China-EU relations: Beijing ramps up the rhetoric in dispute over sanctions

Kristin Huang
·4-min read

Beijing has ramped up the rhetoric in its sanctions dispute with the EU, US and their allies by likening the situation to the invasion of China by a foreign coalition to put down the Boxer rebellion more than a century ago.

“Their actions have reminded people of the history of the Eight-Nation Alliance,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday, referring to a force of about 45,000 troops from the US, Europe and Japan that invaded northern China in 1900.

“But China is no longer what it was 120 years ago,” she said. “No one should dare to offend the Chinese people.”

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Hua said the sanctions, first announced by the European Union on Monday, followed by the United States, Britain and Canada – for Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang were intended to smear China.

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The dispute has seen a flurry of activity in diplomatic circles, with China and European nations summoning each other’s ambassadors to answer for the move and responses to it.

On Tuesday, China’s ambassador to Belgium became the latest diplomat to join the dispute.

According to a statement on the embassy’s website, ambassador Cao Zhongming told senior Belgian officials that the EU had “imposed sanctions on China based on Xinjiang-related lies and false information, deliberately provoked confrontation, and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs”.

The same day, China’s ambassador to Germany Wu Ken spoke out against the sanctions after being summoned by Miguel Berger, state secretary of Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

“Ambassador Wu elaborated on China’s position on Xinjiang-related issues, emphasising that this incident was completely provoked by the European side and China must respond,” the Chinese embassy said.

“China urges the European side, including Germany, to immediately stop and correct its wrong practices to avoid further damaging mutual trust and cooperation between the two sides.”

The German foreign ministry said Berger “made clear the German government’s view that China’s sanctions against European MPs, scientists and political institutions as well as non-governmental organisations represent an inappropriate escalation that unnecessarily strains ties between the EU and China”.

China’s ambassadors to the Netherlands, Tan Jian, and France, Lu Shaye, issued similar complaints earlier in the week.

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Meanwhile, Italy’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it had summoned China’s ambassador to Rome Li Junhua to appear on Wednesday.

That came after Chinese foreign vice-minister Qin Gang summoned the EU’s ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis on Monday and British ambassador Caroline Wilson on Tuesday.

The dispute between the two sides began after the EU, Britain, United States and Canada on Monday announced coordinated sanctions against individuals and an entity they accuse of perpetrating human rights violations against Uygurs in Xinjiang. Beijing responded by sanctioning 10 European individuals and four entities.

One of the entities is the Political and Security Committee of the Council of the European Union. In a move that is set to trigger further dismay in Beijing, the committee recently met Hong Kong activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung and former Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung.

On Sunday, China’s embassy in France released a harshly worded statement, defending its criticism of a French scholar for “anti-China provocations” and maintaining that its aggressive tactics were necessary to defend Beijing’s interests and international image.

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Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said the tensions between China and the EU were unlikely to subside any time soon as Beijing was fixed in its policies about Xinjiang.

“There is no sign that Beijing will change its stance on Xinjiang issues and China will strongly defend its actions, so the spat is expected to continue, and might jeopardise the investment deal as it has not yet been ratified,” he said.

China and the EU recently wrapped up seven years of negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, but the deal has yet to be ratified.

Wang Yiwei, another international relations expert from Renmin University, said that while China welcomed criticism it would respond if it believed it was being treated unfairly.

“China will still cooperate with the West, and Beijing knows that criticism helps us think better. But it will fight back if it feels a red line has been crossed.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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