Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to the Netherlands on Wednesday will be all about trade, but human rights threaten to steal some of the spotlight from his planned focus on the second leg of his European tour.
Wang is likely to lobby the Dutch government to renew an export licence for the sale of critical chip making technology to China, amid US pressure against the move on the grounds of national security.
A US$150 million order placed with ASML – global leader in its field – has been on hold after lobbying by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the sharing by White House officials of a classified intelligence report with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
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Wang is also expected to focus on rebuilding a stable supply chain in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic while in the Netherlands, home to the world’s busiest port in Europe at Rotterdam.
But a group of Dutch lawmakers were on Tuesday planning to invoke a rarely used rule to “invite” Wang as a visiting foreign official to a meeting with the legislature’s foreign affairs committee to discuss human rights issues, including on Hong Kong, and Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang.
While Wang could decline the invitation, the politically embarrassing move by the lawmakers offers a glimpse into what may lie ahead at a more critical time in his tour – in Norway, France and Germany, where human rights are most likely to be raised in discussions.
Theo van Toor, registrar of the Tweede Kamer – the Dutch House of Representatives – and clerk of the committee, gave notice of the proposed invitation, put forward by Christian Democratic Appeal politician Martijn van Helvert, in a letter to members.
Sources say the motion was most likely to be endorsed by a majority of the committee – a sign of the growing frustration with Chinese diplomacy, even in a normally non-confrontational parliament like the one in The Hague.
A Dutch MP, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Foreign Minister Stef Blok “now already knows there is a majority”.
Van Helvert is a co-chair of the hawkish Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), along with US Senator Marco Rubio and Iain Duncan Smith, a British member of parliament.
The Dutch foreign ministry did not reply to a request for comment and the Chinese embassy in the Netherlands could not be reached.
IPAC has already targeted Wang during his first stop in Rome. The group’s Italian co-chair Lucio Malan helped organise Hong Kong student activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung’s trip to the capital.
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio eventually made relatively critical remarks on Hong Kong, telling reporters that Italy would continue to monitor the situation after the implementation of the national security law. He also cast doubt on the city’s ability to maintain fundamental freedoms.
Wang, on the other hand, was on the defensive as he tried to justify the need for the law to curb what Beijing called seditious activities. He made no mention of the EU’s arms control ban on the city’s police, or the plan to extend visa rights to Hong Kong students.
Italy is the only country in Wang’s five-nation trip to have signed up to China’s Belt and Road Initiative and is generally considered to be one of the more Beijing-friendly countries in the EU.
The Netherlands, in contrast, was the first EU country to issue a China strategy paper last year. “China influences all of our lives,” Blok said when he announced the policy last May.
“China aspires to modify the narrative of the international order by giving it ‘Chinese characteristics’. This is not in the Netherlands’ interests.”
Blok called the belt and road plan “a far-reaching form of economic diplomacy”, adding: “There’s nothing wrong with that. But it mustn’t saddle countries with unsustainable debt.”
More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Human rights cast shadow over China Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Netherlands visit first appeared on South China Morning Post