China: European diplomats under surveillance


Status: 25/05/2022 06:00

China’s security authorities systematically monitored diplomats from Europe during a trip to northwest China in 2018. This is stated in the “Xinjiang Police Files”, which BR evaluated with media partners.

By Philipp Grüll, Fabian Mader and Hakan Tanriverdi, BR

The document is classified as “confidential” and “very urgent”. It is about a “secret issue of public safety”, as the leader of the four-page letter from July 2018 puts it. At that time, a group of European diplomats set out for the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in northwestern China. Following reports of the repression of the Uighurs, envoys from Germany, from the EU Representation in Beijing, from France, Finland and the Netherlands want to get an idea on the spot.

The Chinese immigration authorities are therefore asking the public security offices in the Ili district to “closely monitor” the diplomats. The authority sends the security authorities detailed information about the diplomats and their travel: names, dates of birth and passport numbers, travel dates, flight numbers and the names of the hotels they are expected to stay at.

As soon as they were discovered in Xinjiang, the Department of National Security and the Bureau of Entry and Exit should be notified “immediately”. The activities of the six people should be “actively followed” and their contacts closely monitored.

scandal on the journey

The authorities then do the same, and therefore a scandal arises, according to an internal cable written by the European diplomats after their visit. Police officers in civilian clothes followed them on the street, in the bus, in public toilets and even in the gym and in the swimming pool.

When a member of the delegation took pictures in a restaurant where the shadows were sitting, “a significant number of armed police officers” blocked their exit, the diplomats note in their cable. “Two of the visitors were asked to give police access to their phones to search for harassing images.” State security harassed diplomats, detained them and forced them to delete the photos – despite diplomatic immunity. Only then were they allowed to continue their journey.

Experts see a violation of the Vienna Convention

Andreas von Arnauld, a professor of international law in Kiel, sees the actions of the Chinese authorities as a violation of the Vienna Convention governing the special status of diplomats. In a brief report, he writes that the agreement gives diplomats “the freedom to move and travel outside defined security zones.” It is therefore not allowed to detain diplomats in the restaurant. In addition, their correspondence – including that on smartphones – is “inviolable”.

The Chinese police therefore should not have forced the diplomats to delete pictures from their mobile phones. For the former Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to China, Volker Stanzel, the conduct of the Chinese authorities is a violation of international rules. In such a case, any government will “protest and will demand that those responsible be held accountable.”

The Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not provide information on request as to whether this happened in this case. Green politician Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China, refers to UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s recent trip to China. He has little confidence that the Chinese authorities will “handle their visits differently than visits by European diplomats.”

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