Should the EU change its human rights strategy with China?


Last week, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, presented a major foreign policy review at the EU summit held in Brussels. The strategic review urges the EU to drop the arms embargo and boost relations with China in order to remain relevant on the world stage.

According to EU Observer, these are some of the key points defended by Ms Ashton.

“The current arms embargo is a major impediment for developing stronger EU-China co-operation on foreign policy and security matters. The EU should assess its practical implication and design a way forward.”

In this complex world, “Europe is no longer the main strategic preoccupation of US foreign policy … The US has recognised the need for an increased engagement with Asia and there is a risk it will see the EU as a less relevant partner given our relative strategic weakness there”.

China will not match EU standards of human rights and rule of law for some time to come. Future convergence is best sought by concentrating on common ground … We need to manage mutual expectations”.

An EU diplomacy that openly puts human rights at the core of the agenda seems to be an obstacle for stronger trade relations between China and the EU. If human rights did not matter anymore, this would be a rather appropriate policy alternative.

However, some would also claim that, considering the economic and political strength of the Chinese regime, even from a human rights-sensitive viewpoint, the arms embargo and an open ‘naming and shaming’ with China are not likely to have a positive impact on people’s lives in the country. Rosemary Foot, for example, shows in Rights Beyond Borders (2000) that private dialogues between US-EU and China in the post-Tiananmen era generated the conditions in which the Chinese government felt comfortable enough to partially improve the human rights record in the country, even though this strategy replaced and somehow undermined the conventional UN multilateral route.

Do you think the EU is going to lift its arms embargo on China? Would this hypothesis be good or bad news? Is Ms Ashton’s general proposal good for the cause of human rights and for the European Union? We really want to know your opinion. Please, do leave your comment below and take part in the survey. Thanks you!

Rights in Context


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