As for me, it will be a “no”. In the days, weeks and months to come, I, as a Member of the European Parliament, will work to ensure that the European representation disapproves of the investment agreement that the Commission has just reached with China.
The first reason for this is that the concessions that China has just made on opening its market to European companies are far from putting our industries on an equal footing. China continues to exclude us from areas of investment that we are not closing to China and on which it is already active. Chinese industry obviously remains subsidized while EU competition rules drastically limit state aid to European companies. Administrative obstacles, above all, will continue to prevent or limit European investment where it is not desired by the Chinese party-state, whereas the Union does not have such weapons, at least not in sufficient quantity and efficiency.
Mr. Xi’s interest was clear. By making the indispensable gestures which were required for the signing of this agreement, he wanted to signal to the future Biden administration that he had other cards in his hand than the United States and that it was therefore from a position of strength that he would begin discussions in attempting to redefine his relations with the Americans.
It was worth giving the Europeans some satisfaction, but where did our interest lie?
We do not see it because there was no sense in putting ourselves in such a hurry for so little when the Chinese were so keen on having an accord. China needed us so much that we could have asked for and got more. All we had to do was to take our time instead of giving the profoundly false impression that we had a vital need to get there as soon as possible.
It is an error that the German Presidency and the Commission have just made, an error due to the anxiety that the prospect of a much longer battle was arousing in German industrial circles, and this error is not just an economic one.
It is also political, for three reasons.
The first is that when we set ethical conditions for the signing of trade agreements with third countries, we owe it to ourselves not make fun of them and to ensure that they are respected. In this case, we cannot pretend to have led China to renounce forced labour, even though it acknowledges that it resorts to it by committing itself, albeit only in words and without a binding date, to accede to the conventions of the International Labor Organization prohibiting this abomination.
Either we wait for China to sign and ratify these conventions before signing new trade agreements with it, or, by taking a completely different attitude, we give up definitely linking trade and respect for fundamental rights. Either way, we have to choose between these two approaches, but the European Union cannot in any case treat human rights with the same cynical hypocrisy as the Chinese dictatorship, because that is to deny itself.
The second political error in this agreement with Mr. Xi is that we signed it at the end of a year marked by a hardening of his diplomacy and repression perpetrated by his regime. Chinese concentration camps continue to fill up with Uighurs. Repression is becoming more and more severe in China and Hong Kong. The open contempt for democracies and the promotion of the virtues attributed to the dictatorship have become unbearable. Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea are increasingly worrisome and China has reneged on the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement that it had committed itself to respect in Hong Kong.
It is always dangerous to let a dictatorship believe that it can do anything and not be punished but rewarded. It is even more dangerous when it concerns the most powerful and most populous dictatorship in the world. To our greatest shame, however, this is what we have just done, and this without even attempting to consult with Joe Biden’s United States on the pressure we could exert together to bring Mr. Xi back to more reason.
Against the Chinese dictatorship, against a regime that combines the worst of communism with the worst of capitalism, the European Union and the United States should stand together, but it is against the United States – this is where we are – that the Union has just stood together with China. This is not the least of the four reasons why the European Parliament and the 27 national parliaments must oppose this agreement.