Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Treatment of Foreigners in China A ‘Worrying Trend,’ E.U. Envoy Says
BEIJING — To the list of people expressing grave concern about the recent treatment of several foreigners by the Chinese government, add the chief European Unionrepresentative in China.
At a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday focusing on market access, trade and international security cooperation between the European Union and China, the bloc’s ambassador to China, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, said that China’s economy was headed toward “a new normal” as the country seeks to turn toward services and research, among other sectors, and away from low-end manufacturing.
The Chinese economic agenda is “extremely important, not only for achieving a successful transition to a new model and sustainable development,” said Mr. Schweisgut, but also for building “a new China and a new normal.”
That prompted a reporter to ask: Are foreigners facing a new normal of a different kind, in light of the recent string of disappearances, expulsions and detentions of citizens of European Union countries who have defended freedom of speech and human rights in China?
“Clearly, I cannot but once again say that we are deeply concerned about all those issues,” Mr. Schweisgut said. “We do hope it’s not representing the new normal yet. But we do see an extremely worrying trend, and that’s why all these cases are taken extremely seriously.”
In the latest case, Peter Dahlin, 35, a Swedish co-founder of the Chinese Urgent Action Working Group — a nongovernmental organization that trained and provided help to some of the rights lawyers who have been targeted by the government in a crackdown since July — was detained by the authorities early this month.
Mr. Dahlin is being held at an undisclosed residential location in Beijing on suspicion of endangering state security and other charges, according to people familiar with his situation who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
In December, Ursula Gauthier, a French journalist, wasexpelled from China for writing in the newsmagazine L’Obsthat the terrorist attacks in Paris in November were not similar to violent and bloody episodes in Xinjiang, a region in western China where Uighurs, an ethnic Turkic group, make up about 40 percent of the population. She wrote the article after several Chinese officials had drawn parallels between the two.
And since October, two other citizens of European Union countries — Gui Minhai of Sweden and Lee Bo of Britain, who worked for a Hong Kong publishing company and bookstore specializing in gossipy books about Chinese politics — have disappeared from Thailand and Hong Kong. The Chinese authorities say they are now in China.
Human rights groups say that China’s record has worsened in recent years. Since July, hundreds of lawyers and legal assistants have been detained for questioning, many in unknown locations and some for prolonged periods. About a dozen have been charged in recent days with crimes including state subversion.
The rights groups have also expressed alarm over recent or proposed laws tightening national security, redefining espionage activities and possibly restricting the activities in China of foreign nongovernmental organizations.
China says that its rights record is steadily improving, and that it investigates suspects in accordance with the law.
At a routine Foreign Ministry news conference on Wednesday, a spokesman, Hong Lei, declined to offer more information about the detentions of Mr. Gui and Mr. Lee, but he said that Mr. Dahlin was being treated well.
Mr. Schweisgut acknowledged that there had been “adeterioration of the human rights climate in China, especially when it comes to human rights defenders and human rights lawyers.” He added: “We have also seen cases that involve foreigners, in this case E.U. citizens. You know what I am referring to. This is obviously an issue of grave concern.”
“Ideally we would make substantial progress, and be able to solve those issues in the framework of human rights dialogues,” he said, referring to what could be done to address the shifting rights climate. “Where this is not the case, or where we are feeling we are not really getting a response, we cannot and will not remain silent.”
“We have come out very clearly as a question of principle, and we will continue to do so,” he continued. “This is something where we will never be willing and able to compromise our values.”