Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has met with representatives of foreign businesses operating in China in an attempt to convince investors that the country continues to foster an environment that’s favorable for international trade.
The meeting with representatives from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and other countries on April 20 follows last month’s refusal by the EU parliament to ratify a European Union–China investment deal.
The downward spiral in EU–China relations followed the EU’s decision last month to boycott Xinjiang cotton, triggering counter-sanctions from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that have further imperiled the likelihood of any trade deal.
During the meeting at the China–European Center in Chengdu, which has attracted more than 170 foreign institutions and enterprises to invest and locate in Sichuan province, Li praised the business leaders for their contributions to China’s “modernization” and the “recovery of the global economy” following the CCP virus pandemic.
“China will continue opening to the outside world, and the door will open wider and wider,” Li said. He promised that China “will continue to build a business environment that is market-oriented, legalized, and internationalized.”
“Companies from all countries are treated equally and fair competition is guaranteed,” he said.
Li’s visit occurred just days after Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on April 16. The video meeting was a preparatory session ahead of the Earth Day world leaders’ summit on climate issues. During the meeting, Xi urged the EU to ratify the EU–China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)—which was agreed to last December after seven years of negotiations. The CAI must be ratified by EU Parliament to take effect.
However, neither Merkel nor Macron have responded to Xi’s call for ratification.
In March, the EU approved sanctions on several Chinese communist officials involved in the genocide and human rights abuses against Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang. The Chinese regime quickly retaliated by imposing sanctions on 10 European politicians and scholars—including five leading EU Parliament members whose votes are needed to ratify the EU–China investment deal—and four entities, including the EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.
Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament and longtime French human rights advocate, told Voice of America that the CCP’s sanctions on the human rights subcommittee represent “a sanction on the democratic institution of the Parliament.”
Beijing also said it was sanctioning the EU’s Political and Security Committee, which includes 27 EU ambassadors.
The sanctions angered many EU lawmakers. The EU Parliament then canceled a meeting to discuss ratification of the CAI, as prominent parliamentarians threatened not to ratify the EU–China investment deal.
Three of the four biggest parties of the EU said that they won’t discuss the deal until the CCP’s sanctions are lifted.
“It seems unthinkable that our Parliament would even entertain the idea of ratifying an agreement while its members and one of its committees are under sanctions,” said Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, Parliament member representing France and point-woman on the EU–China deal from the Libertarian group Renew Europe.
Critics say a deal with China will grant China-based state-owned companies, which may receive government subsidies, preferential access to European markets, while the Chinese communist regime continues to crack down on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Merkel and Macron have been among the EU’s main backers for an investment deal with China, amid opposition from other EU members, such as Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Poland.
However, Merkel, who is concerned about car dealers’ China exposure, is stepping down in September, and her SPD has slumped in recent election polls, with the opposition Greens party enjoying a polling lead. The Greens’ chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock has vowed to take a tough stance on China’s human rights violations.
The Greens recently argued against the CAI in a written statement: “Trade is a powerful lever to defend and strengthen human rights and fundamental democratic values. Unfortunately, the EU-China investment agreement, hastily concluded by the German government at the end of last year, contradicts this very goal.”
Macron is also facing public criticism and strong opposition against the CAI domestically ahead of next year’s presidential election.