Portugal Illustrates European Weakness on China

CommentaryPortugal’s failure to even attempt to use leverage to secure the safety of its own citizen—a teenager who was detained, held incommunicado, and later sentenced to prison in a secret trial—illustrates European failure to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how to deal with it effectively. As I recently wrote, Portugal is set to reverse recent changes around Europe, which has generally gotten tougher on China when it comes to extraditing people, as China’s already weak legal safeguards have weakened further under Xi Jinping’s rule, and its human rights record has gotten even worse. That alone should cause outrage across Europe, and indeed, politicians and other governments are aware of it. Still, few speak about it openly, and the media has largely ignored it. Now Safeguard Defenders, a nongovernmental organization I founded, reveals damaging information about how Portugal allows itself to be used by China, despite the maltreatment of a young Portuguese citizen, first in China and now in Hong Kong. Kok Tsz-lun, a Hong Kong native, is a Portuguese citizen and was but a teenager when he and several others, known as the “HK 12,” fled Hong Kong for Taiwan in a speedboat, only to be caught by the Chinese coast guard on August 2020. They fled as they had all been part of the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, including charges under the city’s oppressive national security law. Kok and the others were detained, arrested, and then convicted in a secret trial in 2020. After serving his sentence in China, Kok was returned to Hong Kong and detained immediately. On May 30, he appeared in court after pleading guilty and will soon face up to seven years in prison. Portugal has adopted what might be called a European “strategy” ad absurdum. One that was not only doomed to fail but which, if one uses the Portuguese ambassador to China’s statement, has been a remarkable failure. Since Kok was detained in 2020, he has been denied any contact with, or consular support from, the Portuguese government. In fact, Beijing has refused to communicate with the Portuguese government about the case. And not surprisingly, Portugal’s attempt to attend Kok’s trial was denied. Despite this, Portugal has approved at least four more extraditions to China, according to Safeguard Defenders. Kok was held incommunicado and had no access to legal counsel. In fact, his family hired three lawyers, but they were not allowed to communicate with him or access the case files. And worse, all three have since been disbarred due to attempting to represent their client according to Chinese law. Riot police detain a pro-democracy supporter during a protest in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images) For extraditions in Portugal, the government must first find the request permissible and can deny such requests if it has any reason to do so. Then, the judicial system must process the request to ensure it is legal. Throughout the entire process for this Portuguese citizen, the government has been kept in the dark. And because Kok is not accused of any national security crime, holding him incommunicado, refusing contact with family, and denying legal access are all clearly in violation of Chinese law. Furthermore, forbidding consular support, arguing that he is a dual citizen, is problematic. Despite a Portuguese citizen having every guaranteed right violated, the government back in Portugal has turned a blind eye and continued to process extradition requests, despite Kok’s case glaringly showing that the ability for a fair trial is impossible in China, under which no extraditions should be legally possible for Portugal, which is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In effect, China embarrassed Portugal publicly and doomed one of its citizens to secret incarceration against the law. And what’s Portugal’s response? To give China everything it wants without requiring reciprocity of any kind. A very “European solution” that at least two decades of examples have proven, beyond any doubt, will lead to no results of any kind. Like so many other governments around Europe, Portugal could be just pretending that it is unaware that the world does not operate as it does within the safe confines of Western Europe and that the idea of leverage is foreign to it. Yet, that won’t change the fact that dictatorships, like bullies, will simply take more, not less, if their demands are met without resistance. To really measure the outcome, we can use the words of the Portuguese state. Police detain people as they patrol the area after protesters called for a rally in Hong Kong on Sept. 6, 2020. (Dale De Lay Rey/AFP via Getty Images) Portugal’s ambassador to China, José Augusto Duarte, said: “It’s a diplomatic game that is delicate and requires a lot of patience and determination.” “We follow our own methodology, which so far has been encouraging, in the hope that it

Portugal Illustrates European Weakness on China

Commentary

Portugal’s failure to even attempt to use leverage to secure the safety of its own citizen—a teenager who was detained, held incommunicado, and later sentenced to prison in a secret trial—illustrates European failure to understand the nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how to deal with it effectively.

As I recently wrote, Portugal is set to reverse recent changes around Europe, which has generally gotten tougher on China when it comes to extraditing people, as China’s already weak legal safeguards have weakened further under Xi Jinping’s rule, and its human rights record has gotten even worse.

That alone should cause outrage across Europe, and indeed, politicians and other governments are aware of it. Still, few speak about it openly, and the media has largely ignored it. Now Safeguard Defenders, a nongovernmental organization I founded, reveals damaging information about how Portugal allows itself to be used by China, despite the maltreatment of a young Portuguese citizen, first in China and now in Hong Kong.

Kok Tsz-lun, a Hong Kong native, is a Portuguese citizen and was but a teenager when he and several others, known as the “HK 12,” fled Hong Kong for Taiwan in a speedboat, only to be caught by the Chinese coast guard on August 2020. They fled as they had all been part of the 2019 anti-extradition and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, including charges under the city’s oppressive national security law.

Kok and the others were detained, arrested, and then convicted in a secret trial in 2020. After serving his sentence in China, Kok was returned to Hong Kong and detained immediately. On May 30, he appeared in court after pleading guilty and will soon face up to seven years in prison.

Portugal has adopted what might be called a European “strategy” ad absurdum. One that was not only doomed to fail but which, if one uses the Portuguese ambassador to China’s statement, has been a remarkable failure.

Since Kok was detained in 2020, he has been denied any contact with, or consular support from, the Portuguese government. In fact, Beijing has refused to communicate with the Portuguese government about the case. And not surprisingly, Portugal’s attempt to attend Kok’s trial was denied. Despite this, Portugal has approved at least four more extraditions to China, according to Safeguard Defenders.

Kok was held incommunicado and had no access to legal counsel. In fact, his family hired three lawyers, but they were not allowed to communicate with him or access the case files. And worse, all three have since been disbarred due to attempting to represent their client according to Chinese law.

Epoch Times Photo
Riot police detain a pro-democracy supporter during a protest in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

For extraditions in Portugal, the government must first find the request permissible and can deny such requests if it has any reason to do so. Then, the judicial system must process the request to ensure it is legal. Throughout the entire process for this Portuguese citizen, the government has been kept in the dark. And because Kok is not accused of any national security crime, holding him incommunicado, refusing contact with family, and denying legal access are all clearly in violation of Chinese law. Furthermore, forbidding consular support, arguing that he is a dual citizen, is problematic.

Despite a Portuguese citizen having every guaranteed right violated, the government back in Portugal has turned a blind eye and continued to process extradition requests, despite Kok’s case glaringly showing that the ability for a fair trial is impossible in China, under which no extraditions should be legally possible for Portugal, which is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

In effect, China embarrassed Portugal publicly and doomed one of its citizens to secret incarceration against the law. And what’s Portugal’s response? To give China everything it wants without requiring reciprocity of any kind.

A very “European solution” that at least two decades of examples have proven, beyond any doubt, will lead to no results of any kind.

Like so many other governments around Europe, Portugal could be just pretending that it is unaware that the world does not operate as it does within the safe confines of Western Europe and that the idea of leverage is foreign to it. Yet, that won’t change the fact that dictatorships, like bullies, will simply take more, not less, if their demands are met without resistance.

To really measure the outcome, we can use the words of the Portuguese state.

Epoch Times Photo
Police detain people as they patrol the area after protesters called for a rally in Hong Kong on Sept. 6, 2020. (Dale De Lay Rey/AFP via Getty Images)

Portugal’s ambassador to China, José Augusto Duarte, said: “It’s a diplomatic game that is delicate and requires a lot of patience and determination.”

“We follow our own methodology, which so far has been encouraging, in the hope that it is the best way to achieve what is most wanted,” adding he found it key to ensure it does not “create a controversy.”

Beyond the obvious, that any strategy aimed entirely at “not causing controversy” is doomed to fail, the fact that Portugal’s embassy in Beijing never, even once, managed to communicate with its citizen and was refused to attend the trial makes it clear, by Duarte’s own stated benchmark, that the situation has been nothing but a total failure.

Despite this, neither Portugal’s government nor courts have seemingly thought about using the leverage it has, which is significant, to force the Chinese regime’s hand; namely, to put a moratorium on extraditions. Kok is now in a similar problematic situation, facing imprisonment in Hong Kong, where his access to legal counsel has been spotty.

Despite that, Portugal remains one of only two democracies, one of only two developed countries globally to continue an extradition treaty with Hong Kong. This strategy of giving everything and requiring nothing back is not surprising, and neither is it working in Portugal’s favor. In fact, Portugal insists on maintaining the extradition treaty with Hong Kong despite being called upon by the European Union to suspend it, as many other member states have done. And yet, Portugal gets nothing out of it.

If this is a strategy, then heads need to roll within the Portuguese foreign ministry because it is, even by European standards, abysmal and embarrassing in its performance.

China, as has been proven over and over again, responds only to leverage. Find what Beijing wants more than it is asking for, and threaten to take it away. For the Chinese regime, to be able to imprison a Portuguese teenager secretly is far less important compared to the value of having free access to seek extraditions from an EU member and seek them without the government or courts paying any attention to (legally binding) human rights protections.

While Kok will almost certainly get sent away to suffer more time in prison, Zhang Haiyan will be extradited from Portugal to China to face alleged criminal charges, again giving Beijing what it wants despite the Portuguese government receiving nothing in return.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Peter Dahlin is the founder of the NGO Safeguard Defenders and the co-founder of the Beijing-based Chinese NGO China Action (2007–2016). He is the author of “Trial By Media,” and contributor to “The People’s Republic of the Disappeared.” He lived in Beijing from 2007, until detained and placed in a secret jail in 2016, subsequently deported and banned. Prior to living in China, he worked for the Swedish government with gender equality issues, and now lives in Madrid, Spain.