Realpolitik and human rights: Time to make a choice. The case of the XINJIANG Police Files

30 May, 2022 | Press Releases

The publication of the Xinjiang Police Files, that includes more than five thousand photos and hundreds of thousands of papers hacked by the police of the autonomous region shows, beyond any contestations, Chinas’ systematic willingness of annulling and literally deleting the presence of the Uighur minority, a Muslim religious group, from its territory. All this, in order to create an ethnically compacted country. An aberrant politics, defined as genocide, but largely tolerated until now, by the international community, with some exceptions, rather deaf to the numerous claims from the Uighur leaders, replicated by groups and associations such as No Peace Without Justice. Never forgetting the attention dedicated to the matter by Marco Pannella and the radicals.

As documented in this newsletter, the new revelations are without heed in some provinces: the percentage of adult prisoners is higher than the average for Stalinian punishments. The fact has such a relevance that some influential voices have begun to rise us against the far too, laissez-fair politics towards China of many European Union members, starting with Germany. The German financial minister, Christian Linder, has reported “the great economic dependence from the Chinese market” asking to “differentiate our commercial relations” to favour relationships with the United States and Canada. “The photos from Xinjiang Police Files are shocking. One thing is for sure: we need to talk to Chinese diplomats about the human rights situation on every occasion.” 

It is undeniable that in the last years, German politics has prioritized economic relations with China on one hand, and with Russia, on the other, and has silenced the effects of a global assessment of the local situation on global strategic interest. 

The position taken by Linder pre-announced the intention of the German ruling class to gradually economically separate from China, right when the latter is proceeding to separate itself from the West. This is a very positive signal for the European Union, as demonstrated by the stop of the process to ratify the agreement on investments between China and EU, strongly pushed for by Angela Merkel with the goal of facilitating even more the access of German industries to the Chinese market. 

The European union had to react to the new revelations as well. It is important to highlight what has been said by the spoke person of the Commission, Nabila Massrali: “The documents leaked include new inside proofs of human rights violations in Xingjian, that are perpetrated on every administrative level: from the main officials, police special units and armed force groups. The new proofs are added to the already-existing ones, on the shameful human rights violations, such as the existence of a large net of political re-educational camps, the largely extended surveillance measures and tracing, the systemic limitations of the practice of fundamental freedoms – including those of faith and religion, the use of policies for forced-labor, forced sterilization, control over births and families’ separation, and sexual and gender violence.” Except for the word “shameful”, nothing else: no one is taking conscience about these reported events, waiting for more directions. An understandable behavior for a spoke person but not as much for a European executive and a group of countries that should answer with a different type of determination to this additional proof. It is time for realpolitik to step back in favour of very well-defined boundaries in international relations terms. It is enough to consider where the energetic dependence Putin’s Russia has led us, and for which we already sacrificed the defense of human and political rights at home and in the rest of the world by the regime of the Russian autocrat whom we have deluded ourselves into blandishing and to whom many seem ready to concede a further ‘right of conquest’ in the form of Ukraine.  

 “Absolutely no to decoupling,” Dombrovskis replied more ambiguously. “EU-China relations are very complex. We recently had a complicated EU-China summit. Where we dealt with the fact that China is taking an ambiguous position on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But there are areas where we must cooperate with China, when we face global challenges like climate change’ or ‘reform of the World Trade Organisation’. Dombrovskis confirmed that in September the Commission will present a legislative proposal to ban imports into the single market of goods produced with forced labour. In the crosshairs is the treatment of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. As we understand it, with Russia’s war against Ukraine, the Commission’s taboo on decoupling from China is decreasing.

The second message that can be read in the lines of Lindner’s tweet is Germany’s willingness to relaunch the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership project: the Ttip free trade agreement between the EU and the United States that was being negotiated until the arrival of Donald Trump, but which was already in trouble even before due to the reticence of some European governments and the opposition of various social movements. Inside the Commission there is a group of commissioners who would like to resurrect the project (albeit by changing its name). But with the presidential elections in France, this was not possible. However, the embryo of a future Ttip could be the Technology and Trade Council that the EU set up in collaboration with the Biden Administration. This body, composed of dozens of working groups, has met twice to resolve trade disputes and coordinate transatlantic policy in response to China’s predatory behaviour. The Technology and Trade Council is now focusing on Russia and has been particularly helpful in coordinating Western sanctions. Some believe it will return to its original function to contain Beijing’s economic ambitions. Others think that, if the Biden Administration plays along, it could serve to resurrect the Ttip.

Also pushing for an economic re-engagement of the transatlantic democracies is NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, drawing lessons from the Russian war: ‘We have worked hard to create a global economy, but we must understand that freedom is more important than free trade and that the protection of values is more the centre piece.

“The leaked documents contain new evidence from the inside, on human rights violations in Xinjiang, allegedly perpetrated at all administrative levels: by top officials, special police units and special groups of the armed forces,” Nabila Massrali, spokesperson for the European Commission for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told Euronews. “They add to the existing body of evidence of shameful human rights violations,” the spokeswoman continued, “such as the existence of an extensive network of political re-education camps, extensive surveillance and tracking measures, systemic restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms – including those of belief and religion, the use of policies of forced labour, forced sterilisation, birth control, family separation, and sexual and gender-based violence.

German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (European Greens), head of the delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China and sanctioned by Beijing, also commented on the Xinjiang Police Files with a tweet: ‘The facts speak for themselves. China commits crimes against human rights, against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities’. He added: ‘The clarity with which von der Leyen and Michel raised human rights issues at the EU-China summit in April needs the clear and unanimous support of all 27 EU governments. This must include a willingness to accept further appropriate sanctions,’ Stoltenberg said yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Davos: ‘We must not trade long-term security for short-term economic benefits, be it hydrocarbon dependency or the export of artificial intelligence. This applies to Russia but also to China, authoritarian regimes that do not share our values’.