The European Union is set to impose an import ban on Chinese products suspected to be made from forced labour, EU President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
Ms. von der Leyen made the announcement during her annual State of the European Union speech, which signalled a more assertive stance towards Beijing for its treatment of its Uyghur population.
Ms. von der Leyen said in her speech before the European Parliament that while the EU strongly backed global trade, it “can never be done at the expense of people’s dignity and freedom”.
“There are 25 million people out there, who are threatened or coerced into forced labour. We can never accept that they are forced to make products – and that these products then end up for sale in shops here in Europe,” she said.
The announcement was one of several made by the EU president as she also called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to show “leadership” by setting out in detail how his country – the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – plans to meet its climate change goals.
She also outlined EU plans to set up trade and infrastructure links in other parts of the world – including the Indo-Pacific region where China dominates – to rival Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative.
The stance underlined a hardening Western approach to China, which has become an economic powerhouse that competes with the US and EU while eschewing their democratic and social values.
Yet Brussels is also keen to portray its moves as independent and less hardline than those from Washington, with which Beijing has more tense relations.
On the forced labour issue, von der Leyen did not mention any country by name, but allegations that China is using sequestered Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region to make products for export are becoming a key issue in EU-China ties.
In von der Leyen’s native Germany, rights activists this month filed a criminal complaint against five retailers, including Hugo Boss and C&A, accusing them of benefiting from Chinese state abuse of Uyghurs.
On climate, von der Leyen singled out China’s leader by name, urging him to make concrete announcements on what his country will do to help the world limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius before the COP26 in Glasgow on Nov 1 and 2.
“The goals that President Xi has set for China are encouraging. But we call for that same leadership on setting out how China will get there,” she said.
“The world would be relieved if they showed they could peak emissions by mid-decade – and move away from coal at home and abroad.” (Source: CNA)