EU-China deal: Expert says China is ‘devoid of credibility'

Negotiations for a deal were agreed in principle on December 31 following a phone call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were also on the call during a busy month for European leaders.

Among criticism is the suggestion it could complicate policy between the US and the EU on China.

Another issue is the claim China uses Uighur Muslims, detained in Xinjiang, as forced labour – which Beijing denies.

A further sticking point for the investment deal was China’s demands for access to the EU’s energy sector.

Talks on the deal, which gives EU firms better access to the Chinese market, started in 2014.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the deal as “weak” in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday and said it does not protect against possible risks from Beijing.

Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, called for “early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China’s economic practices” ahead of the deal being agreed.

But Nathalie Tocci, director of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome, has told Bloomberg it shows the EU will not be bossed around by the USA.

She said: “Obviously this has created some friction, but it’s also sent a message that when we’re talking about China, coordination with the United States cannot and will not translate into the United States telling Europeans what to do.

“We share notes, we agree more often than we disagree, but we don’t always have the same position. This is what a more balanced relationship means.”

Foreign policy analyst Ulrich Speck has said the deal does not represent a “geopolitical strategy” to deal with China.

He said: “The 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.”

Chen Weihua, a columnist for state-owned China Daily, said the “EU is waking up” and “seeking strategic autonomy rather than Washington permission as in the past.”

It will need to be ratified by the European parliament, a process likely to begin in the latter part of 2021.

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The European Commission said of the deal: “The Agreement will create a better balance in the EU-China trade relationship.

“The EU has traditionally been much more open than China to foreign investment.

“This is true as regards foreign investment in general. China now commits to open up to the EU in a number of key sectors.”

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Phar Kim Beng, a political analyst, claimed the agreement “exposes European weakness”.

He said: “The agreement – sound as it may seem – has exposed the EU, ravaged by the pandemic, as a weaker economic and geopolitical actor.”

Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China, said the “whole idea that the EU must hurry to strike a China deal to impress the US is misguided”.

Writing on Twitter, he added: “It helps EU sovereignty more if we demonstrate that we know when to stand tall to China. And to align with partners.”

President-elect Biden will be inaugurated in less than two weeks’ time on January 20.

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