The European Union: United in diversity or in cowardice?

Hannah Martinez is a second year War Studies student who serves at Global Politics and Security Current Events Reporter. She is deeply interested in current political events and international relations that she finds particularly challenging in our contemporary time. Also, she is that girl who officially is too snobbish to watch certain Netflix shows and goes to art galleries but secretly loves KUWTK.

[Featured Image: The EU and Chinese flag]

            On the 30th of December 2020, European investors were able to properly celebrate the new year with reassuring news: the Global Agreement on investments between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China has been signed. In fact, the signing must have been a relief for the entirety of European Council as the negotiations on the agreement started no later than 7 years earlier.  This deal is designed to facilitate the access to the Chinese market for European investors, notably in the financial and manufacturing sectors. This agreement also permits European investments in the Chinese medical sector, but only in cities with more than 10 million inhabitants. The Chinese authorities also promised the European Union through this agreement, to “progress towards“ the possibility of ratifying of the International Labour Organization’s convention. Finally, they also assured an effort regarding climate change and the possible signing of a climate treaty. This agreement therefore seemed to be the perfect “win-win“ situation between enthusiastic business men, humanitarians and idealistics wishing for a more prevalent European presence in international trade. However, European leaders, in the process of negotiating and signing this agreement, might have overlooked the detention, torture and potential assassination of more than one million Chinese citizens, most notably in the region of Xinjiang. Indeed, since 2014 it seems, the Uyghur community in China, a Chinese Muslim minority, have been deported by trains to detention camps, camps that the Chinese authorities have conveniently called re-educational centers or apprenticeship and professional formation camps.

            This crime, which can easily be qualified as a crime against humanity, is happening right under our noses notably because of the international community’s silence. It was put in light by The New York Times that published in November 2019 a 400 pages file regarding the fate of the Uyghur people. This record, written in some parts by the Chinese president himself, details the purpose of the detention camps and describes the process of elimination of this minority: we can read “We must use the tools of the popular dictatorship to eliminate radical Islam in the province of Xinjiang.“ The will to eliminate this Chinese minority, and what the file refers to as the “radical Islam“ threat, was mostly ignited on the 1st of March 2014. On that date, of group of 6 Uyghur separatists attacked the Kunming train station, killing 31 people and wounding 143 others. From that day onwards, Beijing proclaimed a too familiar “war on terror“, in which the installation of a campaign of mass repression in the region of the 13 million Uyghur people was the priority. This campaign started with the destruction of muslim cemeteries and Mosques, a phenomena still happening to this day. (Benedicte Jeannerod) In fact, the goal of this campaign, according to the treatment and abuse suffered by the prisoners, seems to be the total eradication of the Uyghur identity, language and culture. Indeed, even if no pictures or videos of the situation have been published, except satellites images of the locations of the detention camps, many witnesses and survivors have come forward with their experience. They all mention the forced learning of patriotic Chinese anthems and of mandarin, a indoctrination of the Uyghur population in order for them to become what the regime calls “good Chinese“. (Brut) Furthermore, the prisoners of the camps, that are considered to be “political prisoners“ by the authorities, have their heads shaved and taken to detention camps in minuscule and overpacked cells in which they are sterilized, raped, beaten and separated from their families.

            In the face of what is an obvious genocide, since it is the methodic destruction of a targeted population by a government, we can ask ourselves why this information has not been breaking the news and mobilizing the international community, or at least each country that claims to defend the freedom of religion and Human Rights. Although, not many countries have stood up in outrage for this crime, I decided to target specifically the European Union, who not only has not taken concrete measures to stop this crime against humanity, but who openly and willingly continues to maintain economic relations with the Chinese government and firms who participate in the crime. Indeed, according to the Deutsche Welle in October 2020, several European institutions have been equipping themselves with the supplies from the Chinese firm Hikvision, a firm that has publicly been proven to supply the majority of the surveillance material dispersed in all Uyghur detention camps.

            A great paradoxe can however be noted. Indeed, even if the European community seems blind to this crime against humanity in some situations, it has, under the pressure of some media outlets, citizens, organizations and European representatives, recognized potential violence perpetrated by the Chinese authority against a muslim minority. Therefore, in mid-December of 2020, France committed itself itself to sign the Global Agreement on investments under the condition that progress was to be made by Beijing regarding forced labor and the deportation of the Uyghur people. Moreover on the 17th of December, the European Parliament even adopted a resolution that aimed at persuading the Chinese government to close down the detention camps and end all violence in the Xinjang region and elsewhere.(Libération) This was seen by the press at the time as a potential first step towards the stopping of the crime, however the signing of the agreement, no less than a week later, shattered all hopes. Furthermore, you know something is wrong when the Trump administration, after having ordered to trample down the Capitol building, seems like the greatest moral high ground. Indeed, on the 12th of January, as reported by the New York Times, Mike Pompeo declared that the deportations of the Uyghur people was a “genocide“. In the same time period, both the United Kingdom and Canada announced they were getting ready to ban all goods who’s production is suspected of being linked to Uyghur forced labour. (AFP)

            I consider myself to be a European citizen, but at this moment, I am ashamed of it. The European Union and most of its members have presented themselves as States of freedom and of the Enlightenment period, of Human Rights and peace. However it seems that today, crime is overlooked for trade deals and because of the weakness and dependency members have developed to the People’s Republic of China. I found that, Raphael Glucksmann’s « J’accuse » speech made at the European Parliament in January of 2021, is the accurate to end my article, a speech that I took the liberty to translate in English.

“I finally accuse the European leaders of cowardice and spinelessness. (…) What have they done since last year? Nothing. Nothing at all.(…) I accuse the international community of consenting to this crime by its silence and passivity. (…) History will judge them to be accomplices to a crime against humanity and we will judge first.“

« J’accuse enfin les dirigeants européens de lâcheté et de veulerie. (…) Qu’ont-ils fait depuis 1 an? Rien. Rien du tout. (…) J’accuse la communauté internationale de consentir à ce crime par son silence et sa passivité. (…) l’Histoire les jugera complices de crimes contre l’humanité et nous les jugerons avant elle. »

                                                                                                                                    Hannah Martinez


  • Agence France Presse
  • Brut
  • Jeannerod Benedicte
  • New York Times
  • Libération
  • Raphael Glucksmann

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