The comprehensive investment agreement between the EU and China, announced in December 2020 at a joint virtual press conference between Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel, Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, is a disaster for the western world. Human rights violations in China are not addressed. The problem of forced labor (slavery) is not addressed. It legitimizes an authoritarian regime. And most importantly, it doesn’t create the jobs for Europeans that it promises.
The investment agreement, which has yet to be made available to the public or to members of the European Parliament, is intended to be a means of attracting new investments from the People’s Republic of China to the European Union. While this seems fine on the surface, according to articles created by the few who have seen the agreement, there are conditions attached.
Above all, this includes insisting that the EU not force China to join the International Labor Organization Convention on the Use of Forced Labor. This means the Communist Party in China is receiving a blank check to continue using ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans as slave labor across the country.
Recent evidence has shown that the Chinese state is using the nearly 3 million ethnic Tibetans and Uyghurs currently held in detention centers as cheap forced labor across the country (not just in their home regions). They are often used for harder physical work such as picking cotton or working in construction – without suitable equipment or work breaks. Others were deployed in factories across the country to work in manufacturing. According to a report by the Australian government, Uighur workers in the auto industry were said to have worked for large European companies.
Both the United States and the United Kingdom were quick to respond to these allegations and enforced a total ban on the import of agricultural goods, including cotton, from China. As well as a ban on the importation of goods made under forced labor with heavy fines for governments found guilty of using material made under these conditions. The European Union, however, has not introduced such a ban.
Likewise, the agreement does not protect the rights of Chinese workers who will enter the European Union under the agreement. One of the many leaked clauses in the agreement states that an unlimited number of Chinese workers can come to the European Union with their companies and stay for up to three years. A right not even given to Canadians, British or Americans. Yet the rights of Chinese workers already in the EU are questionable at best – a recent article written by former Huawei employees exposed a corporate culture of worker repression.
Chinese employees in a European office of Huawei work on separate floors from Europeans – regardless of seniority in the company. They are forbidden to have romantic relationships with Europeans. Those who take the risk are being recalled to China and if they refuse they risk being fired. In a devastating report from Spain, a Chinese worker was fired from the company for taking time off after a miscarriage to seek fertility treatment. In fact, Chinese workers in Europe are already threatened with an isolated existence without interaction with European colleagues. Little has been done to address these issues as unions have found that workers are too afraid to seek representation, citing concerns about families at home.
If Chinese workers are brought in to work on Chinese investment projects, at what level are jobs created for Europeans? We have already seen in other parts of the world what happens when Chinese companies move and bring their own employees with them. In South Asia and Africa, Chinese investments have not created new jobs for local workers, but have created de facto colonial outposts occupied by workers hired by the companies. In Sri Lanka, a promising new port on the south coast of Galle turned into a debt trap nightmare that created a Chinese port built with Chinese money and occupied by Chinese citizens.
In addition to concerns about the structure of the agreement, there should also be more concerns in Brussels about its impact on values. By signing this comprehensive investment agreement, the European Union will also sign a blank check for the communist regime in Beijing to continue its repression against national minorities and democratic reformers. Far from sending a message that actions have consequences, it is sending a message to the world that if you mistreat your people, oppress them and undermine their fundamental rights, we will not punish you, but rather reward you with a trade deal.
It seems that the whole deal is again a case where the emperor in the European Commission has no clothes and the rest of Europe chooses to ignore it. The agreement they are trying to ratify undermines any value that the European Union is supposed to stand for. It tears up the Charter of Fundamental Rights and legitimizes the abuse of Christians, Uyghurs, Tibetans, Hong Kongers, advocates of democracy, ethnic Kazakhs and Uzbeks, many of whom are currently in detention camps run by the Communist Party.
It is unthinkable that the European Union would have ever made such an agreement with the Soviet Union or Hoxhas Albania if so many people had been incarcerated in gulags and used for forced labor and so many were left without the freedom to assemble or speak openly. Yet these regimes followed the same authoritarian doctrines as those in Xi’s China.
Why is the European today willing to give up his own values in order to reach an agreement that will not benefit everyone and is easier access for Chinese investment in Europe than the United Kingdom, United States, Japan and South Korea? or have Australia? In its obsession with forging its own path, the European Union has decided to turn its back on its democratic allies.
Instead of prioritizing trade and investment with countries that share its values in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the United States, Australia or the United Kingdom, it has instead legitimized a regime that poses an existential threat to it. The European Commission should seriously reconsider its foreign policy priorities, and at least the European Parliament should oppose this disastrous agreement.