Chinese Internet users slam the German multinational’s CEO for meddling in China's internal affairs. Shareholders and politicians are putting greater pressures on European firms to avoid human rights violations. For Prof Cui Hongjian, trust between the European Union and China is quickly fading.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – German multinational Siemens is concerned about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, even if its commitment to China remains unchanged.
This might be the first time in the history of globalisation that a corporate giant like Siemens has dared to speak out on issues not usually covered by big business.
Speaking to German newspaper Die Welt (9 September), Joe Kaeser, Siemens CEO since 2013, said that his “company cares for the development of China, whether it's Xinjiang, Hong Kong or anywhere else”.
On Hong Kong, where a national security law imposed by Beijing has reduced personal freedoms, Kaeser said that “as long as Beijing adheres to the ‘one country, two systems’ agreement, German business can handle it,” adding however that “this understanding has not been clearly confirmed by China for some time.”
With respect to Xinjiang, where the United Nations added its voice to complaint about forced labour camps for Uyghur Muslims, Kaeser said: “We categorically reject any form of oppression, forced labour and involvement in human rights violations.”
“In principle, we should neither tolerate all of this in our companies nor accept it without consequences from our partners.”
Like Kaeser, Swedish clothing giant H&M on Tuesday announced that that it would sever ties with a cotton producer suspected of exploiting Uyghur prisoners.
The garment company has specified that it will no longer take source cotton from Xinjiang, China’s largest cotton growing area.
The Global Times, an English-language tabloid linked to the People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, published two article defending China.
Last Saturday, the paper said that many "Chinese Internet users" railed against Kaiser for supporting Hong Kong “secessionists”.
However, it is unclear whether the angry and insulting comments, and calls for a boycott, are genuine criticism or not.
In fact, China’s Internet police pays wǔmáo (five mao or one tenth of a yuan) to people who write and post “patriotic” views that oppose positions that do not correspond with those of the people in power.
For Prof Cui Hongjian, director of EU Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, businesses should stick to business and no nation or individual has the right or reason to interfere in China's internal affairs.
On Wednesday, the Global Times cited a statement from the German company in which it says “Siemens respects China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. We believe the 'one country, two systems'”.
Despite this, Prof Cui admits that trust between China and the European Union is declining, as evinced by recent talks.
European companies present in China are facing growing pressure at home from stakeholders and politicians to avoid getting embroiled in China’s human rights violations, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said last week.