Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he opposes reconsidering trade relations with China over its policies toward Hong Kong and its Uyghur minority.
Rutte, whose country is among the European Union countries most closely intertwined with Chinese production chains, said the EU should address those topics but shouldn’t isolate countries that don’t live up to European standards.
His comments in an interview feed into Europe’s reassessment of individual and collective relations with China triggered most immediately by Russia’s war on Ukraine. Cutting ties with China won’t “help anyone in Hong Kong or the Uyghurs,” Rutte said in Brussels after an EU summit.
“This is one of the reasons I believe the EU should be more of a geopolitical powerhouse, that we have to develop our own policies toward China, in close connection with the US,” he said.
The Netherlands was the biggest importer of goods from China in 2021, according to EU data. China is the country’s third-biggest trade partner after neighbors Germany and Belgium.
Dutch-based chip machine builder ASML Holding NV plays a sensitive role in trade relations due to China’s reliance on ASML technology to build up its chip-making industry. The company hasn’t been granted an export license to ship its most advanced machines to China.
A trade dispute with China would have high costs for the Netherlands, a government economic analysis agency, the Central Planning Bureau, warned this week.
Recent EU-Chinese contacts have reflected tensions in the relationship. After a summit in April, EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said the talks were “a dialog of the deaf” with China refusing to discuss the war in Ukraine, human rights or other issues between the two sides.
China has been accused of running a state-sponsored forced-labor program in Xinjiang under the guise of anti-poverty efforts, sending as many as 1 million Uyghurs to so-called re-education camps. China has repeatedly denied mistreatment of the Uyghurs and says crackdowns in Hong Kong are to prevent insurrection.
Rutte said that he always addresses the issues with China, including the last time he spoke to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Even so, he said, “you cannot close off relationships with countries which are not living up to our standards.”