China no longer popular in Europe, Italian Expert

Italian Senator, Giulio Terzi addressed an event held to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Uyghur Congress, a Uyghur rights advocacy organization and expressed his deepest concerns and support for the struggle of Uyghurs against the oppressions of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in East Turkistan. He also asserted that the Uyghur’s condition has now worsened due to the denial of religious freedom and are living under the pressure of dictatorship. The point is that despite President Xi’s recent 6-day trip to Europe, China is facing a challenge in mobilising European nations to its side and by default to that of Russia. There was a time when China could walk into Europe and buy up important assets and penetrate industry and infrastructure space without so much as batting an eyelid. This has since changed and Europe is more cautious about China today. This includes awareness about the need to raise aspects of China’s handling of its minorities, especially the Uyghur.

Recently, at the celebrations to mark the 20th anniversary of the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) in Munich, Giulio Terzi, Italian Senator and former Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “I will never stop condemning the criminal actions of the CPC carried out in Xinjiang and the Turkic region. Only blind eyes could ignore the genocidal nature of adhering to the Chinese policies of the Uyghur identity, culture, and region. Forced labour, re-education, and eradication camps, illegal abduction of people, families, and children, destruction of mosques, and prohibition of expressing one’s faith. I am afraid that these are the realities of the regime.” Terzi said that Chinese government does not offer any freedom of association and protection of Uyghurs rights.

The Italian lawmaker Terzi also stated “The conditions of the Uyghurs are now worsened because of the denial of freedom for religion. There is no room for any faith in China other than communist beliefs. Many voices are asking to be heard by the world, who live under the pressure of dictatorship unable to freely express their identities, their religion, and their culture. Europe is now becoming more and more aware of the urges of the Uyghur population.” Several other politicians and social activists like Damon Wilson, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, Thomas R. Suozzi, a US lawmaker representing New York, Keiji Furuya, Member Japanese Parliament, Sameer Zuberi, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Diversity Canada and Omer Kanat, Executive Director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) attended the event and expressed similar views over China’s oppressive regime and its expansionist policies.

Europe has gradually begun to recognise that China does not play by the rules and will do anything, to maintain the stability of the Communist Party of China (CPC), both domestically and externally. That is why analysts have opined that President Xi Jinping’s current Europe visit reflects the limitations of China’s policy towards the European Union (EU). After “frank” discussions in France, where President Emmanuel Macron pressed Xi Jinping on Russia’s war in Ukraine, trade disputes and human rights, President Xi headed to Serbia and Hungary, both of which have close ties with China and Russia under Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán respectively.

The Voice of America quotes Italian Sinologist, Francesco Sisci, who says, “It’s interesting that … China didn’t manage to secure more significant countries for Xi’s visit to Europe. It seems that China is having greater difficulties in its ties with European countries, and it has good ties with two governments who have also good ties with Moscow. That is — Europe is moving faster away from China as it sees it too close to Moscow.” Like China, both Serbia and Hungary have spoken against sanctions by the US and EU on Moscow over Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, though Hungary has voted for them.

Xi’s trip aims to address criticism while highlighting areas that remain receptive to Chinese influence. Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and China, Xi Jinping held meetings with French President Macron and European Commission President von der Leyen before proceeding to Belgrade and Budapest. Whereas particularly in Serbia and Hungary, growing investment ties with China and the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade by NATO on 7 May 1999, contribute significantly to China’s enduring mistrust of NATO. Hungary has attracted more investment than any other European country since 2021. See table below.

Sisci notes that China’s totally disregards rules and norms which constitute the fundamental pillars of the international community. The CPC rules on the ideology aimed at suppressing all workers’ rights. Nowadays, it is focused on enslaving and exploiting millions of Uyghur workers ensuring even higher profits,” he added. On 5 May, Chinese President Xi Jinping started his six-day visit to Europe, marking his first trip to the continent since 2019, except for his trip to Russia last year. Recent developments in Europe, including arrests and charges related to Chinese espionage, as well as China’s deepening ties with Russia, demonstrates the EU’s varying degrees of concern amidst increasing perceptions of China as a ‘systemic rival’.

Dolkun Isa, WUC President during his remarks at the 20th anniversary celebrations urged President Macron to raise the Uyghur genocide raised publicly and asked President Xi Jinping to end the ongoing erasure of the Uyghur people, reflecting the resolution adopted by the Assemblé Nationale recognizing the Uyghur genocide. According to a WUC press release, the WUC opposes the openness displayed by Europe towards China and its leader, Xi Jinping. Particularly, Hungary’s position blocking the discussion on China’s human rights abuses and the Uyghur genocide is of concern, as well as the recent news on the China-Europe Railway Express, a train set to transport agricultural goods produced by Uyghur forced labour which left East Turkistan for Salerno, Italy on 3 May 2024.

In the light of the EU forced labour regulation and due diligence directive, products made by forced labour, produced inside and outside the EU and companies involved in these violations through their supply chains will face bigger scrutiny. Significantly, one thing that is significantly missing in China-EU discussions is a focus on Uyghur forced labour. The EU must raise China’s state-import forced labour scheme and advocate for a strengthening of EU’s trade tools against these violations. Europe should also explicitly raise China’s abuses against Tibetans, Hong Kong residents, and the Uyghur and take a strong stance against the CPC’s growing transnational repression. This is an essential step for the EU to make China realise that it means business, even as it continues to do business!