The EU worked to ensure that China was not openly criticised at the recent G7 summit for using slave labour in Xinjiang.
“EU leaders blocked efforts to name and shame Beijing for using slave labour,” the Times reports.
It says that Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister, along with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel of the EU, ensured that China’s use of slave labour was not mentioned in the summary of the final G7 communiqué. They argued instead for a focus on the “co-operative” relationship with China, which is the world’s largest authoritarian state.
As a result, all reference to the notorious use of slave labour in China’s Xinjiang in the G7 communiqué on forced labour was left out, despite the US producing a briefing note including it.
The final document read: “We are concerned by the use of all forms of forced labour in global supply chains, including state-sponsored forced labour of vulnerable groups and minorities including in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors”, omitting the add-on: “the main supply chains of concern in Xinjiang”, the Times confirmed.
The G7 summit was expected to pave the way for a new forum, the D10, which would include Japan, South Korea and Australia – which has been caught in escalating tensions with China of late. However, it is thought that the lack of unity in taking a stance on China’s human rights abuses at the meeting meant the idea was shelved.
The G7 did issue a call for China “to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong”, and also emphasised the “importance of peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait, in a nod to Taiwan’s independence which has long been denied by China.
However, critics see these lukewarm statements as a timidity to stand up to an authoritarian regime which is enslaving and brutalising more than a million people.
As a million Uyghurs and other Muslims have been imprisoned in China with hundreds of thousands forced to work in what has been described as “modern-day slavery”. There have been widespread reports of physical and psychological torture inside prisons and detention camps in the region, the BBC reports, noting that China denies the allegations.
The rich and powerful continue to turn a blind eye to this horrendous abuse of human rights and to the enslavement of a religious minority. It is shameful that the EU, which is seen as representing Ireland amongst other member states on the world stage, could contrive to quell what should have been a strong criticism of slavery in China. As long as there is money to be made from trade, it seems their use of slavery must be tolerated. Is that the set of values the EU would have us share now?
Máirín de Barra writes from Dublin