Following the installation of Pro-Beijing hardliner John Lee as Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the Belgian Parliament has called for a tough position on China, including sanctions against Chinese officials and fresh oversight on Chinese investment.
The resolution, drafted by members of the Belgian Green Party, and widely supported by other members of the parliament, asks the government to support sanctions against Chinese individuals involved in the violation of human rights.
In Xinjiang province (East Turkestan), the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China has been accused of holding an estimated one million Uyghur Muslims in internment camps, without any legal process. Detainees are subject to religious “re-education”, physical abuse, sterilisation, forced abortion, and party indoctrination.
United Nations have condemned this as a flagrant abuse of human rights. The United States has officially designated the interments as genocide. Non-binding resolutions in Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, and France have also described China’s actions as genocide.
Belgium, however, has so far refused to label the camps as genocide, instead referring to the practice as a “crime against humanity” and warning of a “serious risk of genocide.”
Human rights abuses
The Chinese government is also accused of violating human rights in Hong Kong, where it brutally crushed pro-democracy protests which came to a head in 2019.
Since then, Beijing has tightened its grip over the region, which following its handover from the United Kingdom, is supposed to maintain political independence from mainland China.
Article 38 of Hong Kong’s new “national security law” has unprecedented juridical precedent as it claims that all people, irrespective of nationality or territoriality, can be charged for profaning China’s one-party system or calling for democracy in Hong Kong.
The authorities use this law to surveil, detain, and search any person involved with pro-democracy or Western movements. This extends to Belgian citizens.
“Any Hong Kong student who applauds democracy and freedom on social media can be arrested as a terrorist – and so can any citizen of another nationality,” said Belgian MP Woter DE Groen, who tabled the resolution. “That cannot go unpunished.”
China has also closed dozens of reputable independent news organisations and has rolled out internet censorship against pro-democracy sites in Hong Kong and abroad.
Chinese investment, or espionage?
The proposal also calls for greater oversight into the role of Chinese investment into the Belgian economy. Chinese investment has come under the spotlight in countries around the world under suspicion that it is being used by the CCP for surveillance and even espionage.
CCTV companies Dahua and Hikvision, who provide much of the surveillance equipment used in hospitals and government buildings, should be investigated to ensure that data is not leaked to China, the proposal states.
In 2021, Belgian Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne announced that the government was investigating whether the new Alibaba logistics hub at Liège Airport was being used for espionage.
“Chinese intelligence agents could have access to sensitive and secure areas of the airport,” he admitted to Samuel Cogolati of the Francophone Green Party, Ecolo.
Later, however, Van Quickenborne declared that "there is no evidence of Chinese intelligence agents or espionage activities at Alibaba in Liège.”
Even the government has fallen victim to suspected Chinese government cyberattacks.
In April 2019, the FPS Interior fell victim to a “complex, sophisticated, and targeted cyberattack,” suspected to have been committed by China by Belgian experts.