimed cornerstone of human rights protection in the world, expressed its solidarity to a member-state for suspending the 1951 Geneva Convention. Moreover, Turkey, a country that does not comply in practice with the provisions of the Geneva Convention argues that this is a ‘shameful’ act.

 

International law out of the window

 

To make things even more complicated, this same country – Turkey – is hosting more than 4 million refugees and migrants. In this complicated reality, there are no innocent players. Turkey’s President Erdogan has been consistently instrumentalising migration flows as a retaliation measure that exerts pressure on the EU and destabilises Greece. He has been pursuing this policy without misgivings to the extent of transforming Turkey into a rogue state.

 

Yet, the undeniable fact that Erdogan plays a Machiavellian game by guiding people to the Greek borders should not lead to a state in which these individuals are to be deprived of any kind of international protection. People have the undeniable right to ‘knock the door’ of a state to seek protection, regardless of whether they are assisted or not to arrive at said doorstep. This is the fundamental cornerstone of the ‘non-refoulment’ principle.

 

On the other hand, the Greek government’s response led to a serious human rights’ abuse: the suspension of the Geneva Convention through the suspension of the right to apply for asylum. The underlying assumption here is the differentiation between what was perceived as a humanitarian crisis in 2015 and what is now perceived as a well-orchestrated Turkish attempt to blackmail Greece by pushing thousands of refugees and migrants to the EU border. It is interesting to notice that even Alexis Tsipras, head of left-wing SYRIZA, supports this differentiation.

 

What is Europe then?

 

In this bleak situation, it is the UNCHR that defends the fundamentals of international human right’s customary norms. According to the Greek Government, the legal basis of its decision is grounded on Article 78(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, referring to emergency situations at the external borders. However, as the UNCHR points out, the internationally recognised right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulment can simply not be suspended.

 

The European Union has managed to outscore both Greece and Turkey in this competition of cynicism and anti-humanitarianism. ‘The situation at our border is not only an issue for Greece to manage it is the responsibility of Europe as a whole,’ stated Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Commission, on 3 March following her visit to the Greek-Turkish Borders. The EU is ready to stop illegal crossing at all costs.

 

The scholars of Europeanisation, who tend to unconditionally beautify whatever carries the ‘European’ signifier, will have to confront a reality in which the EU is rewarding a member state not for guaranteeing but for explicitly violating a customary international norm of human rights.

 

The filthy repurposing of ‘solidarity’

 

The very term ‘solidarity’ here acquires a rather novel, filthy connotation. It is not ‘solidarity’ for the noble cause of protecting individuals against persecution, but ‘solidarity’ for protecting states against individuals who are persecuted under the pretext of the unlawful behaviour of a third state. Greece is rewarded – symbolically and financially – to act as a watchdog for the protection of the European courtyard.

 

Needless to say, the main culprit here is neither Greece, nor Turkey – despite their respective responsibilities for the demolition of rule of law. The chief instigator is the EU. A union of states with a total population of half a billion that in 2015 baptised an obvious reception crisis as a ‘refugee crisis’ to masquerade its unwillingness to receive more than a million newcomers (with the exception of Germany and Sweden at least for 2015-2016). More than ever, it is now crystal clear that the EU does not seek to protect refugees. Its sole aim is to protect itself, by any means necessary, from refugees. This is a shameful page in contemporary European history.

 

And the worst is yet to come. Vigilantism, racism and xenophobia are reappearing in Greece. Hatred is dividing Greek society and challenges the hard-earned social cohesion of a country that is just recovering from a prolonged and multifaceted crisis. A local authority in Lesvos has already established check-points at the administrative boundaries with the municipality where migrants and refugees arrive. This is the same island that only four years ago excelled as an example of solidarity towards the arriving refugees. Now, it’s being divided in two.

More than ever before in Greece, human rights activists are either seen as naive victims of the unscrupulous Turkish blackmail, or, in the worst of cases, as enemies within the gates. We have reached the point where the division between insiders and outsiders is transforming into a division within Greek society. In this context, if we don’t react, the boundaries of exclusion will be redrawn and it will not only be human rights norms that will be threatened.




FRANCE: Four churches vandalised over the past week

– In one instance a tabernacle was broken into and its contents strewn on the ground

– Anne-Bénédicte Hoffner  

HRWF (12.02.2019) – https://bit.ly/2WZayC8– France, over the past week, has witnessed a series of churches being vandalized and in some instances desecrated.

The vandalism took place in Nîmes, Lavaur, Houilles and finally in Dijon on Feb. 9.

In Lavaur and Houilles, the criminals only attacked objects and statues, but in Nimes and Dijon, they opened the tabernacle and threw the eucharist.

On Feb. 9 shortly after its opening, the sexton at Notre Dame Church in Dijon saw the tabernacle and the hosts scattered on the altar, a tablecloth rolled into a corner, a vase broken.

A Mass of reparation was celebrated that afternoon by Bishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, preceded by a penitential rite, the diocese said in a statement, highlighting the “sadness” of faithful of this parish in the city center.

The series of attacks began Feb. 4 in Houilles, Yvelines. A statue of Mary was found broken in pieces on the ground, in the church of St. Nicholas.

Father Etienne Maroteaux, pastor of the parish of Houilles-Carrières-sur-Seine, again lodged a complaint, having already being subjected to violent attacks during the last two weeks that saw the altar cross thrown to the ground and the chair of the celebrant wrecked.

The next incident took place on Feb. 5 at the Saint-Alain Cathedral in Lavaur, in the Tarn. The secretary of the parish who came to shut the cathedral found the smoking remains of the tablecloth of the altar of a side chapel, as well the nativity scene that was there, the fire had not spread, reports La Dépêche du Midi. A cross was also thrown down and the arm of the crucified Christ statue twisted to look like the famous gesture of the footballer Paul Pogba.

“God will forgive. Not me,” said the city’s mayor Bernard Carayon, whose town hall had just contributed to expensive renovations of the church building.

“I strongly condemn the vandalism of Lavaur Cathedral and I share the outrage aroused by this intolerable act,” said Jean Terlier, deputy of the district, while assuring the Catholic community of his support.

On Feb. 6, the police were called to the church in Nîmes.

The tabernacle was broken into and its contents strewn on the ground. Religious objects were vandalized and a cross was drawn on the wall with excrement, reports the local press.

Investigations are underway to try to find the wrongdoers.

See video on TV Channel France 2: 

https://www.francetvinfo.fr/france/vandalisme-plusieurs-eglises-visees-par-des-profanations_3187009.html 

Anti-Semitic acts surged by 74 percent from 311 in 2017 to 541 in 2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvuYOTJBPeM 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHx6ukPzb3g 

 




The strange shyness of the EU towards China

– by Marco Respinti –

A seminar of scholars and politicians in the European Parliament loses an excellent opportunity to put respect for human rights at the top of priorities –

Bitter Winter (02.02.2019) – https://bit.ly/2DPRZsO– In the second half of May, the member states of the European Union (EU) will hold elections to renew the European Parliament (EP), and it is logical that, one after the other, hot topics are surfacing. One of these is undoubtedly the relations that the EU has, and above all will have, with the other giants of the international political scene: for example, China. Especially in a historical moment in which the Asian colossus is overtly expanding its power and its grip through the Belt and Road Initiative in spite of the fact that, although it has been the protagonist of the dizzying and proverbial economic growth, it is now lagging behind in the midst of the recent slowdown in its manufacturing output, the decline of the renminbi (Chinese yuan) compared to the US dollar, and the clash on tariffs with the United States of America (the effects of which are also felt in the EU).

Therefore, it makes a lot of sense to have a seminar like the one organized by the German representatives to the EP, Jo Leinen, a Social Democrat, and Reinhard Butiköfer, of the Greens, respectively, president and vice president of the Delegation of the EP for relations with the People’s Republic of China, entitled Political values in Europe-China relations. It took place in the Altiero Spinelli building of the EP in Brussels on January 30, and featured Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova from the Latvian Institute of International Affairs in Riga; Alice Ekman from the Institut français des relations internationales in Paris; Mikko Huotari from the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, Germany; Tamsas Matura, from the Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary; Miguel Otero Iglesias, from the Elcano Royal Institute in Madrid, Spain; and Tim Nicholas Rühlig, from the Swedish Institute of International Affairs in Stockholm.

Human rights not at the top of the agenda

That said, at the cost of appearing naïve, even very much naïve, one would expect that talks about political and commercial relations among countries cannot disregard the respect for human rights and the fundamental liberties of the person. If it makes sense that two despotic countries find it easy to understand each other politically and economically, it also makes sense to expect that a democratic state demands from its probable or possible political and economic partner to respect at least the standards of democracy that it personally observes. How can one think that a democratic country can deal at political and economic level with another if the latter arbitrarily imprisons, tortures, abuses and even kills its citizens? You do not need to be morally superior to understand that trading with a country where human dignity is trampled daily is not good for affairs; even cynics get it. In fact, everyone understands how economically risky, not to say detrimental, it is to maintain commercial exchanges ‒ where all is based on trust, compliance with agreements, respect for rules and transparency ‒ with a treacherous and double partner, used to acting outside the law, to lie and to subjugate rather than to benefit its citizens.

Why then (and here is all my intentional naïveté announced above), when it comes to relations between the democratic states of Europe and a totalitarian country like China, are human rights not at the top of the agenda? The seminar of January 30th in Brussels, for example, didn’t put them on top of the list.

Raise the stakes

Well, a few words were said, some facts were mentioned, but with the handbrake pulled, stealthily. As if the scholars who intervened knew, consciously or subconsciously, not to push things beyond a certain limit. One could say that this is the way scholars operate since they express themselves differently from activists. True, but only partially. Yes, scholars do their job in a different manner from that of the activists, and rightly so; on the other hand, even scholars are able, if they want to, to put things clearly. Of course, differently from activists, but certainly not in a less straightforward way.

After all, in the Brussels seminar, Mikka Huotari explicitly said that several things happening in China are incompatible with the standards that the EU countries are accustomed to. Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova has specified that Latvians have little sympathy for the model of government that dominates China as well as for the flippant approach that Beijing adopts towards international law. Tamsas Matura reported that, if Hungary looks favorably on China, it is not so for the Czech Republic and Poland, whose societies are amply impatient towards the “Beijing model”, adding that, in these assessments, it is always necessary to carefully distinguish the attitudes of the governments from the orientations of the citizens. Alice Ekman has opportunely noted that, when dealing with China, one cannot take anything for granted so that each time it’s necessary to make sense of the words defining their meaning. Rights, law, government, and freedom do not have the same meaning in China as in Europe.

But then, if the scholars who spoke at the seminar feel some uneasiness, and somehow reveal it, why can’t we completely turn priorities upside down (I am still intentionally naïve) and make way for respect of human rights and fundamental liberties of a person a binding paradigm of any other yet legitimate political and economic question? Why, in short, can’t we start from those tenets, explicitly saying that as long as China does not change its attitude on human rights and fundamental liberties, there can be no partnership?

Now (and here my naïveté ends), in the globalized world, it is not possible to retreat in some splendid isolation. It is evident that, like it or not, the rest of the world has to come to terms with the Chinese economic power. But it is equally valid that the stakes can be raised, that the chip of respect for human rights can be put on the table. And it is not true that if one did it, China would leave the table: in order to trade, there must always be at least two.

Two kickers

Certain self-censorships are thus inexplicable. To scholars, who do not act in politics, it wouldn’t cost much to speak openly. At the price of seeming idealists, they can afford it because they hold no political office, and if they speak frankly, they may even benefit from it.

For politicians, however, the price may be higher. They have an ideological agenda to follow and have no intention of affording themselves certain liberties. This is a mischievous statement of mine, but the conclusion of the Brussels seminar on Wednesday has helped to nurture it.

Some thirty minutes prior to the conclusion of the seminar, once the speakers had all given their presentations, Mr. Butiköfer, who acted as the coordinator of the table, opened the Q&A session. He collected all the interventions from the public and then gave back the floor to the speakers. Out of the many questions, two touched the hidden heart of the problem. The first (the first ever) was Ryan Barry’s of the Uyghur Congress in Munich, Germany: he asked if the news of the million (at least) Uyghurs that the CCP unlawfully detains for religious and ethnic reasons in the Xinjiang’s “transformation through education” camps have had an echo in the European countries reviewed by the speakers. Another question was posed by a Chinese lady who asked if the politicians realized that any consideration on China couldn’t ignore the fact that China professes a Communist ideology and practices a Communist ideocracy, which aims at total domination and degradation of people. At this point, two kickers followed.

The first was Mr. Butiköfer’s management of the Q&A: he summarized all the audience’s questions, inviting the speakers to choose their favorite to answer but omitting the two mentioned above, Uyghurs and Communism. Then, he gave the floor to the speakers in reverse order compared to their first run of interventions; they chose to answer everything but the two above mentioned questions, perhaps because the moderator omitted them. Thus, at time expired, with an attendant who signaled to Mr. Butiköfer that it was time to leave the room to a subsequent event, Mikka Huotari took the floor again. And here is the second kicker: he meritoriously recovered the unanswered question on Uyghurs. But at that point, there was no more time, and the question remained suspended in the void (the one on Communism never reappeared on the horizon).