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Upon China’s Counter-sanctions, EU Calls Off CAI Review

On March 22, EU foreign ministers decided to impose sanctions on four Chinese officials and one institution because they violated the human rights of the Muslim minority in Xinjiang. China quickly reacted by announcing retaliatory sanctions against ten individuals and four entities in Europe, including European Parliament members, think tanks and scholars. In response, the European Parliament cancelled a review meeting on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), casting a shadow over whether it can be implemented in the future. Winkler Gyula, vice-chair of the European Parliament’s International Trade Committee, reacted quickly, saying that, “In view of the latest developments in the relationship between the EU and China today, especially the unacceptable sanctions (that China issued), the European Parliament has decided to abolish the original plan for China and Europe scheduled for the 23rd, which is a review meeting of the Comprehensive Investment Agreement.” Several members of the European Parliament also made it clear that it would be impossible to continue the review of the agreement if their colleagues were still on China’s sanction list. The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was concluded in principle by the leaders of the EU Council in December 2020, pending ratification by the European Parliament.

At a regular press conference on March 23, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying denounced these sanctions as “being based on lies and false information”  and criticized the EU in a strong tone. “The European side cannot expect to talk about cooperation on the one hand, while conducting sanctions on the other, to the detriment of China’s rights and interests. … The European side should reflect on itself.”

Thorsten Benner, director of the Berlin-based German think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), told Radio Free Asia that the EU’s use of the mechanism of the recently adopted Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions on China, Russia, Myanmar and other human rights abusers simultaneously was a “symbolic move” that had been considered for a long time. He felt that Beijing’s choice of high-profile counter-measures was “extraordinary” and that the approach of targeting scholars and think tanks that promote China-EU exchanges was “extreme.”

“I think Beijing’s is attempting to dominate the escalating Europe-China relationship, showing the EU that whatever you do, I will hit back harder is to show the EU that you are no match for us (China).” European countries have always had economic considerations in their policies toward China, but Benner predicts that China’s assertive approach will have “side effects” and that “Beijing is pushing the Europeans into the arms of Washington and putting the politicians who endorsed the CAI, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in an untenable position.”

The day before, the United States also joined forces with the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada to sanction a number of Chinese officials. The U.S. Secretary of State also issued a joint statement with the foreign ministers of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand condemning the Chinese government’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

In the press conference, Hua Chunying not only named the past records of the United States, Britain, Canada and France mentioning colonization or violations of human rights, but also talked about the history of Nazi Germany’s holocaust of millions of Jews. Hua declared that China is not afraid of being isolated by the so-called “democratic alliance” and boasted that China’s circle of friends is bigger. “We are not worried at all! The U.S., U.K., and Canada plus the EU only account for about 11 percent of the world’s population, while China accounts for 1/5 of the world’s population.”

For Alex Dukalskis, a professor at the University of Dublin, China’s use of the history of Nazi is “extremely ironic” and flawed. “European countries have been reflecting on these histories for decades, and Germany in particular has been frank about (its mistakes) in this regard. –This is exactly what China has been unwilling to do. From a diplomatic point of view, these Chinese arguments and insults are hardly effective in convincing Europeans to continue the communication. Human rights is part of European values and politics.”

Source: Radio Free Asia, March 23, 2021