Press Releases High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on the situation of the Uyghur in China

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on the situation of the Uyghur in China

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell on the situation of the Uyghur in China

Strasbourg, 18/12/2019 – 19:01, UNIQUE ID: 191218_15
HR/VP speeches

Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the European Parliament plenary debate on the situation of the Uyghur in China (China-cables)

Mr President,

Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

The European Union has repeatedly spoken about the situation in Xinjiang. We have done this in multilateral fora, such as the last Human Rights Council in Geneva in September and the United Nations General Assembly in New York in October. And I did it recently in my meeting with the [State Councillor and] Foreign Affairs minister of China [Wang Yi] in Madrid.

We continue to be gravely concerned about the existence of the so-called political re-education camps. Reliable and multiple sources’ research indicate that it has almost certainly affected over 1 million people.


Another major source of concern is the use of widespread and intrusive surveillance. We understand that advanced technologies, relying on biometrics and artificial intelligence, are used to monitor and keep files on residents of Xinjiang. This includes the registration of very sensitive biometric data and the widespread use of facial recognition.


Credible reports refer to severe limitations to the freedom of conscience and religion, with closure or controls imposed on places of worship, as well as limitations on religious education and on education in minority languages.


Nobody disputes the right of any country to take legitimate measures to combat terrorism and ensure security. But to our understanding the policies applied in Xinjiang appear disproportionate to the stated aim of fighting against terrorism and extremism. This was also the conclusion of twelve United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders, who analysed the application of the Counterterrorism Law in China and came to the conclusion that it raised serious concern regarding arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and absence of judicial oversight.


I also would like to recall our request to allow meaningful access for independent observers to the region, such as the United Nations Special Procedure mandate holders and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. So far these appeals have not been heard. Granting them would be an important step.


I have been talking with the Chinese authorities in order for our ambassadors to make a meaningful visit to the region.


The award ceremony today will also highlight the importance of respecting the rights of people belonging to minorities, the freedom of thought, of conscience and religion and the right to education.


The European Union will continue to express its principled position and to raise its concerns regarding Xinjiang in the framework of its political dialogue with China and internationally, including for sure at the United Nations. On behalf of the EU, I will continue to call on China to uphold its national and international obligations and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.


Mr President,

Honourable Members,

Thank you for your attention, I look forward to our discussion.

Link to video:

Closing remarks :

Dear Members of the Parliament,

Thank you very much for your contributions.

I conclude that the majority, not to say the unanimity of this House, is strongly concerned with the situation in Xinjiang and calls on China to drastically change its policies in the region, including, in particular the use of political re-education camps and widespread surveillance. The legitimate and necessary global fight against terrorism should happen while guaranteeing the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.


Allow me to express my appreciation for your attention and support in maintaining this important issue high on the EU agenda and in the international arena also. Because let me tell you that China is actively promoting the narrative of successes in combatting terrorism in Xinjiang and obtaining strong support from many countries, including the members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.


Let me give an example. At the United Nations General Assembly, a group of 22 countries, among them several European [Union] Member States, released a joint statement on abuses of the Uyghur population, which was immediately countered by a statement by 54 countries led by Belarus, praising China’s counterterrorism activates in the region. So, as you can see, worldwide it is not so clear for the international community.


And we, Europeans, we are strongly committed on these issues. I think we can say that we are a strong power in the defence of human rights. We have been firmly expressing our concerns on Xinjiang, including, as I said, the use of surveillance. We have rules on export controls of dual-use goods and technology, which should allow us to monitor exports in key technologies and check them for security concerns. And we have raised concerns about reports on forced labour since 2018 as part of our annual human rights dialogue with China as well as in any bilateral meetings with them. And we have told our companies that they have to promote the respect of human rights and the application of corporate social responsibilities through the entire supply chain.


About sanctions, it is true that the Americans, the U.S. have been very much active in imposing sanctions on Chinese officials, 28 Chinese governmental institutions and companies for their role in Xinjiang. We have not done it. We have a different system.


You know that I am trying to improve it by launching an initiative that could allow us to approve something equivalent to the Magnitsky Act. We will inform you about the work that we have already started. I need unanimity in the Council in order to do such a thing. I will fight for it.


So we have to be strong but we also have to continue the dialogue. The dialogue cannot be forgotten. Both things are perfectly compatible.


I want you to be sure of the strong engagement that we have on this issue and I count on the support of the European Parliament.

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