EU Lawmakers Pledge to Reject China Investment Deal Over Sanctions, Rights Concerns

May 3, 2021 Updated: May 5, 2021

Members of the European Parliament (MEP) have vowed to reject the EU–China investment agreement that’s awaiting ratification, because of China’s human rights abuses and sanctions by the ruling communist regime.

More than 30 MEPs denounced China on April 28 for demanding that the EU stop criticism of the regime’s human rights record, saying they won’t ratify the China investment deal unless human rights are addressed first. Some have said outright that they want the deal thrown out.

The comments were made during the European Parliament’s first meeting regarding the Chinese communist regime’s counter-sanctions against EU representatives and entities who sanctioned several Chinese communist officials over human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang in late March.

The counter-sanctions imperil the likelihood of the investment deal being ratified.

“If we want to show, once and for all, that the EU is not just a supermarket but rather has principles … we have to come up with some tangible action, and that means we need to reject the investment agreement,” French MEP Emmanuel Maurel said.

“This is a regime arbitrarily shooting a shotgun targeting our freedom of expression, our freedom of research, and our rights as members of parliament,” said Hannah Neumann, vice chair of the EU Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights and a German MEP.

She told Parliament that human rights need to be addressed before moving forward with the investment deal, saying, “I am not willing to let a foreign country dictate to me how to do my job.”

German Greens MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s China delegation, who was targeted by Beijing’s sanction list, said that if sanctions that Beijing has imposed on the EU parliament aren’t lifted, the “EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, or ‘CAI’, is in the deep freeze as far as the European Parliament is concerned.”

He said the sanctions marked “a new height of China’s aggressive claim to power.”

“Instead, we will put pressure to use new instruments to better protect our economy against unfair Chinese practices, be it in access to procurement markets, the fight against illegal subsidies, or against products made using forced labour,” he said in a statement.

Maria Arena, a MEP from Belgium, added, “If pro-democracy rights in Hong Kong or Taiwan cannot be discussed in this parliament, then nothing can be discussed in this parliament.”

Five leading EU MEPs whose votes are needed to ratify the EU–China investment deal were included in the sanctions.

Focus on Trade, Not Human Rights: Beijing

Meanwhile, Chinese officials have continued to push for ratification of the deal, calling the EU to focus on trade and not human rights.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping on April 16 urged the EU to ratify the investment deal in a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of the world leaders’ summit on climate issues.

On April 20, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with business leaders from major EU countries in Chengdu’s China–EU center to seek support for the investment deal. Then on April 28, in a virtual meeting for the sixth German–Chinese government consultations, Li told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that Germany should focus on trade and not China’s “internal affairs” that include human rights issues, Politico reported.

The EU–China investment deal has been championed in the EU by Merkel for its promise to open up more sectors of the Chinese economy to EU investment and benefits for European carmakers manufacturing out of China. Macron has supported Merkel’s efforts over the objections of several EU countries.

The agreement was signed in December after seven years of negotiations, but it must be ratified by the EU Parliament to take effect.

Merkel is stepping down in September, and her Social Democratic Party has slumped in recent election polls, with the opposition Greens party enjoying a polling lead.

The Greens recently said in a 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 strong backlash against the CAI domestically, ahead of next year’s presidential election.

The EU on April 24 also took action to condemn the Chinese regime’s aggression in the South China Sea that it said was endangering regional peace.

EU President Ursula von der Leyen said on April 21 in a “progress report” on China that “fundamental divergences” between the EU and China about “economic systems and managing globalization, democracy, and human rights, or on how to deal with third countries” are becoming a reality that’s “set to remain for the foreseeable future and must not be brushed under the carpet.”