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Brussels’ hemicycle passed an urgent resolution on human rights and religious freedom in the land of the Red Dragon. We applaud it while noting a few faults.
Finally, the European Union (EU) gets things rolling. On April 18, during its plenary session, the European Parliament (EP) approved an urgent resolution requesting attention on the awful situation of human rights in China and requiring action, notably, on behalf of religious and ethnic minorities.
Particularly important and to the point are a few provisions in the text. Drawing on previous documents, Article 2 of the new resolution “[c]alls on the Chinese Government to immediately end the practice of arbitrary detentions, without any charge, trial or conviction for criminal offence, of members of the Uyghur and Kazakh minority and Tibetans, to close all camps and detention centres and to release the detained persons immediately and unconditionally.”
This is highly relevant, of course, because it acknowledges and mentions camps and detention centers. In fact, these are the infamous transformation through education camps, spread all over Xinjiang (that many Uyghurs prefer to call East Turkestan) and disguised by the Chinese Communist regime as “professional and training schools,” while in reality, they are concentration camps.
Happy with this result at the EP, Mr. Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress in Munich, Germany, tells to Bitter Winter: “It was encouraging to see this relatively strong resolution passed today and to hear many MEPs and Ms. Mogherini state that human rights would not take a back seat to economic relations with China. We now call on the EU and its member states to implement this resolution and to back up rhetoric with concrete action.”
Ms. Lucia Parrucci, in charge of China for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in Brussels, expresses to Bitter Winter UNPO’s satisfaction, underlining the importance of the newly adopted document “on all minorities in China, especially after they passed an emergency resolution on the Uyghurs only a few months ago, in October 2018. The new urgent resolution is also all the more relevant because it comes just after the recent 21st EU-China Summit. It’s very peculiar. And it means that the whole question of human rights and religious liberty in China is now one of the priorities of the EU.”
As a matter of fact, the resolution’s strong Article 2 is echoed throughout the entire text of the document, where many more direct references are made to the unbearable situation of Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim ethnic minorities who are regularly harassed and cracked down on.
Defending Muslim minorities, Tibetans, Falun Gong, and foreigners
But not only. Particularly meaningful is Article 4, which extends the concern beyond Muslim groups and even names some prisoners of conscience unlawfully detained in China, asking Beijing to release them immediately: “[…] Uyghurs, including Ilham Tohti, Tashpolat Tiyip, Rahile Dawut, Eli Mamut, Hailaite Niyazi, Memetjan Abdulla, Abduhelil Zunun, and Abdukerim Abduweli; individuals persecuted for their religious beliefs, including Zhang Shaojie, Hu Shigen, Wang Yi, and Sun Qian; Tibetan activists, writers and religious figures who face criminal charges or have been imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including Tashi Wangchuk and Lobsang Dargye.”
Tibetan Buddhists are extensively mentioned in Article 8, which “[c]alls on the Chinese authorities to uphold the linguistic, cultural, religious and other fundamental freedoms of Tibetans, and to refrain from settlement policies in favour of the Han people and to the disadvantage of the Tibetans, as well as from forcing Tibetan nomads to abandon their traditional lifestyle.” Article 9 “condemns the campaigns carried out via the ‘patriotic education’ approach, including measures to stage-manage Tibetan Buddhist monasteries; is concerned that China’s criminal law is being abused to persecute Tibetans and Buddhists, whose religious activities are equated with ‘separatism’; deplores the fact that the environment for practising Buddhism in Tibet has worsened significantly after the Tibetan protests of March 2008, with the Chinese Government adopting a more pervasive approach to ‘patriotic education.’”
Article 3 extends concern to other religious groups and “[c]alls for the immediate release of arbitrarily detained people, prisoners of conscience, including practitioners of Falun Gong and for a stop to be put to enforced disappearances, and insists that all individuals are able to choose their legal representative, have access to their family and to medical assistance, as well as have their cases investigated.”
Christians are expressly defended in Article 7, which “[c]alls on the Chinese authorities to end their campaigns against Christian congregations and organisations and to stop the harassment and detention of Christian pastors and priests and the forced demolitions of churches.”
And Article 5 even touches on the delicate and urgent question of foreign nationals detained for political reasons in China (even if China makes excuses for that), calling “[…] for the immediate release of the Swedish national book publisher Gui Minhai and the two Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.”
Now – action
Just words, as usual, one may comment. No, not only. Not this time. At least in the intentions of the MEPs who passed this urgent resolution. In fact, the document urges to action the international community explicitly and the European Parliament specifically. Article 13 “[c]alls on EU Member States to prevent any activities undertaken by the Chinese authorities in the EU’s territory to harass members of Turkic communities, Tibetans and other religious or ethnic groups in order to compel them to act as informants, to force their return to China or silence them.” And, very importantly, Article 14 “[c]alls on the Chinese authorities to allow free, meaningful and unhindered access to Xinjiang province and Tibet Autonomous Region for journalists and international observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures; calls for the EU and the Member States to take the lead during the next session of the UN Human Rights Council on a resolution establishing a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang.”
If this happens, it will be a single significant accomplishment. In fact, recent visits by foreign delegations invited to Xinjiang appear to be staged travels for friends and allies. China Daily has reported on the visits by observers from Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Egypt, Cambodia, Russia, Senegal and Belarus in February 2019, astonishingly saying that they all “[…] spoke with trainees at vocational education and training centers, clerics and other members of the public during their visit” (calling detention camps “vocational education and training centers” and detained “trainees” is the Chinese regime’s “Newspeak”) and all “[…] agreed that the Chinese government has made achievements in preventing terrorism, safeguarding the religious freedom of its citizens and conserving ethnic traditions and culture.” After all, Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesman, Mr. Lu Kangs, defines Xinjiang “[…] an open place,” Pakistan states that Xinjiang’s detention camps have just been “sensationalized” and Saudi Arabia uncritically buys Beijing’ lies on fighting “terrorism” in the region.
But even more action is envisioned in the resolution, as Article 20 calls on the European Council ‒ which defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities, and it is now chaired by former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk ‒ “[…] to consider adopting targeted sanctions against officials responsible for the crackdown in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.” Similarly, Article 21 “[c]alls for the EU, its Member States and the international community to halt all exports and technology transfers of goods and services that are being used by China to extend and improve its cyber surveillance and predictive profiling apparatus; is deeply concerned that China is already exporting such technologies to authoritarian states around the world.” These are very important decisions, which go along the same line now followed by the US Administration after the lead, on the subject, of the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China invoking the Global Magnitsky Act against the Chinese officials who are responsible for such horrendous atrocities and crimes against humanity. The situation is urgent, becoming more startling and appalling by the day, as The New York Times has recently documented.
Having said that…
Bitter Winter has been critical of the balancing act in which many MEPs seems to be involved regarding China and warmly joined the international complaint on the unbearable situation of human rights and religious freedom in China. Thus, it now welcomes this new important, urgent resolution, appreciating the debate that preceded the vote and particularly saluting Ms. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, for her vibrant speech. “For Europeans, to Europeans,” she said, “human rights are not less important than economic interests. On the contrary, they are as important if not more important than our economic interests.” The EU, she added, has to find a way of cooperating with the People’s Republic of China, but this has to be always based on clear words and principles. For this reason, Mogherini has stressed that human rights concerns should be raised at all levels in relations with China, not only by the European Council, the European Commission, and the EP but also by EU member states in their bilateral relations with China.
All this notwithstanding, we give the approved resolution two cheers, not three. We can’t refrain from noting that in the document, no reference is made to several religious groups savagely persecuted in today’s China. They are those who are listed as xie jiao and considered “non-religions” by the CCP. Of the officially listed xie jiao, the EU’s resolution names only the Falun Gong, which of course is welcome. We lament the document not uttering a single word on the “new Falun Gong,” i.e. The Church of Almighty God (called the “new Falun Gong” not for any theological similarity, which is simply non-existent, but because of the bloody repression that it undergoes, similar to the one that decimated the Falun Gong). No word is also dedicated to the Shouters or the Association of Disciples, to name a few other persecuted so-called xie jiao. The resolution condemns the persecution of Christians, and it is very good, but naming specifically these groups (which are sometimes theologically criticized also by other fellow Christian groups) would have helped them a lot to come more clearly to light and thus be defended publicly. The same is true also for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, now being harassed in China while virtually no one is paying attention to them.
Catholics and some ambiguities
Rather odd is also point B in the first part (dealing with premises) of the resolution, which states that “[…] China has been successful in lifting 700 million people out of poverty.” (On the other hand, the resolution states bluntly that “[…] since President Xi Jinping assumed power in March 2013 […] the human rights situation in China has continued to deteriorate, with the government stepping up its hostility towards peaceful dissent, the freedoms of expression and religion, and the rule of law,” targeting specifically, in point C, the new Regulation on Religious Affairs effective from February 1, 2018). In reality, as Bitter Winter has documented, the Chinese communist regime keeps on destroying properties and disrupting families to hide poverty from official statistics. In China, the CCP fights poverty politically and legislatively declaring that it no longer exists: to uplift the poor from poverty, the CCP merely eliminates the poor.
Another highly critical element in the resolution is point D of the premises. It states that “[…] while an accord was reached between the Holy See and the Chinese Government in September 2018 concerning the appointments of bishops in China, the Christian religious communities have been facing increasing repression in China, with Christians, both in underground and government-approved churches, being targeted through the harassment and detention of believers, the demolition of churches, the confiscation of religious symbols and the crackdown on Christian gatherings.”
This is all true, but also ambiguous because of the way it is phrased. The implied Christians are obviously the Protestants, who suffer very much, especially if they belong to the dissident house churches. But in the text, they seem to be opposed to the Catholics, supposedly living in better condition because of the mentioned accord. This is incorrect. For sure, the Vatican-China Deal of 2018 obtained the historical pastoral goal of reuniting the Roman Catholic Church for the first time since the creation of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which followed the expulsion of the Apostolic Nuncio in 1951, after the Communists gained power in 1949. But the CCP is politically and ideologically interpreting the agreement with the Holy See as an order given to all Catholics to join the CPCA, the Vatican giving the green light. But this has never occurred, and thus, the underground Catholics, doomed to be extinguished in the plans of the Party, are still persecuted, arrested and re-educated if they resist. It’s no detail or triviality; unless this problem is properly addressed and clarified at all international levels, the Chinese regime will keep on persecuting the Catholics with the “permission” of the world.