Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Human Rights Issues
Question 18: To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is concerned by recent opinions voiced by the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations that China's purchase of Spanish and Greek bonds over the past year, and recent promise to buy from Hungary, have made it a bilateral lender of last resort for politicians in indebted countries and that this has serious implications for Europe's ability to present a united front to China on issues such as trade reciprocity, climate change and human rights. [20094/11]
The EU fully recognises the challenges it faces to defend its interests and promote its values in a fast changing world, where countries such as China, India and Brazil have emerged as increasingly influential global players. Over the past year, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton has been developing a framework to enable the EU to strengthen its internal coherence in order to engage more effectively with its main strategic partners, taking full advantage of the Lisbon treaty instruments. In particular the European External Action Service is central to the new approach to strategic partners, which involves fewer priorities, greater coherence and a sharper focus on results.
The practice of having all 27 member states voicing common messages in bilateral contacts with partners is important in helping to project the EU as a unitary force. The commercial investment decisions of individual member states do not undermine the efforts of the EU as a collective to pursue its core objectives with international partners. China's size, economic clout and political weight makes it a key strategic partner of the European Union. It is the world's second largest economy and the biggest exporter of manufactured goods.
Trade between the EU and China has risen dramatically in the last decade and the EU is now China's largest trading partner. Strengthening relations with China is a priority of the EU as China offers immense potential for co-operation in the trade, energy, security and development sectors. The partnership is increasingly focused on addressing global challenges in which the EU and China can play a key role in devising effective international responses. In this respect, EU-China relations go beyond a bilateral framework and take on a global dimension. As with all partnerships, it is not without its differences, most notably in the area of trade and investment; the EU is seeking improved market access, a better environment for investment, more effective enforcement of intellectual property rights and the opening up of public procurement. The rule of law and human rights are also important elements in the ongoing dialogue with China.
The EU-China relationship is more important than ever in the current financial and economic climate. The EU welcomes China's emergence as a global power and recognises the considerable contribution it has made to global economic growth. China's dynamic economic growth benefits the EU. The significant investment by China and other countries in Europe is welcome. It demonstrates confidence in the European economy and in Europe's capacity to emerge from its current economic difficulties.
The purchase by China of government bonds is a matter between China and the individual relevant member states.
The Minister will be aware that historically, one of the great concerns of human rights organisations has been the fact that, all too often, commerce was put ahead of human rights concerns, particularly in the case of Europe and the United States. In terms of population, only India can compare with China, which has around 1.4 billion people and is the second-largest economy in the world. It has an important role to play and will have, for God knows how many years to come. However, there are ongoing genuine concerns about human rights in that vast country, as well as about environmental legislation and the need for reciprocal trade agreements. The same rules that apply to China in Europe should apply to European investment in China.
One statistic here is remarkable. According to the European Council on Foreign Relations, China's total investment in Europe was around $1.3 billion five years ago; however, from October 2010 to March 2011, Chinese firms and banks committed $64 billion, which represents an immense increase in influence. One hopes this does not diminish our responsibility to uphold human rights and legitimately question any issues that arise with that country. It is important that we get the balance right.
I accept the points that have been made by the Deputy. It is fair to say that of all global economic blocs, the European Union has been the most consistent in striving to uphold human rights and impress upon the Chinese the need to enhance human rights protection in China. There is, as I mentioned, a wide-ranging dialogue between the EU and China on all sorts of matters, from environment to trade to general economic co-operation. Part of that dialogue is an intensive focus on human rights issues such as freedom of expression, the death penalty, independence of the judiciary, prison conditions, freedom of religion and minority rights. At the latest session of that dialogue, which took place on 16 June in Beijing, the EU again raised its concerns regarding the rights of minorities, forced disappearances and the extra-legal house arrest of government critics, challenging and addressing in a forthright fashion these issues which are of major concern.
However, the world still goes around. There are major economic challenges facing the European Union and individual member states and Ireland, like all other member states, regards China as an important trading partner. While we are trying to use the clout and influence we have to ensure China prioritises these human rights challenges, we cannot afford to place ourselves at a disadvantage vis-À-vis other member states. We must be competitive in vying for trade with China. That is essential to our export sector in particular. Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.