Brussels, Belgium: The European Parliament unanimously rejected any discussion of the EU-China investment accord on Thursday as long as Chinese penalties targeting MEPs and academics remained 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”.
The MEPs also warned that easing the sanctions would not guarantee the deal’s passage in a vote that passed with 599 votes in favor, 30 votes against, and 58 abstentions.
“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.
Many people were surprised when the European Union and China finalized a massive investment accord in late December, capping seven years of arduous negotiations owing to Germany’s final push.
The pact’s supporters regard it as a much-needed opening of China’s long-closed economy to European businesses, but it will undoubtedly face challenging approval by the EU’s 27 member states and the European Parliament.
German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier defended the investment agreement.
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.
After an acrimonious exchange of tit-for-tat penalties on human rights concerns, relations between the EU and China abruptly deteriorated in March.
Four Chinese officials were sanctioned by the EU for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, China’s far western province.
China retaliated by putting penalties on European politicians, academics, and research organizations.
“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 on human rights, a group of 50 Chinese human rights campaigners in exile in Europe, including artist Ai Weiwei, requested the EU to suspend extradition treaties with Beijing on Thursday.
They requested Brussels to suspend or invalidate agreements struck by ten EU member states, including France, Belgium, and Spain, in an open letter to EU leaders.
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.