China’s diplomatic visit to The Netherlands won’t be as drama-free as it hoped

The last week of August is not the best time to visit Europe for anything other than empty tourist attractions. And yet that’s when China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, decided to plan his first diplomatic visit to the continent since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The timing of the trip — which will take him to Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Norway — may not be a coincidence. Unnamed officials told the South China Morning Post that details of Wang’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron were being kept under wraps in order to avoid protests.

But when Wang visits The Netherlands tomorrow (Aug. 26), he will be hard-pressed to avoid disruptions. Quartz has learned that Martijn van Helvert, a Christian Democrat member of the Dutch parliament, submitted a proposal (link in Dutch) to the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee to invite Wang for a closed-door meeting.

Extending an invitation to a visiting dignitary is not, in itself, unusual. But the timing is, as well as the proposed agenda for the meeting, which Van Helvert said should center on sensitive issues such as the status of Hong Kong and alleged human rights abuses against Uyghurs.

“Given the growing number of concerns, a discussion is desirable,” Van Helvert’s proposal says.

Van Helvert believes his resolution will pass, paving the way for a formal invitation — which Wang will almost certainly refuse. For the proposal to pass, a majority of the committee members need to agree; votes are due by tomorrow morning at 10 am. A secretary for the committee confirmed to Quartz that they had received about half of the votes already, and that most were positive.

The Chinese embassy in The Netherlands could not be reached for comment.

While turning down the invitation won’t have any immediate consequences for Wang, it’s part of a string of moves aimed at focusing public attention on hot-button issues and away from the agenda that China has said it wants to focus on, namely multilateralism, a joint EU-China investment agreement, and the “digital and green economy.” Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law already disrupted Wang’s visit to Italy this week by delivering a letter to the foreign ministry condemning Beijing’s imposition of a security law in Hong Kong.

Parliaments across Europe have increasingly been at the forefront of an ideological and political battle with China as they seek to shape their countries’ policies toward one of the world’s superpowers. Van Helvert and his colleague Henk Krol, head of the center-right Party for the Future, are co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an activist group of MPs whose stated goal is to “help craft a proactive and strategic approach” to China.

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