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In Greece, China Finds an Ally Against Human Rights Criticism

Greek ports are critical to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative, a huge infrastructure project across Asia, Africa and Europe. Just last week, at a concert of the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra in Piraeus, the Chinese ambassador to Greece hailed the cooperation between the two countries. “Greece and China will remain good friends in good and bad times, good partners for mutual progress,” said the envoy, Zou Xiaoli, according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

China is seeking to expand its diplomatic influence worldwide, projecting itself as the chief proponent of international trade and cooperation as President Trump stakes out an increasingly nationalist position for the United States. In the past month, the Chinese premier has made high-profile visits to Brussels, the European Union’s headquarters, and Berlin, the German capital.

After Mr. Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord this month, the European Union said it would work with China, the world’s largest polluter, to achieve the accord’s chief target: keeping global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. China could well take advantage of the European Union’s silence in Geneva.

In the last Human Rights Council session in March, the European Union statement pointed to China’s detention of lawyers and human rights defenders. The statement also criticized Russia for its crackdown on civil liberties and the Philippines for its targeted drug-related killings.


The trial of Xie Yang, a human rights lawyer, was streamed online last month by the Changsha Intermediate People’s Court. Credit Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

At the current Human Rights Council session, which ends this week, the European Union made no such statement on China because of Greek objections, European Union diplomats said.

“When the stability of a country is at stake, we need to be more constructive in the way we express our criticism,” a spokesman for the Greek Foreign Ministry said in a telephone interview, “because if the country collapses, there will be no human rights to protect.”

The spokesman, who requested anonymity because of diplomatic protocol in the country, added that Greece had adopted a similar stance with other nations, including Egypt, and that it was better to raise human rights issues in private meetings between diplomats from Brussels and Beijing.

It was an odd explanation, considering that China’s stability does not appear to be at risk. But in the face of the Greek objection, the European Union’s statement died on the vine.

“The global human rights agenda is best served when the E.U. speaks with one voice,” Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Union’s executive body, wrote Monday in an email.

“We will continue our work to bring all 28 together and hope it will, as we normally do, be possible to align positions” for the next session of the Human Rights Council later this year, she added.

Greece’s move to block the statement was first reported in The Guardian.

Human Rights Watch said it was “shameful that Greece sought to hold the E.U. hostage to prevent much-needed attention to China’s human rights crackdown.”

But it also said this was one of three occasions in the past three weeks when the bloc had “demonstrated no intention, compassion or strategic vision to stem the tide of human rights abuses in China.” It cited a summit meeting with the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, at the start of June and the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown as other recent occasions on which Europe had failed to forcefully condemn human rights abuses in China.

Diplomats in Geneva noted that Greece was not alone in arguing against the European Union’s statement to the council. Lengthy discussions in Brussels on the text of the statement failed to overcome Hungary’s objection to mentioning human rights concerns in Egypt.

After a tense emergency meeting of European ambassadors in Geneva just two hours before the Human Rights Council debate, Hungary relented and withdrew its objection, leaving Greece as the sole obstacle to consensus.

Source: NYT > World

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