A top Chinese official attending the 33rd EU-China human rights dialogue meeting in Brussels on Monday (8 December) told reporters that his country doesn’t need lessons on human rights from the EU. Choosing to describe the starkly divergent approaches to human rights in Europe and China in culinary terms, Li Junhua, a Director General in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, noted that “Europeans like to eat bread and Chinese people like to eat buns. Who is to say which one is more delicious?” Mr. Li Junhua also stressed that China has its own model of human rights and therefore “China has a clear understanding of how human rights will be carried out in our country and we are confident of our own model.” The EU-China human rights dialogue has taken place twice a year starting in 1995, though civil society groups generally agree that the ‘dialogue’ has only been a ‘talk shop’ that achieved little when it comes to advancing human rights in China.
Importantly, it was the first time that a Chinese top official agreed to hold press conference on the highly sensitive human rights issue in Europe. One of the questions fielded from both western and Chinese reporters called on Mr. Li Junhua to comment on the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which he then described as a purely legal issue and an “illegal activity”, adding that “The situation of the election of Hong Kong is a domestic issue, this involves the sovereignty of China.” When responding to questions on other issues, Mr. Li Junhua sounded optimistic because, in his words, the EU and China “reached a new level of understanding as well as development on various issues, including women’s rights, technical cooperation, human rights cooperation, and very deep and open exchanges.” However, he concurrently noted that the interests of few individuals – in obvious reference to thousands of imprisoned Chinese dissidents – cannot override the needs of the majority Chinese population. Next year’s EU-China human rights dialogue will be held in China.