By George N. Tzogopoulos/
For many years, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva criticized China for its human rights record. The EU had not constituted an exception. In 2016, for instance, it expressed high concern for the actions of the Chinese government. This year, however, the situation was completely different. Greece did not allow the EU to reiterate its previous criticism. In contrast, it blocked a European statement.
To no one’s surprise, Greece’s veto has been negatively framed in the West. Most Western media stigmatized Greece by focusing on the reaction of human rights groups, or introducing language about values and ideals. One European diplomat, for instance, was quoted in Reuters as describing Greece’s stance as “dishonorable.” A New York Times article was headlined, “In Greece, China finds an ally against human rights criticism.”
The general perception in the West is that China has allegedly put pressure on Greece to support its cause at the EU level. In particular, this perception is fueled by China’s liquidity as well as financial and investment capacity as opposed to Greece’s urgent need for cash and growth. So, the story goes as such: as long as China is expanding its activities in Europe, more and more European states are susceptible to its political interests. In that regard, Greece is considered a target country for Beijing’s supposed objectives. Because Greece is weak, it failed to follow principle and align with European priorities.
This theory might have many followers in the West as it goes hand-in-hand with the general interpretation of China’s rise. However, it does not take into account the special characteristics of Greek foreign policy and the Sino-Greek partnership.
To start with, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who initiated the aforementioned veto, has a personal interest in all BRICS countries, with an emphasis on China and Russia. He strongly believes that Europe and also EU member states like Greece need to benefit more from their relationships with both Beijing and Moscow and enhance their general collaboration.
In addition, Kotzias does not agree with foreign policy approaches criticizing or isolating – a priori – other states. His decision to block the European statement on China’s human rights is placed within this framework. He is adapting a similar policy vis-à-vis Russia portraying the latter part of the solution and not the problem itself. In Kotzias’ view, what is needed is more dialogue and not more safe criticism. As far as China’s human rights are concerned, the EU Human Rights Dialogue with the country provides a better platform for exchanges of views, even if involved sides disagree on several issues.
With reference to the policy of veto, Kotzias considers it a diplomatic tool. According to his political philosophy, small states should be able to exert it at the EU level to the same extent bigger states are doing it. It is not the first time Kotzias has come to the epicenter of international attention for this reason. In the first part of 2015, he had been very skeptical on the continuation of sanctions against Russia, but he finally agreed with the European policy as Greece was running out of money and needed additional financial support by the EU.
From another perspective, it is not fair for China to be directly associated with the Greek veto. China did not tell Greece to block the European statement. There is no secret deal between the two countries for additional investment on the basis of Greece’s political support for Chinese interests.
It is China which is interested in doing more investments in Greece after the acquisition of the Piraeus Port Authority by COSCO rather than the Greek government, which ideologically opposes privatizations and is implementing them only as part of its bailout obligations.
Last but not least, if China had wanted to actively intervene in the Greek crisis and alter the balance of power in the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe, it would have done so in the first months of 2015. But it then decided to play a secondary role.
All in all, selective criticism does not facilitate cooperation with China, especially taking into account that the new president of the US, Donald Trump, has so far decided to sideline references to human rights. And Europe should first look at Greece’s own human rights problem, a country where unemployment of young people exceeds 60 percent and talented Greeks leave to find jobs abroad during their most creative age.
The author is a lecturer at the European Institute in Nice, France
Source: Global Times