The Eu-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was virtually reached last December 30th 2020, at the very last minute of the 6 months-long German Presidency.
The New Years Eve video-conference was attended by China’s leader Xi Jinping, three leaders of the European Institutions - European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Council president Charles Michel, the rotating president of the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — plus the head of one of the 27 Eu member states, French president Emmanuel Macron.
It is unclear why President Macron joined the negotiators team. Still, an official screenshot is there to mark the momentum, and what the pic shows is a representation of power in Europe where the most powerful members’ interests count far more than the 27’s supposed common values.
According to the CAI, European companies operating in automotive, finance, healthcare will afford less restrictions to access China markets than they had in the past, while the Communist Party leaded global superpower will be welcome to operate within strategic sectors in Europe.
What Europe gained is what USA was granted already. What China gained instead is a geopolitical victory. Someone noticed what a wrong time this was for Europe to enforce China diplomatic credentials. What seems clear is that few trust China compliance to agreements, due to the experience recorded so far. European leaders eventually think this time China will play different.
We have been convincingly told by President Von der Layen that what counts more for Europe is values. Indeed, Eu negotiators finally granted a not-binding claim by China that one day it might consider to join International Labour Organization agreements on Labour Rights. China, as known, rejects the accusation of any wrongdoing with Uyghurs - the muslim minority deported into forced-labor and brain-washing camps. So why should Europeans complain? Eu top leaders plus President Macron seem to politically agree with Xi on this point.
The Agreement with China was reached just a few days after the Eu Parliament approved a resolution on “Forced labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region”
This resolution came just 6 months after the Eu Parliament, on June 2020, passed another resolution on “the People's Republic of China national security law for Hong Kong and the need for the EU to defend Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy”.
The four Eu leaders sitting at the virtual table with Xi didn’t consider what the Parliament had clearly affirmed twice in the last six months.
Though, it’s up to the Eu Parliament to approve or reject the deal - not the team Von der Layen, Michel, Merkel, Macron - and MEPs are getting more and more vocal on the issue. While some are seeking for a binding timeline for China to sign ILO agreements on Forced Labour, some others object that embracing China while it is daily arrest, imprison, condemn people fighting for their basic rights in Hong Kong, is not the right strategy for Europe.
The Eu China Comprehensive Agreement was not the right context to talk about human rights and democracy - we were told by supporters of the deal. Though, just a couple of days after the deal was reached, more than 50 activists, journalists, scholars, scientists, lawyers fighting for preserving Hong Kong from China dictatorship - among them the young democratic leader Joshua Wong - were jailed. The suspect is that if Europe agreed with China not to talk about Human Rights during trading talks, China might have understood it could keep going on with the “final solution” to freedom aspirations in the former British colony.
What’s needed now is public debate. European citizens have the right to know the implications of the Eu-China deal, since it has material and ethical consequences on each of us. We citizens have a role to play. We may show support to those MEPs rejecting the obscure and hypocritical basis on which the deal was reached, and push for a geopolitical Europe where actions are consequences of values, values are not foreigners to interests and interests are pursued by enforcing Democracy and the Rule of Law.