Hoekstra vows to raise ‘issues of concern’ during visit to China

Foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra. Photo: RVD – Valerie Kuypers en Martijn Beekman

Foreign affairs minister Wopke Hoekstra is visiting China for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic as relations between the two countries become increasingly delicate.

Hoekstra will meet his counterpart in Beijing, Qin Gang, during the two-day trip, as well as vice-president Han Zheng, who visited prime minister Mark Rutte in The Hague two weeks ago.

The visit comes as China faces criticism in Europe for its stance on the war in Ukraine and its aggressive behaviour towards Taiwan, while the Netherlands recently bowed to pressure from the US to restrict sales of semiconductor chips by Dutch technology firm ASML.

G7 nations voiced their criticism of China’s attitude towards Ukraine and its “malign practices” when they met in Japan last week, while Beijing accused the group of “hindering international peace” and giving in to “economic coercion” from the US.

Rutte defended his invitation to the Chinese vice-president last week, saying the relationship between the two countries was “important”. Hoekstra is expected to discuss the trade relationship, which was worth €73 bn in 2021, but said he would also raise “issues where we have concerns”, such as human rights.

In 2021 the Dutch parliament became the first legislature in Europe to condemn China’s treatment of its Uighur minority, despite objections from Hoekstra’s predecessor Stef Blok.

The move prompted Beijing to put Dutch MPs including D66 foreign affairs spokesman Sjoerd Sjoerdsma on a sanctions list.

Sjoerdsma has also called for an inquiry into Chinese industrial espionage and its influence on the education system. Several Dutch universities have stopped taking postgraduate students funded by the China Scholarship Council, amid concerns that they could apply expertise used in the Netherlands for military purposes.

The Netherlands was also one of several countries where the Chinese government was found to be operating illegal police stations last year to monitor dissidents in the west. Hoekstra directed the embassy to close the two offices last November, calling their presence “unacceptable”.

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