France vows ‘firm’ stance on forced labour in EU-China deal

France on Thursday vowed to take a firm stance regarding forced labour in an EU-China investment deal, as tensions simmer over Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur minority.

The European Union and China agreed on the pact in principle in December but it must be ratified by the EU’s 27 states and approved by the EU parliament, which is expected to vote on it next year.

“It is also an opportunity for us to assert our principles and our values, and we will be extremely clear and firm on this issue of forced labour within the framework of these negotiations,” French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Inter radio.

At least one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in camps in China’s northwest Xinjiang region, according to right groups, where authorities are also accused of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labour.

“What’s happening with the Uyghurs is completely unacceptable and even shocking and upsetting,” Attal said.

“We’re talking about forced labour, forced internment; we’re talking about mutilation, terrible situations, and it is absolutely unacceptable.”

The European Commission says that China agreed through the deal to work harder towards approving International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on forced labour.

The European Parliament passed a resolution in January criticising the pact, saying it had given away too much to China on human rights.

EU-China ties soured this week, as the bloc joined the US, Britain and Canada in imposing fresh sanctions on Chinese officials over the crackdown on Uyghurs.

The two sides summoned each other’s envoys, with Beijing accusing the EU of “hypocrisy” and imposing sanctions on Europeans, including five members of the the EU Parliament.