China denies visas to German lawmakers over their human rights criticism

22-Aug-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Two groups of German MPs recently cancelled trips to China due to visa restrictions, as Beijing stepped up diplomatic clashes with lawmakers in the European country that has been most vocal on Chinese human rights issues.

The German parliament, the Bundestag, announced that its human rights committee was not allowed entry to China for a planned trip to Beijing, Tibet and the western region of Xinjiang, which had been scheduled for next month.

Another group of MPs from the digital affairs committee has also decided to scrap a trip in late August to Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing after China refused to grant a visa to a delegate who has been outspoken about its human rights record and an avid supporter of the dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

A diplomatic source in Europe told the South China Morning Post that China was adamant in rejecting the two groups, although negotiations were continuing. “The message is plain and simple: China does not welcome any politicians who are biased against it,” the source said.

China’s embassy in Germany declined to comment about the visa issue, but the strong resistance from Beijing shows China’s readiness to block critical European lawmakers from visiting the country.

Michael Brand, the human rights spokesman for the parliamentary grouping of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party (CDU), said the refusal “is about making an example of people who dare to clearly address the topic of human rights and touch on sensitive issues”.

The digital affairs committee, which hoped to learn about developments in China’s artificial intelligence efforts, had firmed plans to visit in April, but those plans were scrambled when the committee wanted to include in the delegation Margarete Bause, an opposition lawmaker for the Green Party who has repeatedly called out human rights abuses in China.

Bause is not normally on the committee, but she had been nominated by her party to take the place of a Green member who could not make the trip, Politico reported.

The Chinese foreign ministry has consistently refused to issue a visa to Bause and would not allow the delegation to visit if Bause remained a part of it. “As long as there is no invitation that includes Bause, we won’t travel to China,” Dieter Janecek, another Green member of the committee, told the Post.

Bause was the politician greeting Ai Weiwei in Munich’s airport in 2015, the dissident artist’s first trip abroad since Chinese authorities confiscated his passport for four years in 2011 and put him under house arrest.

“China wants to show that anyone who wants to travel to the country should kindly shut up. I’ve experienced such attempts to intimidate me for over a decade but the pressure is increasing,” Bause was quoted by Politico as saying.

Bause told Politico that Chinese diplomats in Germany had monitored her for a decade.

In 2008, when Bause was a member of the Bavarian state parliament, she received an invitation to a conference held by the World Uygur Congress, which represents members of the ethnic group native to the autonomous Xinjiang region in western China. The organisation’s headquarters is in Munich, which is home to most Uygurs living in Germany.

At the same time, the Chinese consulate general in Munich began calling Bause’s office. She met the consul, who urged her not to attend the conference in order “not to strain the good Bavarian-Chinese relations”, Bause said.

Bause, now on a two-week holiday, could not be reached for comment.

Manuel Hoeferlin, a member of the digital affairs committee, called it “inconceivable” that China could decide who could take part in committee visits by the Bundestag.

However, imposing visa bans for Western lawmakers is not a new tactic for Chinese officials.

In 2014, weeks after the end of the Occupy movement in Hong Kong, China banned a senior committee of British MPs from entering Hong Kong, with the deputy ambassador to London threatening to deport the group should they attempt to enter China.


Category: China

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