EU under fire over plans to meet Xinjiang governor
February 10, 2023 07:43 PM
The EU faced criticism Friday over planned meetings with the governor of China's Xinjiang region during his visit to Brussels and London that also stirred complaints in Britain.
Erkin Tuniyaz, who is sanctioned by the United States over Xinjiang's treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority, is expected to travel to Europe later this month.
Human Rights Watch said the EU and Britain "should be investigating and imposing sanctions on Tuniyaz and other top Chinese officials for their role in crimes against humanity".
"The UK and EU should not be drawn into meetings with senior Xinjiang officials so that China can whitewash its atrocities in the Uyghur region," it said.
Both the EU and UK defended their potential meetings as opportunities to express criticism of Beijing's policies in Xinjiang.
EU spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc had been informed by the Chinese mission that a delegation led by the governor would visit Brussels in February.
He said that "upon the request from the Chinese side, meetings will be granted" with officials at the bloc's diplomatic service in charge of EU-China relations and human rights.
"We see this as an opportunity to convey directly the EU's long-standing concerns on the human rights situation in Xinjiang," Stano said.
British officials on Thursday also made the same case over possible meetings with representatives from the Foreign Office if Tuniyaz does visit.
Angry MPs in London decried the government's response as "weak" and said it provided a "propaganda coup" for Beijing.
European lawmakers also expressed their discomfort about the EU's plans.
"While engagement with the People's Republic of China remains necessary in general, we strongly question the wisdom of officially meeting with someone personally involved in the persecution of Uyghurs," two senior MEPs said in a statement.
Tuniyaz has defended China's "de-radicalisation" policies in the country's north-west, including the use of detention facilities.
He was sanctioned by the US in 2021, with the Treasury saying that during his tenure "more than 1 million Uyghurs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups have been detained in Xinjiang".
A recent United Nations report found credible allegations of torture and forced labour there.
However, Beijing has long denied any such accusations, claiming the United States and Western allies are using the issue as a "political tool".
The EU in 2021 blacklisted four other Chinese officials over the government's actions in Xinjiang.
The move sparked retaliatory sanctions from Beijing that led the European Parliament to freeze approval of a landmark EU investment deal with Beijing.