KEY POINTS

  • Germany’s Europe Minister Michael Roth was critical of China’s recent moves
  • He urged EU members to step up resistance against Beijing’s divide-and-rule tactics
  • Swiss foreign minister also sounded off against China’s leaders on Hong Kong issue

A senior German minister urged other European Union (EU) nations not to be reluctant to "lock horns" with China over difficult issues such as human rights, security and technology.

Michael Roth, the second-most senior official in Germany’s foreign office, called for united resistance to Beijing's "divide-and-rule tactics," in an op-ed column published in the Sunday edition of Der Spiegel International. "In our direct dealings with Beijing, we can and must clearly and unambiguously articulate our interests and cultivate robust cooperation with a view to solving common problems."

He described China as a systemic rival that has "unfortunately" challenged Europe’s "foundation of values."

"The leadership of the authoritarian, one-party state passes up no opportunity to drive a wedge between the EU member states and weaken them. It compromises our credibility and weakens us all if individual members are prepared to undermine European human rights policy for the sake of a supposedly lucrative bilateral ‘deal’ with China," Roth wrote.

Roth saved some flak for the EU in the op-ed article. He referred to the EU countries' reliance on China’s Huawei Technologies, suggesting that they should consider European suppliers of 5G mobile equipment first.

China was accused of withholding information during the onset of the coronavirus outbreak that has since taken the lives of over 200,000 people in Europe. More anger has been directed toward the imposition of the new national security laws in Hong Kong that forced many democracy activists to flee the city.

Roth, a member of the Social Democratic Party executive committee, wrote, "After close consultation with the EU member states, Germany has decided to suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong."

That decision, he said, carried a "crystal-clear" message for Beijing: "There will be no 'business as usual' as far as the EU is concerned. Hong Kong will also be the acid test for China’s credibility as a reliable international partner."

Beijing has said the law will restore stability in Hong Kong Beijing has said the law will restore stability in Hong Kong Photo: AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE

Similar voices were heard from Switzerland, which is not part of the EU. Swiss foreign minister Ignazio Cassis sounded off against China’s leaders about the Hong Kong Security laws. He said to SonntagsBlick, a Swiss national weekly newspaper, "We are seeing China stray from the path of openness. If China sticks to its new course, the Western world will react more decisively."

Cassis added, "If China abandons the 'one country, two systems' principle in the case of Hong Kong, it also affects many Swiss companies that have invested there." He referred to the 70 years of a "constructive but critical" relationship between China and Switzerland.

He continued, "The rule of law and human rights have always been part of our dialogue. Now we realize that the story is more turbulent than we thought. Human rights violations are on the increase. We want to protect these rights."