Greece vetoes EU statement on human rights in China – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on June 19, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Greece: China’s ‘most reliable friend in the EU’

Greece has become the latest European country to block EU criticism of China’s human rights record. The economically struggling country chose to veto an EU statement that would have criticized China at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last week, Reuters reports.

An EU diplomat told Reuters that Greece’s action was “dishonorable, to say the least,” considering its dependence on the EU’s economic lifeline. A spokesperson for Greece’s foreign ministry issued a statement that pushed back: “Greece’s position is that unproductive and, in many cases, selective criticism against specific countries does not facilitate the promotion of human rights in these states, nor the development of their relation with the EU.” The Wall Street Journal notes (paywall) how “Chinese cash has been vital” for Greece to maintain public spending amid European austerity measures, and that Greece’s receptiveness to China has led to President Xi Jinping dubbing the country China’s “most reliable friend in the EU.”

Ten human rights organizations, led by the New York–based Human Rights Watch (HRW), issued a joint statement criticizing Greece’s decision. The statement suggested that the EU cancel its next human rights dialogue with China, scheduled for June 22-23, and HRW’s China director, Sophie Richardson, added that recently, “the EU [has] demonstrated no intention, compassion, or strategic vision to stem the tide of human rights abuses in China.”

The Washington Post details two recent, similar incidents, making the case that the EU is in an “apparent retreat on human rights” with regards to China:

  • “In March, Hungary — another big destination for Chinese investment — prevented the European Union from adding its name to a joint letter expressing concern about reports of lawyers in China being tortured in detention, diplomats said.”
  • “At a summit in Brussels on June 1-2, EU Council and Commission presidents did not forcefully condemn China’s deteriorating human rights situation in public, nor call for the release of political prisoners, including EU citizens, according to rights groups.”

China appears to have made no official response yet to the Greek veto, but nationalist tabloid Global Times cited Chang Jian 常健, director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights in Nankai University in Beijing, who explained the Chinese government’s view that raising living standards requires a “stable social order that comes with some restrictions” and that political rights are a second priority after “people’s survival and development rights.”

What should the U.S. do about China and the South China Sea

Last week, Foreign Affairs published a hawkish piece (paywall) by Ely Ratner called “Course Correction: How to Stop China’s Maritime Advance” which urged Washington to “stop calling for restraint” when it comes to tensions in the South China Sea and instead “increase its efforts to help the region’s countries defend themselves against Chinese coercion.”

In response, Julian Ku warns of the “difficult diplomatic and legal consequences” if the U.S. took sides on the many sovereignty disputes at play in the South China Sea.