Macron’s call with Xi Jinping without mentioning Uighur issue sparks criticism

French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the evening of the 25th. Judging from the circular of the official Chinese news agency Xinhua and the communiqué of the French presidential office, the two sides exchanged views on bilateral relations and international topics of common concern, but neither mentioned the Uighur issue, which is of wide concern to international public opinion. French scholars criticized Macron for neither mentioning the Uighur issue nor touching on the Hong Kong issue in this call. However, the presidential administration subsequently clarified this.

Indeed, after French Foreign Minister Jean-Claude Le Drian’s speech at the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, in which he condemned China’s “institutionalized repression” in Xinjiang, it was somewhat surprising that President Macron did not say a word about it in his call with the Chinese president. What’s more, after Le Dérien’s statement, the Chinese Embassy in France issued a statement condemning any alleged interference in the internal affairs of others in the name of human rights.

Antoine Bondaz, a China expert at the French Foundation for Strategic Studies, commented on the Twitter platform that Macron’s failure to mention human rights issues, especially in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, in this call was incomprehensible. He considers this a serious political mistake. He again criticized the lack of consistency in French foreign policy.

But the French presidency clarified this at noon on the 26th, saying that Macron talked about this sensitive subject in the call. AFP quoted presidential sources as pointing out that Macron’s position on the Xinjiang issue is very clear and will be re-mentioned in every conversation.

In addition, according to the French presidential communiqué on the call, the two sides had talked about climate issues. Macron affirmed China’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality and hoped that at the next summit between Britain and France, co-chaired by the United Nations, the parties would come up with concrete proposals. Macron also hoped to promote bilateral cooperation between France and China in various fields such as civil nuclear energy, aviation manufacturing, space technology innovation and Food processing.

Macron reaffirmed the investment agreement reached between China and Europe at the end of last year and called on the Beijing authorities to ratify as soon as possible the International Labor Organization conventions on the prohibition of forced labor.

The surprise China-EU investment agreement, reached in the last days of 2020, has sparked criticism over recent revelations of alleged forced labor in detention camps in Xinjiang where Uighurs are arbitrarily held. At one point, France made the signing of the investment agreement conditional on China’s commitment to eradicate forced labor. The Chinese government has since pledged in the Sino-European investment agreement only to work toward ratification of International Labor Organization conventions.

A report by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua on the call between the leaders of France and China focused on Sino-French and Sino-European cooperation. Xi praised Macron’s assertion of the EU’s strategic autonomy and hoped for the early entry into force of the China-EU investment agreement, but made no mention at all of the International Labor Organization convention on the prohibition of forced labor.

The Xinhua news release also made no mention of Myanmar. Instead, Macron expressed deep concern to Xi Jinping about the situation in Myanmar, according to a French presidential communiqué.

China is an important supporter of Myanmar. Since the February 1 military coup in Myanmar, China has consistently refused to call the overthrow of the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi a military coup. In contrast, Burma’s civil disobedience movement against the military regime has continued to expand and the military crackdown has intensified.