By Bernard Guetta Translation: Lorraine
How could the EU conclude new trade agreements with a country that does not respect basic human rights and without even denying itself?
For me, it will be no. In the days, weeks, and months to come. I, as a member of 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 is that the concessions that China has finally made on opening its market to European companies are still far from putting our industries on an equal footing. China continues to prohibit us from areas of investment that we do not close to it, and in which it is already active. Chinese industry obviously remains subsidized while 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 necessary gestures for the signing of this agreement, he wished to signify the future Biden administration that he had other cards in his deck than the United States, and it was therefore in a position of strength that he would begin discussions on the attempt to redefine his relationship with the Americans.
For him, it was well worth giving some satisfaction to the Europeans, but where was our interest in the matter? We do not see it because there was no sense in hastening so much for so little when the Chinese were so demanding. China needed us so much that we could ask and get more. All we had to do was to take our time instead of giving the impression so profoundly wrong that we had a vital need to get it done as soon as possible.
An economic and political mistake
It is a mistake that the German Presidency and the Commission have just made a mistake due to the anxiety that the prospect of a longer battle has aroused in German industrial circles, and it is not just an economic mistake. 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 must not make fun of them and ensure that they are respected. In this case, we cannot pretend to have led China to renounce forced labor even though it acknowledges that it uses it, since it commits itself, but only with intentions and without any date, to adhere 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 or, any other attitude, we definitively renounce to link 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 it is to deny itself.
The most powerful dictatorship
The second political mistake 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 by his regime. Chinese concentration camps continue to fill up with Uighurs. The repression is becoming more and more severe in China and Hong Kong. The displayed 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 worrying, and China has not honored its commitment to “one country, two systems” to respect Hong Kong.
Finally, 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 is the most powerful and most populous dictatorship in the world. To our shame, however, this is what we have just done, and without even attempting to consult with Joe Biden’s United States on the pressure we could exert together to bring Mr. Xi back for more reasons.
Against the Chinese dictatorship, against a regime that combines the worst in communism with the worst in capitalism, the European Union and the United States should stand together, but it is against the United States and that’s the fact that the Union has just taken a stand with China. This is not the least of the four reasons why the European Parliament and the 27 national parliaments must oppose this agreement.