Is the agreement on investments between China and the European Union balanced?

► “It’s a good deal for Germany, but what about the rest of Europe? “

Philippe Le Corre, researcher at Harvard Kennedy School, and associate researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research

On paper, China is making new concessions in terms of access to its market for Europeans in financial services, private hospitals, data management for example. The lobby of European companies in China, German in particular, can be satisfied. But the road will be long for the agreement to be ratified by the European Parliament, as well as by some national parliaments, because the opposition to China will be great.

→ THE FACTS. Uyghurs: European Union puts pressure on China

The history of the past thirty years has shown that China often does not honor its international commitments. In 2001, when it joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), it had already promised to fully open its market. We know what happened: Chinese counterfeit factories flourished across the country – without the central authorities being able (or willing) to put an end to them. In contrast, China has long imposed forced technology transfers on foreign companies. This is where we will have to be vigilant. Without forgetting the primordial question of Chinese state aid which creates a climate of unfair competition with regard to private foreign companies, both in China and in other markets.

Seeing an increasingly triumphant China in many areas, Europeans wanted to seize an opportunity that was offered to them before the inauguration of the new American president, Joe Biden. Angela Merkel followed what the large German companies (Siemens, Volkswagen, BMW…) recommended. It is a good deal for Germany, which obtains an opening in the market for electric vehicles. But I doubt that the other European countries – which all have trade deficits with China, unlike Germany – will win. We are not going to reduce the Sino-French trade deficit with three private hospitals. It is China that sells us its products, not the other way around.

The agreement had certainly been under negotiation for several years, but this way of concluding it on the last day of the year, when the German presidency ends, does not seem to me to be suitable, in particular vis-à-vis our American partners. After all, we all see the same thing about China’s rise to power.

The road is long towards the ratification which should take place under the French presidency in 2022. We also have two years to know whether we can trust China in opening up markets. Until then, the Chinese will also start negotiations with the new American administration. It doesn’t seem like a good approach to me because it would have been smarter to talk to Washington and ask Beijing for bulk access.

► “We are satisfied with formal commitments from China”

Raphaël Glucksmann, MEP Public square and defender of Uyghurs

We are satisfied with China’s formal commitments to sign the conventions of the International Labor Organization (ILO). We have already done the same thing with Vietnam and other countries with which we have signed a free trade agreement. It is not binding. The many signatories of the ILO do not respect a line. But here we are facing a concentration camp regime. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are parked in camps and we will trust this regime? Who will check that their commitments are put in place?

→ ANALYSIS. Forced labor of Uyghurs: is an agreement between the EU and China really possible?

Without waiting for any concrete progress, we sign an investment agreement, and then what? Are we going to denounce them if they don’t keep their word? It’s a masquerade. China “Undertakes to work towards ratification” conventions on forced labor. It is an obscure language, but there will always be slaves in the cotton fields of Xinjiang. Officially, there is no forced labor and China’s Twitter accounts tell us that Xinjiang is heaven on earth. I believe our leaders are pretending to be naïve.

They have been negotiating for seven years, they saw the subject of the Uyghurs rise and they obtained from the Chinese a language supposed to satisfy us to ensure that this investment agreement is validated, but the European Parliament will ask for concrete facts . Will slave camps and businesses, like Huafu, be closed?

It’s going to be another Dantesque fight. European leaders understood that they would not be able to get this agreement passed as it stood in Parliament. We have just voted for a resolution on forced labor by Uyghurs. If there are no concrete actions to stop forced labor by Uyghurs, it will be no.

We want to facilitate European investments in China, but is it really urgent? I’m not sure of it. Not to sign is to send a political signal on the unacceptable nature of the repression. There, we send the opposite signal, that of normality. We install the idea that there are no consequences.

To fight the repression of the Uyghurs, we must show Beijing that the deportation of a people has a cost (commercial, political…). We must impose a cost / benefit calculation on Chinese leaders – rational – who think they can commit these crimes without consequences.

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