They negotiated this agreement for seven years. One can understand that Europeans like Chinese were in a hurry in the end. The contradictions that the contract is now supposed to resolve were grotesque: while Chinese companies in Europe have been investing in practically all industries for years, including buying airports and electricity suppliers, many sectors in China have remained closed to Europeans. And yet there will be a stale aftertaste if Brussels and Beijing now agree on a comprehensive investment protection agreement.
On Wednesday, China’s head of state Xi Jinping, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sealed their agreement in a video conference.
For Europe, the advantages of the agreement are obvious: European companies are to have just as good market access in China as Chinese companies in Europe. Competition should be fairer and a level playing field should be established, as is the catchphrase known from the Brexit negotiations. In addition, more sustainable environmental and social standards should apply to companies on both sides.
China’s economic advantages are not immediately obvious, but politically they weigh even more heavily: Beijing gets a major economic agreement with the EU – three weeks before US President-elect Joe Biden takes office. It is above all at this point in time that the agreement is so controversial. The contract was originally supposed to be announced in September at an EU-China summit to which the German Council Presidency had invited to Leipzig. But this summit was downgraded to a video conference because of the corona crisis; besides, the conversations stalled back then, as so often before. It wasn’t until just before Christmas that the negotiations suddenly began to move. China now made concessions that Europe had long insisted on in vain. Beijing wanted to finish the matter before the end of the year; also the German Council Presidency ending on December 31st.
What’s the rush?
The new US administration is critical of this rush. Last week, Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor to the President-elect, tweeted: “The Biden Harris administration would welcome early consultations with our European partners on our shared concerns about China’s economic practices.”
On Tuesday, Joe Biden added that the position would be much stronger “if we form coalitions of like-minded partners and allies.”
The concerns from the US have apparently not impressed either Brussels or Berlin, which casts a shadow on future economic cooperation with Washington. In any case, Beijing does not have to fear the European-American unity towards China that was evoked after Biden’s election victory.
Supporters of the China Agreement like Jörg Wuttke, President of the European Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, oppose: »I don’t see any relevance for the USA. They have their phase 1 treaty (with which the US and China defused their trade war Editor’s note) concluded without consultation with the EU. “The EU-China deal does not worsen the position of American companies – in contrast to the US-China treaty, which has” met with many of China’s trading partners. ” The investment protection agreement with China should not be understood as an affront to the new, but rather as a consequence of the outgoing US government’s self-serving trade policy, says a European diplomat.
Agreement despite numerous repression by Beijing
That doesn’t change the political look of the deal. A comprehensive economic contract with China – of all things, at the end of a year in which Beijing passed a draconian state security law in Hong Kong and in which it became known that tens of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs are being used for forced labor in the west of the country? This last point is the main point of criticism. As far as forced labor is concerned, according to the Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, the EU has been satisfied with “superficial lip service”. China is said to have promised “permanent and sustainable efforts”. He does not understand why “this agreement should now be pushed through with maximum year-end hectic,” said Bütikofer.
In Beijing, with the approval of President Xi Jinping, the agreement is as good as decided. “Who has anything against Chinese money?” Asked a user who calls herself “Harper Mama” on the Weibo short message service. Another user wrote: »Win-win cooperation. Let’s get rich together! «In Brussels, it is said, none of the EU ambassadors raised objections. The European Parliament has yet to approve the agreement.