By Alex Pigman
The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to refuse any consideration of the EU-China investment deal as long as Chinese sanctions against MEPs (Member of European Parliament) and scholars were in place.
According to the resolution, the parliament, which must ratify the deal, “demands that China lift the sanctions before Parliament can deal with the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment”.
In a vote that passed with 599 votes in favour, 30 against and 58 abstentions, the MEPs also warned that lifting the sanctions would not in itself ensure the deal’s ratification.
“The European Parliament’s decision underlines what I have been saying for weeks: the investment agreement with China is on ice and will only be unfrozen when China withdraws sanctions against members of the European Parliament,” said German MEP Bernd Lange, head of the trade committee.
To the surprise of many, the European Union and China in late December approved a major investment pact, wrapping up seven years of painstaking negotiations thanks to a final push by Germany.
Defenders of the pact see it as a much needed opening of China’s long-closed economy for European companies, but it is sure to face a difficult ratification amongst the 27 member states as well as the European Parliament.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier maintained his defence of the investment deal.
China “is the European Union’s largest trading partner and the United States’ largest trading partner, and thus plays an important role in the global economy,” Altmaier said.
“We want to reach results with China that are in the interest of both sides,” he added.
China’s state-run, nationalist tabloid Global Times defended Beijing’s sanctions in an editorial late Thursday, saying there was “no way China will lift those sanctions under pressure from the European Parliament.”
The Global Times accused the EU parliament of acting at the United States’ behest to contain China, “achieving US strategic ambitions at its own expense,” while “misleading and deceiving European public opinion.”
Ties between the EU and China soured suddenly in March after an angry exchange of tit-for-tat sanctions over human rights concerns.
The EU sanctioned four Chinese officials over suspected human rights violations in China’s far western region of Xinjiang.
China responded by imposing its own sanctions against European politicians, scholars and research groups.
“The EU cannot both take the high moral ground and nonetheless go ahead with this deal when EU entities and elected MEPs and MPs are under sanctions solely for defending human rights,” Belgian MEP Hilde Vautmans said.
Adding to the pressure over human rights, some 50 human rights defenders from China who have gone into exile in Europe, including the artist Ai Weiwei, asked the EU on Thursday to suspend extradition treaties with Beijing.
In an open letter to EU leaders, they asked Brussels to freeze or revoke arrangements made by 10 EU member states, including France, Belgium and Spain.
These bilateral treaties “not only present a potential threat to our freedom of movement within the European Union, but to our freedom of association and freedom of expression, as Beijing may seek our extradition for statements we make in Europe”, it said.