China Direct: Bonjour, Xinjiang governor — Macron’s plan — Xi vs West
Exploring Europe’s diplomatic and commercial relationship with China.
By STUART LAU
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WELCOME TO CHINA DIRECT. This is your host Stuart Lau, Europe-China Correspondent at POLITICO. Let’s go straight to our top story.
DRIVING THE DAY: XINJIANG GUEST
EU GOT AN INVITE: Over the past few days, EU officials were pondering over a rather tricky invitation: The exceptionally controversial governor of Xinjiang will be visiting Brussels later this month, and the Chinese ambassador to the EU wants the representatives of the 27 EU countries to go and meet him.
Common position? As one EU diplomat put it, the issue has fast become a “heated” debate within the countries, with some capitals apparently kept in the dark over what they see as a looming diplomatic hot potato.
Will some go alone? Some values-minded countries are unlikely to go, leaving it an open question whether Beijing-friendly ones, such as Hungary, Greece, Malta and Cyprus, may consider meeting the governor while he’s town.
Governor Erkin Tuniyaz, whom the U.S. has sanctioned for human rights violations against his fellow Uyghurs, is expected to be in Brussels between February 19 and 21; the meeting with EU diplomats was scheduled on the last day, according to a high-level EU official.
New face: Tuniyaz was only “elected” as head of the Xinjiang government late January. He’s considered to be the No 2 official in the Muslim-majority region, second to Party boss Ma Xingrui.
Politically sensitive move: The plan by Tuniyaz — in high positions of the Xinjiang government for nearly 15 years — to visit Europe comes less than half a year after the U.N.’s human rights body found that China has committed “serious human rights violations” against the Uyghur Muslim community, adding that such acts are potentially crimes against humanity.
LAST NIGHT: The Guardian reported that Tuniyaz was also planning to visit the U.K. next week. In London, human rights advocates were furious about the Foreign Office’s plan to meet with Tuniyaz.
In the Foreign Office’s words: “The Governor of Xinjiang is planning to visit the UK next week, followed by other European countries. We’ve been told that he intends to meet a range of stakeholders in order to discuss the situation in Xinjiang. We’ve agreed to meet him at senior official level, and intend to use the opportunity to press for a change in China’s approach and to make requests on specific issues, including individual cases,” according to an email sent from the Foreign Office to activists, seen by POLITICO.
It continued: “Ahead of the meeting, our Directors for Open Societies and North East Asia and China, who will meet the Governor, would welcome an opportunity to hear your [activists’] thoughts on potential topics or requests to raise. We’re really keen to make the most of this opportunity to push for tangible changes on the ground. We’d of course be happy to provide any feedback we receive following the meeting.” It added that a virtual meeting on Teams would be arranged for those who live outside London.
What can he expect in London? Legal action currently being prepared by activists. According to the World Uyghur Congress, a dissident group, “a request has been made to the Attorney General of the United Kingdom for permission to prosecute” Tuniyaz. Evidence has been passed to the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes team for the investigation, it added.
IN THE NAME OF ENGAGEMENT: Activists say while it’s necessary to engage with Chinese officials, it is “incomprehensible” that “anybody within government would think it appropriate to meet with someone who has played a central role in the persecution of Uyghurs – crimes our own parliament has declared to be genocide,” according to a letter written by British lawmakers in the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China. The Guardian has more here.
EU-CHINA DIALOGUE: At the Asia-Oceania working group meeting at the European Council yesterday, there was also a discussion about relaunching the EU-China human rights dialogue next month, according to an EU diplomat.
The format has been abandoned since the EU and China cross-sanctioned each other over Xinjiang. But over the EU-China Summit last April, European Council and European Commission presidents, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, agreed with Chinese President Xi Jinping to relaunch it.
Who doesn’t want a human rights dialogue with China? Ten human rights bodies. “Despite truly commendable efforts by the European External Action Service, the [human rights dialogue] itself is, at best, incapable of triggering any meaningful human rights progress in the country, and, at worst, a counterproductive public relations coup for the Chinese government,” they wrote last year.
PARIS PREPARES PRESIDENTIAL TRIP
A VISIT THAT PLANS ANOTHER: China’s foreign policy chief Wang Yi is heading to Paris next week for a series of meetings to prepare for French President Emmanuel Macron’s upcoming visit to Beijing, a French diplomat has confirmed to POLITICO’s Senior France Correspondent Clea Caulcutt.
While in Paris: Wang is expected to meet France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, Emmanuel Bonne, Macron’s diplomatic advisor and possibly even Macron himself, according to the senior diplomat. While in Europe he’s also expected to attend the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
On the margins of the G20 meeting in Bali and after a meeting with Xi Jinping in November, Macron announced that he would visit China in early 2023.
TO DISCUSS: A number of topics are expected to be put on the table — including the economy, the environment and the war in Ukraine.
But but but: The aim of the visit will be focused more on the politics than on deliverables, according to a French diplomat familiar with preparations. “Is China prepared not to be the free-rider [of the world], but can play a responsible role and work towards the respect of international legal charters?” according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to protocol reasons.
Macron’s favorite act — mindreading: “If China tolerates the Russian aggression against Ukraine, that’s bad news,” the diplomat told Clea. “The president will have a clear idea of their state of mind when he returns.”
Not much business focus: According to the diplomat Macron will not be taking a big business delegation — but there may be a manufacturer or two in his company. “There are few opportunities of testing China. Most leaders are happy signing contracts for billions of euros with Beijing and China is comfortable with that as it increases dependency.” (Read: Oui, Berlin, c’est toi !)
Macron’s China had long been in the pipelines, with discussions starting last year. According to several French officials, the political cost of organizing a trip too soon after the 2022 Chinese political congress was too great, as it would be seen as legitimizing Xi’s new mandate. While the date for the visit has yet to be announced, it is scheduled to take place in the coming months.
Apart from Beijing, Macron is also expected to visit another city. That used to be Chancellor Angela Merkel’s favorite way of touring China.
XI’S NEW ORDER: TO BE UN-WESTERN
MODERNITY IN A CHINESE WAY: President Xi Jinping made his ideology crystal clear on Tuesday, when he called on the Communist Party to abandon the idea that modernization means westernization.
It’s for China, and it’s for Global South too: “The Chinese path to modernization is the only correct way toward national rejuvenation,” he said at a “study session” at the Party School of the CCP Central Committee. “This pathway breaks the myth that modernization equals Westernization, displays a different vision for modernization and expands the choices for developing countries in their modernization.”
Security, security: “The nation must pursue a holistic approach to national security, improve its national security system and enhance its capacities in this regard,” Xi added. “The nation will uphold independence, self-reliance and strength, remain committed to development based on its own strengths, and maintain a firm grasp on the future of its development and progress.”
IDEOLOGY MATTERS: While Western businesses took note of Xi’s pledge to continue market opening, the concern is rising that a hypernationalistic, ideological view would be a risk to their future role in the Chinese economy.
ENVOY COMPLAINS: “If we’re in business, let’s talk about business. Why do you need to have all those entrepreneurs be studying all these political issues?” Chinese Ambassador to the EU Fu Cong said on Wednesday.
And warning on Taiwan: Speaking at an event organized by the European Policy Centre, Fu also lambasted “senior officials from the EU institutions” for visiting Taiwan.
BALLOON LATEST: A Chinese spy balloon that was shot down last week and several others that crossed into U.S. territory were part of a broader surveillance effort by Beijing, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said Wednesday. The surveillance balloon program has been operating “for several years,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon. Connor O’Brien has the story.
Beyond America: U.S. media have disclosed more details about China’s spy balloon strategy. Citing U.S. officials, the Washington Post reported that China has used balloons targeting strategic assets in Japan, India, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines.
REPORTS: CHINA-RUSSIA TIES
A COUPLE OF GOVERNMENT REPORTS are out this week, from the EU headquarters as well as Estonia, shining light on the increasing concern over China’s ties with Russia. Let’s start with the EU one.
TOEING RUSSIAN LINE: In a first-ever report, the EU’s disinformation arm singled out Russia and China as two main sources of “foreign information manipulation and interference.” (Yes it’s called FIMI, in EU-speak.)
“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has provided further evidence of China’s and Russia’s convergence in the information environment,” the report notes. “Chinese state-controlled media and official social media channels have amplified selected pro-Kremlin conspiracy narratives, for example on alleged U.S. military biolabs in Ukraine.”
Reorganization: The EU will launch a new platform to counter disinformation campaigns by Russia and China amid growing worries, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday. A so-called Information Sharing and Analysis Center within the EU’s foreign services —the European External Action Service (EEAS) — will seek to track information manipulation by foreign actors and coordinate with the 27 EU countries and the wider community of NGOs, my colleague Clothilde Goujard writes in.
OVER IN ESTONIA: Macron may be heading to Beijing for his mindreading exercise and trying to lobby Xi to be a mediator. The Baltic state, in contrast, has reached its conclusion.
“It would be a mistake to take Xi’s restrained support for Putin’s war in Ukraine as a sign that China is distancing itself from Russia,” Kaupo Rosin, director of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service, wrote in the report. “Russia plays an important role in China’s global ambitions, and the two countries agree on many points.”
A problem for Tallinn: “China’s efforts to build a community of like-minded countries opposed to the West under the banner of the Global Security Initiative – which would also include Russia – undermines Estonia’s security,” the report read.
Tracking Chinese spies? “Chinese intelligence services,” it said, “target high-profile critics of China … That’s why not only ordinary citizens but also intelligence officers are waiting for China’s Covid restrictions to be relaxed so they can resume organising their ostensibly innocent platform events for recruitment purposes.”
For further reading: The EU report is available here, while the Estonian report is here.
A XINJIANG-ISH ENDING
‘DON’T TURN PLUX INTO CHINA’: A cross-party group of 37 MEPs has penned a letter asking European Parliament President Roberta Metsola to address reports that Parliament sought to buy and install surveillance cameras equipped with facial-recognition capabilities, my colleagues Gian Volpicelli and Clothilde Goujard report.
Question time: In the letter, dated February 7 (available here to POLITICO Pro subscribers) the lawmakers ask why Parliament had, in a 2015 tender, called for CCTV cameras capable of “detection/recognition of humans/faces.” The letter also asks whether such cameras were purchased and deployed in Parliament and, if so, which manufacturer and software developer provided the technologies, singling out Chinese company Hikvision.
MANY THANKS: To my editor Christian Oliver, reporters Clea Caulcutt, Clothilde Goujard, Gian Volpicelli, and producer Grace Stranger.
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