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July 24, 2017

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Spain blocks Tibetan genocide suit

In an example of China flexing its economic muscles in Europe, the Spanish Government has decided to intervene and block a special court from proceeding with a lawsuit against several Chinese political figures, including former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

The former Chinese officials are accused of genocide against the Tibetan people.

In November, three appeal court judges in the Spanish Audiencia Nacional, or National Court, acting under the principle of universal jurisdiction, ordered warrants of arrest to be issued against five former Chinese leaders, including Mr. Jiang. This followed a decision by the Spanish court in October to indict Mr. Hu, who succeeded Mr. Jiang as president and who stepped down from office last year.

This precipitated a crisis with China. A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, said at a press conference that China "adamantly opposes any state or individual using issues related to Tibet as a pretext for interfering in China's domestic affairs."

The principle of universal jurisdiction recognizes that human rights abuses and crimes against humanity transcend national borders and the nationality of victims. The former Chinese officials are accused of genocide against the Tibetan people.

In theory, the former Chinese officials will be subject to arrest if they visit Spain or travel to a country with an extradition agreement with Madrid. Since retired Chinese officials rarely leave the country, the possibility of an actual arrest is remote. However, the very issuance of arrest warrants for former Chinese leaders is highly embarrassing, even insulting, from the Chinese government's standpoint.

El Pais, the largest-circulation Spanish newspaper, reported Dec. 15 that the government in Madrid is very concerned over the protest by the Chinese authorities.

China is the second largest foreign holder of Spanish debt, with about 80 billion euros. It is Spain's biggest trading partner outside the European Union, with bilateral trade amounting to US$27.3 billion in 2011.

China is also an important source of tourists for Spain, with more than 100,000 Chinese visiting the country each year.

Madrid fears that Beijing will take economic reprisals against Spain, as it did against Norway after the Norwegian Nobel Committee in 2010 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo, a dissident serving an 11-year prison term in China.

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