Brussels (Brussels Morning) In a report adopted today, the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) made it clear that EU-China relations will remain on hold until Beijing lifts sanctions against MEPs and EU institutions.
Despite the strategic importance of EU-China relations, MEPs said they were determined not to ratify the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) that was concluded in late December 2020, unless and until China retracts the sanctions it had imposed.
Regardless of the concluded if unratified CAI, MEP Emmanuel Maurel (The Left) accused the EU of “disregarding European values” in its dealings with Beijing. He characterised the EU’s efforts to protect civil society and minorities in China as “purely rhetorical, secondary and incidental”.
Towards a new China strategy
Working on a new strategy for EU-China relations, the Parliament’s report, adopted today by 58 votes to 8, outlines a number of diplomatic actions to be taken.
It proposes that EU-China cooperation moves ahead with regard to global challenges such as human rights, climate change, nuclear disarmament, fighting global health crises and the reform of multilateral organisations.
“China is a partner with whom we will continue to seek dialogue and cooperation, but a Union which positions itself as geopolitical cannot downplay China’s assertive foreign policy and influence operations around the world, nor its contempt for human rights and commitment to bilateral and multilateral agreements”, MEP Hilde Vautmans (Renew) avowed.
Condemning systemic human rights violations in China — the reason why sanctions were first triggered by the EU — MEPs want to have a regular dialogue on human rights issues with China. They proposed the introduction of benchmarks to measure progress.
In particular, they suggested that progress reviews should focus on human rights violations in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Hong Kong.
MEPs have also cited examples of Chinese coercion against EU companies that cut supply chain ties with Xinjiang based on concerns over the forced labour situation in the region.
Parliament urged the EU to support these companies and to ensure that current EU legislation will ban firms involved in abuses in Xinjiang from operating in the EU.
Learning from the lessons of COVID-19, MEPs want the EU to engage with China to improve coordination and initial response capacities for dealing with infectious diseases. This approach could include, for example, risk-mapping and early warnings systems, the MEPs proposed.
They also insist that China allows an independent investigation into the origins and spread of COVID-19.
Today’s report urged that the European External Action Service be given a mandate plus the necessary resources to address Chinese disinformation operations, including the creation of a dedicated Far-East StratCom Task Force.
“It is high time the EU unites behind a comprehensive, more assertive China policy that enables it to defend its values and interests by acquiring European strategic autonomy in areas such as trade, digital, security and defence”, Vautmans observed.