The fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is a dictatorship can not be challenged by anyone. It has all the attributes: a single-party system, complacent courts and media following the orders of the party, a Head of State appointed by the members of the single party and given a mandate for life, and a repressed independent civil society. The Chinese people are not citizens, they are subjects. They are subjected to live under constant surveillance and control, which is enhanced by facial recognition technology. Under the social credit system Chinese citizens can be rewarded for conforming to the government’s definition of socially desirable behaviour, and punished, through the subtraction of points and subsequent loss of privileges, for exhibiting undesirable behaviour, such as following: certain religious practices, affiliating with minority communities, or daring to express political opinions. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, in fact freedom of anything is actively suppressed by the PRC.
The conditions experienced by dissidents and representatives of ethnic or religious minorities is known to all: persecution, imprisonment in camps, torture, and even organ harvesting. The world was horrified to learn that millions of Uyghurs are being interned in camps without any judicial process. The oppression of Tibetans, whose lands were stolen from under their feet, has been condemned globally. Alongside Uyghur and Tibetans, Christians, Catholics, and Falun Gong practitioners all face persecution by authorities of the Chinese State.
When faced with such a stark picture, there is only one choice to be made: to condemn or to condone. I cannot stay silent and thereby condone these heinous acts. One must never stay silent, complacently disregarding the shame and conflict between one’s own convictions and these ongoing atrocities. Let us remember the leniency of European leaders in the face of Hitler’s Germany and what came after.
In 2014, as President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), I decided to visit the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, as an official EU representative in honour of the commemoration of the uprising in Tibet on March 10, 1959. I went to show the EU’s support for those living under the repression of the Chinese state, to stand up for human rights and to uphold the principles on which the European Union was founded – Freedoms, Rights and Democracy. The visit brought with it the wrath of some of my EESC colleagues, as well as pressure from the High Representative of the European Union External Action Service (EEAS) at the time, Catherine Ashton, and the Chinese Embassy in Brussels. One consequence of this action is that I am banned from visiting China, even now.
One can only be saddened by the meaningless declarations made by European leaders when they meet with Chinese delegations. These declarations and statements fail to reflect the true nature of life for subjects in China, the oppression, the persecution, the abuse. There is no mentions of human rights, no words of support for the people of Hong Kong, no remembrance of the people of Tiananmen. It is more important to save face for our “friends” in Beijing than to stand up for our values.
The European Economic and Social Committee represents European citizens, their interests and their values. The so-called Chinese Economic and Social Council is similarly established to represent Chinese civil society, but there are no genuine employer representatives, no genuine trade unions and no free NGOs. Despite this, there was the 17th meeting held between the two bodies convened in Shanghai on July 11 and 12, 2019. The declaration made at this latest Round Table of the “EU-China” Civil Society neither represented European values nor defended the rights and freedoms of those facing the repressive regime of Beijing. There was no mention of the one million Uyghur citizens forced into “re-education”, no reference to the citizens of Hong Kong who are speaking out against extradition, no statements about the destruction of Christian Churches or the fake appointment of Catholic priests, and no acknowledgement of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen. It is important that when large delegations of Committee members are sent to these meetings, at the expense of the EU tax payer, they should, at the very least, arrive with a prepared statement that represents the voice of civil society in Europe.
I commend the courage of the new President-elect of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Caputovà, who raised the issue of human rights during a recent visit from the Chinese Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yi. Her predecessor, Andrej Kiska, did not hesitate to receive the Dalai Lama in Bratislava in 2016, at a time that all other European leaders had long refused to meet with him, obediently following the will of Beijing. I particularly remember the visit of His Holiness to Brussels in September 2016 when Jean-Claude Juncker had him secretly received by his Counsellor of Religious Affairs, the brave Jan Figel. I am ashamed of us, ashamed of Europeans and ashamed of the European Economic and Social Committee. In the face of a dictatorship, history has taught us that there is only one possible choice: to condemn or to condone, and those who silently condone these terrible practices must be called accomplices.