The Chinese regime is becoming increasingly despotic, especially since Xi Jinping took over as the head of the country, and China certainly doesn’t promote “economic and social rights” as the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell has said, writes Vincent Metten.
This opinion piece was written by ICT’s EU Policy Director Vincent Metten and published by Euractiv on 20 October 2023.
High Representative Josep Borrell visited China from 12 to 14 October to take part in a high-level strategic dialogue with Foreign Minister Wang Li. One of the aims of this meeting, which usually takes place on an annual basis, was to prepare for an EU-China summit later this year.
Mr. Borrell took the opportunity to speak at Beijing’s Beida University on relations between Europe and China. He touched upon many aspects of the relationship, which I won’t go into here, but I’d like to focus on one particular statement from his speech that might seem trivial, while it really isn’t. To the contrary.
“At the United Nations Human Rights Council, China seeks to promote the idea that economic and social rights take precedence over political rights and individual freedoms”.
This statement is problematic, as it could be interpreted as giving the impression that China promotes “economic and social rights” and therefore implicitly respects them in one way or another.
Such an interpretation would be absolutely wrong, for economic and social rights cannot exist without the right to express divergent opinions without the risk of being locked up, without the freedom to assemble freely, without the possibility of recourse to independent courts in the event of disputes with the state over measures adopted that affect individuals.
And this constitutes the essence of the concept of the indivisibility of human rights. A concept EU leaders regularly refer to, when they invoke the “universality and indivisibility of human rights.”
As we know, the Chinese Communist Party does not allow for an independent judiciary, it relentlessly persecutes peaceful dissent, in whatever form it is articulated – in the media, in the public, or even in the very private realm of the individual.
Tibetans, for example, do not have a chance to challenge any state measure the state imposes on them. They are being relocated by the thousands as we speak, deprived of their way of living and of what is their very home.
In reality, when we look at China and in many instances at Tibet, we’re therefore not talking about economic and social rights, but about political programs with economic and social dimensions that are imposed on individuals and communities, and which may or may not have a beneficial impact on them.
This nuance is significant. And in the case of Tibet, we are witnessing how wrong policies under the pretext of “development” and “poverty alleviation” can get.
The Chinese authorities don’t give priority to “certain rights” over “other rights”, as this statement might lead us to believe, but they do give priority to an unquestioned and indisputable economic and social policy that is imposed on the entire population, without having a choice but to submit to it, without flinching.
The Chinese regime is becoming increasingly despotic, especially since Xi Jinping took over as head of the country, and is practicing a veritable cult of personality reminiscent of the dark days of Mao Zedong’s China. The People’s Republic of China is no longer a “Party-State”, but has become a “Person-State”, ruled with an iron fist by Xi Jinping.
In the face of such abuses, it is vital not to create the illusion that certain rights, such as economic and social rights, are in any way given “precedence” over in China. Or that collective rights supersede individual rights. It is crucial that the EU continues to stand for the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
It would matter even more to challenge China’s narratives. There are no social and economic rights without civil and political rights.