After more than seven years of negotiation with Beijing, the European Union’slandmark deal with China landed with a thud. Ill-timed, unenforceable and naive were just some of the charges leveled at the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment concluded Dec. 30.
Now, after a week of relative silence, governments are fighting back at criticism they see as unfair. Interviews with government officials in Europe’s main capitals showed a common conviction that the deal not only contains real concessions by Beijing, but that it puts the EU on a stronger footing to reengage with Washington after four years of antagonism by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Rather than a rebuke to the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, as critics have charged, the accord represents the first step back to a multilateral order after Trump’s “America First” stance, according to a senior official in Berlin. The U.S. needs Europe as a global player, not a vassal, so it’s in American interests that the bloc presents itself as a geopolitical force in its own right, said another senior official in Rome.
“Yes, it may be seen as more of a strategic, autonomous approach towards China,” and one that Biden may not like, Sigmar Gabriel, the former German foreign minister and vice chancellor, told Bloomberg Television. “But on the other hand there is enough room to maneuver to join hands” and forge a common stance on China.
European lawmakers and China watchers on both sides of the Atlantic argue the bloc’s leaders were naive to trust Beijing on the deal’s provisions on sustainable development, including commitments on forced labor that they say will never be met. By signing the agreement now, EU leaders are gifting China a diplomatic coup as it quashes dissent in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, they say.
EU officials say that the deal, which commits China to provide greater market access, potentially increasing bilateral trade worth some $650 billion in 2019, was as good as it could get and significantly more than anyone else has achieved. The investment deal isn’t devised to address human rights issues, but still grants Europe leverage in its discussions with China, according to French President Emmanuel Macron’s office. The Italian official said it would have been unthinkable until recently to bring China toward adherence on international standards on workers’ rights.
I disagree with the assertion, and I ask myself against what benchmark the EU is measured here. The EU’s 2019 China Communication sets out a comprehensive strategy that treats China simultaneously as a negotiating partner, an ec competitor and a systemic rival. 1/5Ulrich Speck@ulrichspeckThe EU may have a trade strategy to deal with China as a business partner — but not a geopolitical strategy to deal with China as an emerging global power which is trying to reshape the international system according to the needs of the ruling party. https://twitter.com/WeyandSabine/status/1346370893665206275…
12:01 PM · Jan 5, 2021
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