No Foreign Minister gets humiliated the way China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi got humiliated during his Europe tour. Yi visited Italy, the Netherlands Norway, France, and Germany from August 25 to September 1. The purpose of the much-hyped visit was to draw Europe away from the United States and strengthen trade ties with Europe. But it actually turned out to be a human rights probe for Yi.
The Chinese Foreign Minister got rebuked in every single National Capital that he visited. Yi’s Europe tour started in an awkward way when Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio made adverse remarks about China’s latest moves in Hong Kong. And it finished on the same note, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for withdrawal of China’s National Security Law.
For starters, the human rights woes followed the Chinese Foreign Minister in Germany too. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas discussed both Xinjiang and Hong in fine details, much to the Chinese Foreign Minister’s chagrin, and even issued a mild sanctions threat.
Apart from demanding the withdrawal of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, Maas also demanded that elections be held in the former British colony “quickly and unhindered”. Hong Kong was supposed to go to polls in September, but the elections have been indefinitely delayed by Beijing amidst imposition of the draconian Security Law. Maas even said that the EU should reach an agreement on a common set of sanctions in response to the Hong Kong election delay.
Yi kept parroting “Chinese internal matters”, but it was as if Maas didn’t even care. The German Foreign Minister even called for a UN observer mission to probe the human rights violations in the Uyghur concentration camps in the far Western Chinese-occupied province of Xinjiang.
To make matters worse, Maas also hit back at his Chinese counterpart over the latter’s threat of making the Czech Senate President pay a “heavy price” if she visited Taiwan. Maas said, “We as Europeans act in close cooperation — we offer our international partners respect, and we expect the exact same from them.” The top German diplomat also said, “Threats don’t fit in here.”
In fact, throughout the Europe tour, Yi suffered back-to-back setbacks in every country he visited. Local MPs and MEPs connected to each other by the new Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) kept hounding the Chinese Foreign Minister and greeting him with protests over the human rights violations in China.
It all started in Rome where a London-based exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Nathan Law was waiting to greet Yi on his arrival. Law called upon the Italian Foreign Ministry to raise concerns about the former British colony’s “annihilated status” owing to the draconian National Security Law that has been brutally enforced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Next up was the Netherlands, a country that hasn’t anyway been too friendly towards China. This time around, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Committee voted to invite Yi for discussing human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. A defenceless Yi was, of course, not prepared for grilling on Chinese human rights violations and therefore rejected the invitation in a serious faux pas.
Norway was no better for Wang Yi, and this is where he started losing his cool. Yi started issuing threats and drawing even more flak on the rest of his Europe tour. Norway is not an EU member and Wang wanted to secure a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Scandinavian country. However, in Oslo too he was confronted by Trine Skei Grande, an IPAC co-chair, leading a human rights protest in the Norway Capital.
To aggravate Yi’s misery, he was grilled over human rights violations by the Norwegian Press and questioned about a call for the Norwegian Nobel committee to confer a Nobel Peace Prize upon the people of Hong Kong. Suffering a major meltdown, Yi threatened Norway against granting the Nobel Peace Prize to the people of Hong Kong. Wang Yi’s threats have refreshed the ugly memories of a diplomatic spat between Oslo and Beijing a few years ago.
In 2010, the Norwegian Nobel Committee had bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize upon Liu Xiaobo, Chinese human rights activist, following which China had put Norway in the diplomatic deep freeze till 2016.
Wang Yi’s Europe tour kept getting worse with every second country that he visited. In France, Yi issued some emphatically anti-US remarks in order to weaponize French President Macron’s ambitions of reducing reliance on Washington.
But Yi found himself in a spot, as his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian did not even discuss the United States. In fact, Drian brought up China’s Achillles’ heel- the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
Yi was never going to have a good time in Paris given the recent Sino-French diplomatic fallout. Finally, the Chinese Foreign Minister eyed Germany. Chinese President Xi Jinping shares the most comfortable relationship with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel amongst all the European leaders, and therefore Yi would have been hopeful of some reconciliation in Germany. But by the time his Germany visit ended, all his hopes of having a good time in Berlin also got dashed.
Yi’s Europe tour is a small peek into what the post-COVID world order would look like for China. Those who were once the closest of Beijing’s allies are now snubbing it and grilling the top Chinese diplomat on a State visit. Wang Yi’s Europe tour is thus the new normal for the Communist Party of China.