European Report: EU/CHINA: Human Rights Back On Agenda at Copenhagen Summit (Excerpt)

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September 21, 2002
SECTION: No. 2712

The thorny question of human rights in China will be raised again when the European Union holds its annual Summit with China in Copenhagen, on September 24. The EU is expected to express its concerns that Beijing is justifying its abusive treatment of ethnic minorities on anti-terrorist grounds. China will be represented by Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, while the EU delegation includes Danish Prime Minister Anders Foghasmussen - representing the current Presidency - and European Commission President Romano Prodi. The two sides will also discuss the fight against terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation, and combating illegal migration, as well as the tensions in the Middle East, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the Korean peninsula.

Danish Foreign Affairs Minister Per Stig Miller, European External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, and European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, will also take part, while the Chinese team includes Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, and Foreign Trade Minister Shi Guangsheng. Mr Zhu will spend a total of ten days in Europe, during which he will also pay official visits to Austria and France. This could be one of his last major official appearances abroad, as he is expected to step down from his post early next year as the current crop of elderly leaders yields to a new generation. Indeed, the Summit comes at a moment of transition in Chinese politics, with the hand-over of power to a new leadership generation expected to follow the 16th Congress of the Communist Party in November.

China is particularly sensitive about human rights questions, and claims outsider comment on the internal policies amounts to interference. But the two sides maintain a regular dialogue on the issue, and Mr Patten makes a point of expressing the European concerns about particular cases. Over the years, there has been little progress in questions like the use of the death penalty, torture and the persecution of minorities. Supporters of the spiritual movement Falun Gong, outlawed by Beijing in 1999, have arranged a number of demonstrations in Copenhagen during the Summit. EU officials have also raised concerns that the world-wide efforts to fight terrorism have been seized by Chinese officials over the past year as an excuse to clamp down on suspect groups or individuals. Tens of thousands of Chinese citizens each year are sentenced administratively, without charge or trial, for up to three years of 're-education through labour', which the United Nations has condemned as inherently arbitrary. This is echoed by the lobby Human Rights Watch that has highlighted the refurbished 'Strike Hard' anti-crime campaign that circumvents legal safeguards for criminal suspects, as well as for alleged separatists and so-called religious extremists. The group also complained of tighter restrictions on free expression and the Internet, and a continuing crackdown on Falun Gong and [religious groups].

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