‘We do not share the values on which the political and economic system in China is based,’ European Council President Charles Michel says

Earlier this week, French President Emmanuel Macron similarly assailed Beijing and called for an international mission, under UN auspices, to Xinjiang

The political head of the European Union assailed China’s human rights record in Hong Kong and Xinjiang on Friday, adding that the bloc remains determined to see Beijing change its economic structure to become fairer to foreign businesses.

During his address to the United Nations General Assembly, European Council President Charles Michel also reaffirmed the EU’s close relationship with the US, despite Beijing’s efforts to dissuade Western countries from picking sides in the growing rivalry between the world’s two biggest economies.

“We do not share the values on which the political and economic system in China is based,” Michel told the assembly, which has been largely held by teleconference as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We are deeply connected with the United States. We share ideals, values and a mutual affection that have been strengthened through the trials of history. They remain embodied today in a vital transatlantic alliance. This does not prevent us from occasionally having divergent approaches or interests,” he said to the assembly, which this year has maintained a strong focus on the US-China rift.

Michel, who was among three EU leaders to hold a video meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, criticised the Chinese economic model, as China and the EU remain at loggerheads over access to China’s market during negotiations for an investment agreement.

Michel also took note of China’s alleged abuses of its citizens: “We will not stop promoting respect for universal human rights, including those of minorities such as the Uygurs; or in Hong Kong, where international commitments guaranteeing the rule of law and democracy are being questioned.”

Concerning China’s global role and ties to the EU, Michel said: “China is a crucial partner in addressing common challenges, such as global warming, Covid-19 or debt relief in Africa. And China is also an important trade partner.

“Yet we are determined to rebalance this relationship towards greater reciprocity and fairer competition.”

Michel’s comments were only the latest this week from European leaders, spotlighting tensions with China. On Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron also brought up Beijing’s human rights record and its “hegemonic” behaviour while addressing the General Assembly, calling for an international mission to Xinjiang to review the treatment of the Uygurs.

“Human rights are not a Western idea that can be treated as interference by those who refer to them. These are the principles of our organisation, enshrined in the texts that the United Nations member states freely consented to sign and respect.

“That is why France asked for an international mission under the auspices of the United Nations to be able to visit Xinjiang in order to address the concerns that we share as regards the situation of the Uygur Muslim minority,” Macron said.

Macron also criticized the US for its “disengagement” from the rest of the world, saying that as a result, the UN had to reconsider how to address primary global concerns.

“The grammar of peace and stability must be redefined … due to the withdrawal of the US, which had been the guarantor of last resort in a now overwhelmed international system.

“The hegemonic affirmation from other powers due to this disengagement, the projection of China outside its borders, the strengthening of European sovereignty – all these substantive trends should lead us to rethink the forms of our joint action to ensure peace and security,” Macron said.

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